This is an excerpt from one of the stories included in the anthology, Silver Linings: Stories of Love, Hope, and Courage in a Pandemic Setting. If you liked the story, please consider supporting the writer by buying the book.
The mouse appeared on the 87th day of the lockdown. At least Nancy felt it was the 87th day. The 88th, 55th, 100th, what difference did it make? She had stopped counting the days, not since they shut the power down and her phone ran out of battery. Not since everything went awry, and no one knew what was going on outside.
But one morning, which seemed like all the other mornings Nancy had, a peculiar thing happened. Nancy was in her usual spot, lying on her floor mattress near the window, reading a Margaret Atwood novel when she caught sight of a flash of fur. She stifled a scream as she watched a mouse dart from the bathroom, pass through the kitchen, then bolt towards the foot of her mattress, grazing the sheets before disappearing behind the wooden dresser.
Now there was nothing extraordinary about this mouse. Nancy had seen a lot of mice in her lifetime. Gray-brown fur, black eyes, a long scaly tail, its movements as jerky as a stop-motion clay animation.
The only exceptional thing about this mouse was its size. It was tiny, so Nancy concluded it was probably just a baby mouse which lost its way, and in its frail innocence, thought her already cramped 15 square meter apartment was its house too. But still it was a mouse—a dirty, mischievous, disgusting thing!
And what about the timing? There couldn’t be a worse time to have a mouse decide to apply as a roommate or a house pet. Nancy longed for company. But when she prayed for someone to spend the lockdown with, a mouse wasn’t exactly what she had in mind.
She stared at the wooden dresser in horror, fighting the urge to throw her book at it to spook the mouse. Suddenly, Nancy’s peaceful existence, or what’s left of it, was interrupted. It had taken her days to come to peace with what could happen, the worst-case scenario: that if she remained trapped in her apartment without replenishing provisions, death could come knocking at her door. It was either the airborne virus outside, or starvation inside. Either way, she wasn’t ready to die.
How could she be? Nancy looked back on her life and found nothing much mattered or held weight. There was her dream of becoming a Pixar animator. She had finished her course in college, leaving her hometown in Iloilo to pursue her dreams in Manila. But as a twenty-seven-year-old color key artist and junior animator in a production company in Makati, she had been light years away from writing and art-directing her own Monsters, Inc. or Ratatouille.
And there was Stan, her boss, Senior Creative Director, and mentor. By morning, they were collaborators, colleagues. By night, they were each other’s secrets, making love behind cracks and corners of cramped broom closets and seedy motels. Always breathless, always pressed for time for those stolen moments. And what was Nancy to him, but just a mere whim, an afterthought, a pet, a diversion from a marriage that was crumbling? Nancy was just a secret, a deep-seated secret that made her feel small. And it wasn’t so bad to feel small, wasn’t it? There was comfort in being small, if only to remain hidden.
But being small had its repercussions too, like the tiny situation in her apartment that could balloon into a bigger problem. Since the mouse had invaded her space, Nancy could no longer sleep restfully at night. The baby mouse was a squeaker and a scratcher, and the slightest sound made Nancy jump. Even the solar lamp which Nancy placed beside her bed didn’t ease her discomfort. She put up with this for a few days until the mouse did something unforgivable.
One day, Nancy opened her cupboard and found one packet of crackers chewed up. And the mouse even had the nerve to leave a trail of crumbs! Nancy had no choice but to declare war. Her mission was simple: to annihilate the mouse as soon as possible, as if her life depended on it.
Nancy vs. Mouse
Nancy did the easiest thing she could think of. She found a box of rat poison and scattered a few pellets near the refrigerator and dresser. She sniggered at the thought of the baby mouse falling for such a cheap trick. But two days went by and the poison dried up and hardened on the floor, untouched.
Nancy remembered a YouTube video of a pail of water with a dollop of peanut butter positioned on a floating mechanism. To assist the mice to jump to their deaths, a makeshift stairway was placed beside the pail. One by one, the mice climbed up the pail and splashed into the water and attempted to swim towards the coveted prize. In the video, around a dozen mice crowded and sloshed around the water for five minutes before they drowned one by one.
