It’s this time of the year that people begin to get mice in their houses, and we have been no exception. I might not have done something about it immediately (after all, mice have the right to be warm, too, don’t they?), but this mouse (or mice) was in the wall directly over our bed. It was obviously making a nest there, and its rhythmic gnawing kept me awake for several nights before I took action.
With reluctance I set out several baited mouse traps in the basement, where I presumed the mice had obtained access to the house. Within a few days the traps had done their job and the annoying gnawing sounds at night had disappeared.
In a way, it was all too easy, and it was. One morning a few weeks later, as I got up and started to make breakfast, I heard a familiar sound – a steady, gnawing, crunchy sound that this time seemed to be coming from behind the sideboard in our living room. It would be steady for a while, then stop briefly, then start again. There seemed to be nothing on – no fan, appliance, or motor – that would be making such a sound. When Kathy came downstairs she picked up the fire extinguisher we keep next to the sideboard and hit the ceiling with it a few times. But the sound didn’t stop – and then it did.
I was pissed, and resentful. I would have to go to the hardware store to get more traps, but then I realized it was closed today. If this kept up I might even have to get a commercial exterminator to come out and rid the house of its rodent population and seal up wherever they were entering.
But more than any of these inconveniences, I resented having to deal with the same situation more than once. You see, I had already written about having a mouse in the house in a previous radio essay a few years ago, and about the humanistic dilemma it presented. Now as a writer, I realized that you can’t use the same situation more than once. No reader or listener wants to hear or read about a situation you’ve already related. In other words, I resented this situation because I’d already used it.
The noise continued, persistent, annoying, and it seemed, louder than the day before. On a hunch I wondered if the mice might be using the hot air return vent underneath the sideboard to get into the house. I lay down and reached my arm under the base of the sideboard and – my hand touched something. I looked and saw, on the top of the return vent, an empty cardboard roller from a toilet paper roll. It was rocking back and forth over the vent, propelled by the air currents from the furnace fans. Coincidentally, it produced an exact mimicry of the sound made by a rodent gnawing wood. I grasped the roller and pulled it out with a great wave of relief.
And I knew that having now discovered the innocuous, benign source of the sound, knowing what it was and what it was not, I could’ve left it there all day and all night, making the same sound, and it would not have bothered me at all. And, as it turned out, I did manage to get another story about it after all.
Sometimes you figure things out.