We're in bed watching an old black-and-white movie on a Saturday night when suddenly my wife sits up with a jolt, pointing toward the kitchen with a trembling finger.
"Oh my God, a mouse just ran by!"
"Are you sure?"
"Sure of what?"
"That it wasn't a rat."
I shouldn't kid around like that, and I fully deserve the swat of a pillow to my face.
"All right, all right, take it easy. I'll take a look."
I get up and go to the kitchen, look behind the refrigerator and the stove, check inside the cabinet under the sink. This search accomplishes nothing, of course, but a husband has to go through the motions.
I return to bed. "You sure you didn't imagine it?"
"I know a bloody mouse when I see one! How did he get here?"
My wife is British. When we first took this apartment - a fourth-floor walkup in Greenwich Village - she was worried about cockroaches and mice. I explained that an exterminator sprayed regularly for cockroaches, and as for mice - well, they wouldn't be a problem at all, except on the ground floor apartments, because mice can't climb stairs.
Not a bad bit of husband-speak, right? I almost believed it myself, until tonight. Now I have to come up with an alternative theory, and fast.
"Maybe he hopped into a grocery bag," I venture, "and we carried him up here."
Kim's hands clutch at her heart.
"Oh my God! Are there mice in supermarkets?!"
"Yes, baby. Imagine that - mice are attracted to food. Nobody knows why."
"I cannot stay here with a mouse in the house!"
"Come on, Kim. You've seen mice in England."
"Yes, but those are field mice."
This is my wife showing that she is, after all, a true Brit. The British class system trickles all the way down to rodents. The field mice are middle-class. Above them are the royal mice, who burrow their way into Buckingham palace. Down there on the bottom rung are the city mice, like the one she's certain she just saw.
She arches her back, the way Brits throughout history have done whenever they make big announcements, such as: "We're taking your country and making it part of the British Empire."
My wife's big announcement is: "We are moving."
"We're not moving."
"We're going to a hotel."
"You want bedbugs? They're worse than mice."
"Charlie, once the mice get in they breed like mad!"
I try to calm her down, remind her that we're in the heart of Greenwich Village, which means it's likely that our intruder is an alternative lifestyle mouse with no interest in mice of the opposite sex. Good chance he's got a summer share on Fire Island, and every record Bette Midler ever made.
I put a finger to my lips. "Shh - you hear that?" I stage-whisper. "He's singing, 'What I Did For Love.' "
Kim's not loosening up, even slightly. This woman who happily clears hairballs from the throats of cats, rolls around on the floor with labrador retrievers and allows horses to lick sugar cubes from her hand is absolutely petrified by the alleged mouse in the house.
"Charlie," she says, "you've got to catch him."
I pull on my pants, head for the door.
"Where are you going?"
"Can't do it with my bare hands. Gonna get a mouse trap."
"It's the middle of the night!"
Actually, it's only about ten o'clock, but as far as Brits are concerned that's the middle of the night. Most stores in London close at sunset, probably a holdover from the World War Two "lights-out" days, when the Germans were dropping bombs on them.
"I'll be back in ten minutes," I promise. "Try to relax."
I turn to face her. She's made a wall of pillows all the way around the bed and is peeking over the top, wide-eyed. I know that look. It's the look she gets when her emotions have jumped the center divider and come roaring back in the opposite direction.
"Catch him," she says, "but don't kill him."
"Get one of those friendly traps. We don't want to hurt Mickey."
"That's his name?"
Giving the mouse a name is a clever touch. My wife knows I'll never be able to kill something with a name.
I head for the nearest drug store, where a teenager with an earring and tattoos up and down both arms is mopping the floor. He directs me to the mouse trap aisle. They sell the usual spring-loaded traps you bait with cheese, and there are also glueboards, but I see nothing you could call a "friendly" trap.
I ask the kid about it. He's puzzled. "You wanna catch him in, like, a cage?"
