The House Guest
© Copyright 2018 by Celi Azulek
don’t know whether it’s just me, but most years I seem to
come across three or four animals or birds that require some form of
helping hand and they will often spend several weeks with me, as they
get back onto their feet. The heroine of this story, The House Guest,
was one of these unexpected waifs . . .
It had been raining all morning, and because it was nearly lunchtime, I decided to take advantage of a break in the clouds to make a quick dash outside to check if there were any salad leaves ready in the veg garden. Unsurprisingly, considering how cold a June it had been, I found that the mixed salad plants were still too small to pick and had not really grown much since I had planted them out a few weeks earlier. While I was checking the row of lettuces, it started raining again, so, rather than retrace my steps back across the squelchy lawn, I decided to take the slightly longer, but dryer route back to the kitchen, under the trees via the path and steps, where I came across an extremely odd sight. On the third step up, on a flight of four steps, was a dead adult wood mouse and next to her, a dead baby mouse which could not have been more than a few days old. About a half a metre away on the furthest side of the step, was another baby mouse, but this one was still alive. How they had got there, why they were there and what had actually happened to have a dead mother mouse out in the open with two of her own babies, I have never been able to quite work out, but, finding them, immediately posed me with a problem.
Bending down, I carefully picked up the still alive baby mouse. It was covered in a sleek, just emerging, velvet-brown fur and had tightly shut, yet to open eyes. Its damp body felt cold in my hand and I stood there, under the dripping trees, debating what to do. The baby was obviously still dependant on its mother’s milk, so if I decided to try and save it, it would have to be fed something and probably not cow’s milk, but then again, it was only a wood mouse, they breed all year round, they get into the house, chew the lagging off the water pipes and make nests in the attic and if they make it into the main part of the house, they leave little black droppings all over the floor and try and make nests in your slippers. Wood mice are rodents, not much better than house mice, which are in turn, probably only a few degrees better than rats. All I had to do was throw it down hard onto the concrete steps and it would be dead immediately. It wouldn’t know anything and if I hadn’t found it, it would probably have died of cold in the next hour anyway. Also, if I did try to save it, I might not be able to feed it properly and apart from the fact that looking after anything is time-consuming, I might just end up prolonging its life for it to die of malnutrition, or some other problem brought on by giving it the wrong thing to eat. There was a choice, a quick death now, or a slow possibly painful death, because I had interfered. Then again, I might be able to save it, or would that just be me indulging myself just to see if it was possible to feed a still milk-dependent baby mouse. A lot of contradictory thoughts hummed around my head, as I decided on what to do. Of course, I thought at last, if instead of a little wood mouse it had been something larger, or possibly a rare animal, one would obviously try to save it, so why the big difference?
I looked down at the tiny scrap, which was hardly bigger than the first joint of my first finger. The warmth of my hand was already transmitting some life back into her and she had started to move more strongly, waving her delicate arms and flexing her little pink paws as she lay on her back in the palm of my hand. Alright, I thought, you deserve a chance, let’s both fight this problem together.
Taking her indoors, everything now had to be done one-handed, as I didn’t have anywhere to put her that was warm, but not too hot, so I sought out a hot water bottle, put the kettle on to boil and found a small cardboard box, which had been used to hold a china mug and which had just arrived through the post that morning. I tore up some paper towelling for bedding, which proved difficult to do one-handedly and put the box on top of the hot water bottle, so it filled with a gentle heat. Then, depositing the little mouse in the nest of paper confetti, I turned my attention to what would be a suitable substitute for mother mouse’s milk. Using cow’s milk was out of the question, as it is difficult to digest, because of the size of the fat globules, but luckily, I happened to have a pint of goat’s milk in the fridge. Assuming that goat’s milk would be a reasonable alternative, I now had to work out how best to feed it to her. After a little thought, I decided that a cotton bud, dipped in goat’s milk might work, possibly hazy childhood memories of finding out that duckbilled platypuses do not have teats, but sweat milk through their skin, might have helped me to come up with this idea. Amazingly, when I picked her up to try feeding her, Lonely Mouse, as I came to call her, needed very little encouragement to start sucking on the cotton bud and before long she had a full tummy and was happily sleeping her milk meal off, back in her box.
