Columns, Opinion

BERICK: Of mice and women

His name was Louisa Brigitta and he was a mouse. To give a male Indian mouse a combination of female Austrian names seemed, as a study abroad student, reassuringly ironic. Yes, college students are the same even when transported halfway across the world. My then-roommate woke me up for the fifth time one evening with, instead of her cell phone, a stage scream.

‘I just SAW something in here. Oh my god. Ithinkitwasamouse.’

Fortunately, as you will find if you pay enough attention, girls are simultaneously the complicated and the simplest creatures to understand.’

‘It was a mouse,’ I said. ‘His name is Louisa Brigitta.’

‘Oh,’ and with that she turned her light off and went back to sleep.

The lesson here is twofold: that girls can love almost any animal with a name, and that almost any animal is manageable if there is just one.

‘ Here in Allston, mice are more difficult.’ There are obvious reasons ‘- that there are hundreds of them, that they carry diseases, that they leave their droppings, however small and sprinkle-like, wherever they go, that they eat through bread like Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar.’ They are also palm-sized and grey, with tails and very little ears, and therefore, very difficult to kill. My current roommates, more Allston savvy than myself, immediately started a list of mouse sightings to hold as collateral against our negligent landlord. The first is still my favorite, back in the days when we could still convince ourselves that there was maybe just one or possibly two mice. The entry reads:

Sept. 4, 3 p.m.: mouse jumps out of toaster.

A mouse jumping just sounds nice, like a nursery rhyme. A mouse jumping out of a toaster at 3 p.m. just as my roommate is walking into the kitchen has better comedic timing than Stephen Colbert. I should have given this mouse a cookie. Instead I broke its neck, and the necks of thirteen of his companions, his tiny mouse buddies. After killing them, I scooped them into brown paper bags and took them below ground, to the basement, which is more like hell than a crypt ‘- it’s all a matter of lighting.

That we caught 14 mice should have been alarming in its suggestions about the tenability of our apartment, but it was a black week for other reasons. I hate to admit to being female but my spirits plummeted every time I opened the door to our morgue. Living in the apartment became a grotesque Easter egg hunt, a nightmare search for the Passover afikoman, in which the players try to find the demi tasse sized corpses hidden in unlikely places. Under that radiator I used to love so much was now a tomb, haunting with its Victorian embellishments; or, on the counter once piled with crepes, the cold, marble resting place of no fewer than four furred friends.

Resisting the urge to cry is not one of my specialties ‘- some things should really be indulged in, like soft serve and the occasional tears. So I did exactly what you would expect from a Boston University student faced with an off-campus pest problem. I cried and called my dad. I told him to come get them, sticky in their peanut butter trap deaths. The bait was chunky in case you were wondering, brand indeterminate. He said he would, but my parents live in Washington, D.C. and it was meant to be a joke.’ So I hung up and debated with my roommate Bree, carefully reexamining the state of feminism in America, one of our favorite arguments. Should we get the mice or get a guy to do it? Bree said there were some things women were just not meant to do. I said something equivalent to, ‘Did you just tell me I play like a girl?’ and went to craft cardboard construction equipment. You will find that two stiff pieces of cardboard from the pile of boxes you have stashed in the corner since your move work pretty well to forklift the whole scene of the crime. The victims were limp and thumped against each other in their body bags so I only made it through a few before my Title IV power trip gave out.

Like in King Lear or those new Batman movies, the plot got so dark that it really became obscene. Later in the week we could smell their little deaths all over the apartment and worse. Things happened that, in the life of comfortable middle class twenty-something women, fall under the category of disaster. In another context mice would be the smallest of my problems. Things, as my father never ceases to remind me, could be worse. ‘They could be eating all your grain for the winter or give you the plague.’ My mother told me to get a cat. But what would we name it?

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