‘Wild Life’ — a John Dunn story

Paddye Thatcher and her daughter Valerie set out on the Saturday morning of the 24th of May weekend to open up the family cottage. They drove to Perth, stopped for a date-carrot muffin and tea at the tea room near the turning basin, and continued out the Rideau Ferry Road to the turn-off for the lake and the cottage. It took but a minute for Paddye to set the key in the padlock, lift the latch, and push the door back.

She stood on the threshold, staring. Her eyes bulged: her mouth fell open. “There’s a mouse! “She declared, “There’s a mouse!”

Valerie looked too, eyes scanning the kitchen floor, searching for evidence of well, those tell-tale signs that invaders leave. Paddye looked beside the stove because she had taken the precaution to leave a baited trap there when she closed up the place in the fall.

The mouse cringed near the side wall. Strangely it had not scampered to get outside. It seemed to Paddye’s eyes paralyzed, and scamper it certainly could not. Its locomotion was jerky. Paddye wondered if it might have been in an accident. “Look at the trap I left there last fall,” Paddye invited Valerie. “I can’t see it perfectly, but hasn’t that been tripped?”

Valerie, with the eyes of an emergency room nurse, scrutinized the floor in front of the stove. “There’s some kind of fluff in front of the stove?” said Paddye. “What do you make of that?”

“That,” declared Valerie, her nose averted towards the east “Is the severed section of a mouse’s tail, and that — pointing to another article — is the desiccated remnant of the hind leg of a mouse.”

“Oh, the poor thing,” Paddye’s voice came full of sympathy, “Small wonder it seemed wounded. What can we do now?”

“The humane thing,” said Valerie. “Put it out of its misery.”

“Put it away? But, my goodness, Val, can’t we just sweep it out the door?”

“And have it return this evening? No, mother, it must be put out of its misery.”

“But how are we going to do that?” pleaded Paddye.

“Shoot it,” declared Val. “Get down that old .22 that Dad used to keep here.”

“Oh really, Val, are we that desperate?”

“Yes, mother, we are.”

“Well, all right,” Paddye sighed, “So long as it’s not in the cottage! If there’s going to be an execution,” Paddye declared, “It’s got to be done outside.”

She opened the broom closet, took out the straw man and advanced on the cringing enemy. Swish, swish. Hints worked.. The mouse stumbled over the threshold and staggered down the steps and climbed up on the rock beside the trunk of the big pine tree.

Paddye had thought of putting in a call to 911, but realized that the phone was not hooked up yet. The fire department? Same thing, no phone yet. Police? Even if the phone did work they wouldn’t be interested unless the mouse was cultivating forty acres of marijuana. She and Val were on their own.

“Steel yourself, Mother” Valerie, charge nurse, was used to this kind of emergency… “This is a task which just has to be done. First, let me have that broom and dustpan to sweep up those crumpled remains on the floor. I’ll dump them in front of that rock at the foot of the old pine tree. Have you got the .22 ready?”

“Yes. But I will not do this with my eyes open. I insist on keeping my eyes shut.”

“All right, mother. You just point the gun. The mouse is on the rock beside the pine tree. Point the gun. I’ll fire it.”

“Oh,” moaned Paddye, “I don’t want to see any of this. This is awful. Besides, I really don’t mind a mouse. Just not in the house. And, who knows, maybe it’s a female mouse too. Why can’t we just let it roam around?”

“Mother, don’t make a scene. The mouse can’t get better. It’s much better to shoot the mouse than see some sneering old tomcat snatch it up and torture it endlessly, throwing it up end over end, before finally snapping those tearing jaws on the mouse forever. Point the gun. I’ll do the rest.”

Bang! Snap! CRASH.

Paddye lowered the artillery. She shook her head to clear away fog.

The three-legged mouse, stunned out of its wits, had fallen to the ground at the foot of big pine tree, breathing in gulps, fast, its head shaking in great wonder. There was a great roaring in its ears. The whole world seemed to have all of a sudden gone quaking shuddering madly, rocking back and forth like a ship torpedoed in the water. During the quaking, mouse lost its grip, slipped over the edge, and fell off, dropping into a great void far, far below. It was there that a passing field mouse discovered three-legs, and, being a Samaritan, went to aid the victim. The mouse sat up, and, wondering if he were still alive, felt around to the back for its tail and found nothing. Sad eyes looked at the Samaritan seeking solace.

Two pairs of mouse ears tuned their auricular appendages to pick up women’s conversation. They listened to some snappish remarks about the best-laid plans o’ mice ‘n men ‘n women too.

“Did I hit it?” asked one lady.

“Must have blown it to bits.” replied the other. “Not a trace of it to be seen.”

“Goodness Val, how I hate this murderin’ business!” said the first.

“Mother, the mouse had to be put away. ‘Twas best for every one to get it over with quickly.”

The two mice turned to look to each other in puzzlement. Said the Samaritan to the late resident of the cottage, “I really have to wonder about those ladies. Would you think they’re, well, do think they’re, you know, all right?”

“You know what I think?” Three-legs said through clenched teeth. “I think those ladies must have stopped at the cheese factory on the way down here. Fresh curd does strange things to people, you know.”

John Dunn, 24 July ‘01