"Well, something like that."
He chuckles. "It's a f-----g mouse, man! Ain't no endangered species!"
"Yeah, well, tell my wife."
"Look, if I catch him on a glueboard, can I pry him off and let him go?"
The kid's eyes widen. "Guess you can try," he says, shaking his head as he walks off.
I buy a two glueboards and head home. I put globs of peanut butter in the middle of each before setting one behind the refrigerator, the other behind the stove.
Then I burrow my way into my wife's pillow fortress. She's lying on her side. I can feel her trembling.
"Did you get a friendly trap?"
"Friendly as can be."
I cuddle up behind her, trying to calm her down. She reaches back and shoves me away.
"There'll be none of that tonight!" she exclaims. "We've got a rodent running rampant!"
"None of that" is British for "No sex." Fair enough. At the same time, I'm proud of my wife, a TV producer who also writes for magazines. Stressed as she is, she can still knock out a great headline like "Rodent Running Rampant."
We both fall asleep. Sure enough, I'm awakened in the dead of night by a rustling sound in the kitchen.
I go to investigate and there's Mickey, stuck on a glueboard. He's actually gnawed away the edge of it and managed to inch his way to the middle of the kitchen floor with one tiny foot. His other three feet and his tail are stuck to the glue.
I don't turn on the light. I don't want to wake up Kim, and there's enough moonlight to see that this is a beautiful creature, barely bigger than my thumb, with two of the brightest eyes I've ever seen. He keeps gnawing at the edge of the glueboard, in a blind instinct to get himself free.
I get dressed, put a pair of chopsticks from a Chinese takeout delivery in my pocket and carry the glueboard downstairs. It's past three a.m. when I hit the street. Basically, I'm like a waiter carrying a live mouse on a tray as I walk a few blocks to a quieter Village street, away from the heart and the hub of things. The last thing I need is last-call drunks commenting on the wriggling mouse on the glueboard.
I sit on a stoop, set the glueboard down on the sidewalk and take out my trusty chopsticks. I figure I can pry his feet and tail free, but it's trickier than it sounds. I get one foot free but by the time I pry up another, Mickey has put the free foot back down on the glue.
In the midst of this process a guy in a pea coat strolls along, gives us a casual glance and keeps going. That's one of the reasons I love this city. Whatever you do, somebody has seen it done before.
The chopstick process is too frustrating, and I'm afraid I'm going to break those little pink feet, so in a moment of abandon I grab the tip of Mickey's tail, pull him free of the glueboard and set him on the sidewalk, just like that.
It takes him a heartbeat to realize he's free. He takes a sticky step or two, and then his feet pick up enough sidewalk grit to negate the glue and he hop-runs across the street, just ahead of the wheels of an oncoming car.
"So long, Mick."
I fold up the glueboard, throw it out and head home. I wash my hands before stripping down and crawling back into bed, more tired than I've ever been. Kim awakens and I tell her what's happened. I don't mention that Mickey nearly got flattened by a car. If I do, my wife will make me go out, catch him again and re-release him in a safer place.
"Do you reckon he'll be back?"
"They have homing instincts, you know."
"That's pigeons, Kim. Stop worrying, he's gone for good."
Now I'm eager to sleep, and if Kim feels amorous I'm going to have to tell her there'll be "none of that," but instead she hits me with one last question, a true middle-of-the night, middle-of-the-soul question that keeps me awake until dawn, a question I still haven't answered, cannot answer, will never be able to answer.
"When you set Mickey free," Kim asks, "did he seem happy?"
Think about that for a second. Mickey was certainly relieved to be free, but was he happy? For that matter, is a mouse even capable of happiness? And beyond those questions, and beyond mice, and glueboards, and every other friggin' thing - what the hell is happiness, anyway?
Charlie Carillo's latest novel is "One Hit Wonder." His website is www.charliecarillo.com. He's a producer for the TV show "Inside Edition."
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