Nancy tried replicating this, using a small bottle of lotion to hold the spoonful of peanut butter. To serve as stairs, she placed a pile of books beside the pail.
But the tiny mouse seemed to have a bigger brain. It ignored the peanut butter completely and ate parts of her books instead. Nancy winced at the sight of her destroyed books, as if the mouse was mocking and challenging her. It was getting personal, and Nancy took matters into her own hands.
Her hands. Nancy’s hands shook. Not all the time, but only in the morning, just before she drank a glass of water. Hunger chewed off her strength as Nancy rationed her food.
This was all she had left: three canned meat, three packets of crackers, a box of stale cheese, and an almost dried-up bottle of peanut butter. Nancy figured she could stretch the food for six weeks before she would totally be depleted.
But then, of course, there’s the mouse. The mouse could be captured and cooked, if Nancy could manage to deep-fry and digest a cooked baby mouse. She heard mice tasted like chicken, so how bad could it be? But no! She could not, would not. Over her dead body! And by the time her soul left her body, the mouse would be feasting on her rotting flesh. Hell, no! The mouse had to go. And this time, she would do it the traditional way.
Nancy took every ounce of strength she had left and swung her bat on the squeaking, devious thing. The mouse ran away in panic, as Nancy attempted to bludgeon it to death.
But with every frail swing, Nancy missed, and the mouse successfully hid underneath furniture and appliances. Dizzy and out of breath, Nancy quickly abandoned this futile attempt.
Nancy trapped the mouse. The thing with traps was that the choices for the targeted prey must be eliminated. So Nancy hid all her remaining food inside a vacuum-sealed Tupperware container, which she put inside the refrigerator. This was Nancy telling the mouse that the food had run out, giving the prey no other choice but to take the bait.
Now another thing that Nancy had over the mouse was that she liked DIY. She rummaged through her place for materials and discovered she could make do with her art supplies.
She slit up a piece of cardboard, then pasted the cardboard onto the floor using double-sided tape. Nancy put the trap near the dresser where the mouse always hid.
The toppings to her masterpiece were the glue trap, a glistening river of goo, and a tantalizing spoonful of peanut butter placed in the middle. Nancy patted herself in the back. This could work, she assured herself.
Come to think of it, Nancy was somewhat of an expert with traps. With Stan, she’d convinced herself she had no choice in the matter. Stan was her ideal guy, ticking off all the boxes — tall, handsome, smart, creative, sexy. Except the part where he was married.
Looking back, what had she been hoping for? That Stan would leave his wife for her? Before she knew it, she had become the kind of girl whose hands were bound in a web of sticky lies. Better this than not have Stan at all, she had thought. Now she realized there were traps that you’ve laid down for yourself and these are traps that you could escape if you try your damn hardest.
On the 111th day, Nancy succeeded to trap the mouse. Or at least it felt like the 111th.
The devious rodent was lying on its side, shaking as if it were having a nervous breakdown. Was she hallucinating, or were there actual tears in its eyes?
Tears fell from its round black eyes, turning its fur into a wet mess. It continued crying, wailing, pleading for its life, the squeaks turning into audible words. Nancy struggled to hear. Did it say “please?” Just then, a heavy ache settled on her chest. She felt bad for the mouse, which was only trying its best to live.
Just like her.
Nancy plopped down beside the mouse and, for the first time in a long time, she started crying. Please, she whimpered, please, please, please, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. She was sorry for trapping the mouse, sorry for her sad life, sorry for so many bad choices and regrets and what-could-have-beens. She pleaded for her life, for a chance to survive, for a chance to make things right.
For quite a while, woman and mouse went on like this, crying together, the sobs and squeaks melding into one wailing song.
When Nancy’s tears finally stopped, she stood up and walked over to her stash of food to get a piece of cracker. Creeping toward the mouse, she bent down and fed it. As it started to chew, the mouse looked up at her with gratitude.
Outside, the sun was setting. A yellow-orange blanket spread around the sky, a majestic sight that filled her and the mouse’s heart with hope.