Upwardly Mobile Rodents
Published in Foliate Oak Literary Journal
One day a shipment came in of metal window troughs. It was almost September, and people needed somewhere to put their pansies and snaps. The box sat around for a day or two before the manager took out a knife she kept in her pocket and cut the shipping tape with one long motion. The trough planters were lined with coconut fiber which held together better than sphagnum moss. The petite, but scrappy, woman’s tattoo of text from a Franz Kafka story was showing on her calf. People were always asking her to turn around–like a ballerina–so they could read it. “Slowly,” they’d tell her. While it was applied, neither the pain nor the welcomed endorphins foreshadowed such an inconvenient consequence.
She was on the floor trying to yank the metal frame of the trough nearest her when I heard, “Oh my God.” She stood up and pushed her hair out of her face. “Dude, a mouse had babies in here,” she said flatly. “And, the mom ran across the floor and underneath that pallet of 10-10-10.”
A sentence like that just throws me into animal-saving mode. I grabbed a 6-inch plastic saucer and headed into the ladies’ room to fill it with water. How long they’d been in there was anyone’s guess. They’d be thirsty. It was like the nightmares I had about not taking better care of my pet rabbit when I was six.
“What are you doing?” my manager asked. She liked to pretend she was practical and cold-hearted, but I had once seen her paw through an apartment building’s dumpster to rescue three kittens. As I recalled this, I knew those three ungrateful beasts were napping on my sofa. Besides, she knew darn well what I was doing.
“I’m just going to set it over here,” I told her and placed the dish where I hoped the mama mouse would see it. A few seconds later a twitching nose was hovering over the water’s surface. I looked at my manager with satisfaction.
“That still doesn’t change that fact that we can’t have mice running around the store,” she said. She was right. We had cats. Where were they? We figured she’d run back into the box to be with her babies, but instead she tip-toed into the storage closet which had been left open a crack. We left the cardboard box from the troughs nearby, so that it might prompt her to reconsider. Customers came in, and the mouse used that time to move each and every one of her babies into the closet with her. We heard her scratching around in there, and my manager held up the empty box as further proof.
“We’ll get ‘em out,” I said as she plodded to the front of the store in disgust. She called back something about the rate at which they multiply.
The next day, while she was off, I put some bird seed down. The day after that I poured some unsalted peanuts out of jar. There was nothing for them to eat in there but garden hoses and silk flower arrangements. I kept the door to the closet open, because it had actually been a walk-in freezer from when we were a chicken place. While no longer cold, I didn’t want the mice to run out of air. On the third day I was going to run over to Goodwill and see if they had a Barbie dream house.
“You know, a fixer-upper,” I said to my coworker, Travis. Bless him, he never made me feel crazy for caring. He picked up the phone and laid the receiver on his shoulder.
“You want me to see if they have the sports car too,” he asked.
We got busy, and we never did anything. I was off that weekend. When I came back nobody said anything about the mice. I knew, though. I knew that something was funky in Denmark. Our fat tabby, Missy, looked at me from her spot by a sunny window, but would say nothing. She was fat, though. Boy was she fat. I looked over at our scraggly long-hair, Rosco. He was doing this sort of frenzied tap dance over a flea bite. Was it Karma, I wondered. I couldn’t be sure, but then he became disoriented and fell off the counter into a large empty pot. That’s when I knew. Oh, I knew. The mice were history.
A customer named Winny Garrison was dealing with a larger rodent around this same time. She and her husband, Gus, owned a marina nearby. Winny liked to come–particularly around the holidays–and make grand displays of merchandise in the middle of our floor. It was a sort of dress rehearsal for what they might look like on her front porch or out by the dock where they liked to hold oyster roasts.
Winny married Gus late in life. It had to be draining. There were a lot of Garrisons. Gus, with a voice like an outboard motor, would call the house and ask her to bring a plate by for lunch. She’d run and do that. Gus’s son from a previous marriage would ask her to take the kids for a weekend, and she’d be doing laundry and cooking up a storm for that. The soft spoken woman was now surrounded by an extended family which included grown step-sons and their spouses, step grandsons and–unfortunately–step pets.
“I’m watching Lamar’s guinea big while there at Disney World,” she told me out by the herb rack. Twyla doesn’t know what to make of it,” she laughed. Twyla was Gus’s mother who was losing her mind. She’d moved in with them a few months earlier. Winny’s eyes closed as she smelled some ‘Genoa’ basil. “I’m allergic to it,” she said.
“You’re allergic to basil?” I asked. It was the first time I’d heard of such a case.
“No, the guinea pig,” she said.
Any time Winny handled the fuzzy beast, her eyes and face felt like they had ants on them, she said. That would have been it for most people, but Winny wept at the thought of “Hot Pocket” (a named the boys gave it after rescuing it from their dog, Bart’s, mouth) being cooped up all week. He needed to be free to move about, Winny told Gus through a surgical mask one evening. Gus had come home from work to find Winny on the floor with Hot Pocket. There were bits of lettuce and a torn paper towel roll between them. Winny’s mask moved in and out with her breath. Her hands were covered with the bright orange rubber gloves she used to wash the dishes.
“What did Gus say?” I asked replacing the basil in her hands with some better looking ‘Lemon’ thyme.
“He asked if I’d ever investigated hormone replacement therapy, because–you know–what else could make me crazy enough to play Tiddly Winks with rat?”
But Winny got her husband back. She pulled her cell phone from her purse while I rang her plants up at the register. On it was a photo she’d taken, the night before, of Gus asleep in bed with his mouth hanging open. Hot Pocket was tucked in beside him.
“How’d you get him to stay still for that?” I marveled.
“I put some peanut butter on my pillowcase. It was worth it,” she said.
Upwardly Mobile Rodents