“Get a cat,” people say when I tell them we have mice in the house.
And should a mouse be so unlucky as to actually take the bait and spring the trap, it’s down to me to dispose of its little corpse, something Ruth is really good at. In fact, I tell myself it’s a job she likes doing. As she sits in her Paris hotel room, the Eiffel Tower visible from her window, Ruth is probably jealous of all the fun I’m having back home, doing all the dog’s walks, taking out the trash, picking up the farm-share vegetables, putting out the kitchen scraps for the compost people and hunting the mouse/mice.
But this isn’t a column about a hapless husband who falls apart when he’s left to his own devices. Well, it isn’t totally about that. It’s about the weird ways we behave when we miss someone we love.
One of those weird ways is resenting them before they’ve even left. I have some experience in this regard: experience with the cycle of separation and reunion. When I was about 12, my parents divorced. Thus began the typical back and forth of my brother and me for weekends, along with longer stays with one or the other parent. I remember how antsy all of us would get, not out of any animus — but from the mental preparation we had to go through before this changing of the guard.
Mom’s house is like this, I’d think. Dad’s house is like that. I’m still at Mom’s house, but my mind is looking ahead to Dad’s house. I don’t think my mother much liked the penumbra I cast at these times.
So it is when Ruth gets ready to be gone for three weeks. She’s preparing in her way — laying out her clothes in the spare room, pulling out a suitcase — and I’m preparing in mine: steeling myself for the solitude, hardening myself a bit, getting a little snippy. She’s not yet out of sight, but I’m slowly putting her out of mind.
And then the Uber comes and she’s on her way to the airport.
Sleeping is the hardest part. I stay up too late and wake up too early. I turn in on myself. I start to feel like an 18th century fur trapper, overwintering in some frozen corner of the great white north. I just have to make it until spring.
And then, one day, just at the edge of my vision, something small and gray scurries across the kitchen floor.
Look, I’m not afraid of mice. I’ve just managed to be conveniently otherwise occupied whenever they find their way into the house. And, like I said, Ruth seems so good at dealing with them. But Ruth’s not here.
I find two classic wooden traps, bait them with cheese and put them in the oven drawer. I’m skunked the first night. I go online and read that mice can smell you if you’ve touched a trap with your bare skin, which I have, and that cheese is a lousy bait.
I find a third trap and — wearing gloves — smear its trigger with Nutella. It goes atop the stove. I’m skunked again.
And then one afternoon I go into the basement to gather my drum stuff for a gig my band has that night. I unzip the wheeled bag that holds my cymbal stands and am hit with the thick funk of dead mouse.
On the one hand, the mouse — a mouse, anyway — is caught. On the other hand, I can’t bring this bag — ripe with the odor of decomposition — into a nightclub. I yank out the cymbal stands, put on rubber gloves, sheathing one in a plastic newspaper bag, remove the mouse corpse, and take it to the trash outside.
Then I jump in the car and race to a music store. I call on the way and, like the pilot of a stricken plane radioing ahead with an order to foam the runway, I request that they get some drum hardware bags ready for me.
Fixated as I am, I’m not thinking of Ruth at all, of resenting her, of missing her. But later that night, after the gig, trying to get comfortable in bed, I happily realize we’re past the halfway point of her trip. She’ll be home in a week and we’ll have a lot of catching up to do.