Rounds of feeding every couple of hours, including through the night, then followed and before too many days had passed she was able to sit bolt upright in her white-paper nest, with her eyes still tightly shut and munch on a small piece of hazelnut held fast in both her tiny pink hands. Getting her onto solid food had been a relief, as I had had a constant nagging worry about her diet in the back of my mind, whilst I was feeding her just goat’s milk and now that she was eating nuts as well, I felt a lot happier, knowing that the solid food would make up for any essential vitamins, or minerals that she was not getting from the milk. Goat’s milk of course, being ideal for baby goats, but not necessarily the best thing for baby mice.
Only a few more days after that, her eyes opened and she was needing to take her first, venturing steps, outside the nest, so I moved her into an old aquarium that I had had for years and which I fitted up with branches for her to climb and dead leaves and sawdust for her to scrabble about in.
As she got older, Lonely Mouse proved to be very friendly and would happily jump onto my hand when I was putting food in for her and would climb up my arm to sit on my shoulder, to get closer to me. As a child I had kept pet mice which I had bought from the local pet shop, but they were rather boring creatures and never seemed to interact in the way a dog or cat might. However, Lonely Mouse seemed to come when I called and always appeared to be really pleased to see me, in fact in my view, she was the closest thing to a dog, a mouse could get and she totally changed my view of how intelligent and personable these little creatures really can be. In fact, it was quite a revelation to think of all that life wrapped up in such a very, very small package.
The older she got the more practised and swifter were her movements and after a few days of seeing how fast she could dash around her home the aquarium, which was nearly a metre long and then seeing her start to work out for herself, exactly how to get out, I decided that it would probably be better in the long run, if I let her go.
Decision made, the following evening after feeding her, I opened the window of the room that she was in, took off the lid of the aquarium and left her to her own devices. By the next morning the aquarium was empty and there was no sign of her in the room. I was sad to see her go and hoped that even if her time in the wild was brief, she would at least get to enjoy the freedom of a big wide world. That evening just in case she came back, I left out some food for her and out of curiosity, before I went to bed at ten o’ clock, I looked in on the room. To my surprise, there on the windowsill was a mouse. “Mousey!” I said not believing that she had come back. The mouse stopped what it was doing and stood up on its back legs to look at me. I walked over and put my hand down and Lonely Mouse jumped onto my hand and climbed up my arm to sit on my shoulder. She appeared very pleased to see me and I stroked her back with one finger, which she seemed to enjoy. Although, she’d been wild for twenty-four hours she was obviously, still wanting a bit of mouse-human interaction, so I talked to her for about ten minutes and then putting her down gently, I let her go back to what she had been doing.
To my amazement, Lonely Mouse returned to the room three nights running and each night she appeared, it was as if she had not been out in the garden doing wild, wood mouse things and each time we saw each other, she seemed as pleased to see me, as I was pleased to see her.
Of course, all things come to an end and on the fourth night after release, she sadly did not turn up. Hopefully, she had just decided, that now she was a grownup wood mouse she didn’t need her human parent and had gone to enjoy the special wood mouse lifestyle, that only a wood mouse knows, but in reality, the chances that she had succumbed to some midnight predator, were probably high.
I still think back fondly of her, even though she was only part of my life for a matter of weeks, but I did learn one thing from my little mouse friend, in that one should not make assumptions about animals, or people for that matter, before you’ve got to know them.
Celi Azulek trained as a classical musician at the Guildhall School of Music in London, studying the viola and subsequently gained a scholarship to the Nordwestdeutsche Musikakademie in Germany. As a concerto soloist she has performed at the Queen Elizabeth and Festival Halls in London and as a chamber musician and orchestral player, she has performed in venues all over the world.
Due to an accident a few years ago, her playing career was cut short and she has since been involved with nature conservancy and nature photography.