My roommate’s always been the one afraid of the mice, not me. I’ve openly mocked her about it. “Hey,” I’d nudge her jovially like a quarterback, “I uh, I noticed that your cereal box seemed to have been thrown in the sink with your bowl and spoon, what’s up with that?” She’d mumble something about maybe she thought she saw a mouse when she was in the kitchen this morning, and so she’d just chucked her breakfast materials and ran.
“Haw haw,” I would say.
I’d check our humane traps, giving them a little shake and nudge to check for the weight of a body: I took a live one in my gloved hands and set it free in the park. I planned on naming them witty, carefree names: Beasty, Lucretius, Joyce Carol Oates. I thought they were just adorable and frightened, small, harmless, doe-eyed.
And yet, somehow, alone in our apartment tonight and packing up my things, when I opened the sink door and saw a mouse skitter away from the garbage can, I did not react as if it was adorable or frightened. I recall my mind processing these reasonable thoughts: “look, there is a small, furry mouse. It will not hurt you.” But then suddenly I realized I was letting out a blood-curdling, Looney-Toons variety scream and jumping ten feet in the air.
I have never screamed like that before in my life. It was an authentic scream, it came from the heart. It was the kind of scream that, in the wild, said to other mammals in the vicinity “I am being murdered: come quick and help, or flee with your children.” I stood there for a moment afterwards in a kind of shock, adrenaline coursing through my veins. I could still feel the sound of it echoing through my body. “Christ.”
Thankfully, we are in Boston, and no one — not the mother downstairs, or the boys next door, or the people across the street whose car I helped move last December — questioned a thing. I resumed packing.