Wee Cowering Sleekit 
Timorous Bahstid

(With absobloodylutely no apologies to R. Burns)

Karen Treanor

© Copyright 2002 by Karen Treanor

Photo of a wee mouse.

I'm thinking of trying out for a job as a cat. I figure I'd be at least as good at it as any one of the three members of felis domesticus who currently live in my house. As far as I can tell, being a cat involves eating six meals a day and sleeping for twenty hours of that day. The other four hours are taken up with grooming and picking fights. I reckon I could get on top of that job in no time.

The new career consideration came to me after that business with the stove.

It all started two weeks ago when Topaz, the brown Burmese who is top cat in our household, came in and dropped a live mouse on the hearth rug. She then began to groom her coat, looking over her shoulder at us as if to say "I've done my part of this cat thing: I caught a mouse."

The mouse couldn't believe his luck, and took it on the toe faster than you'd think an animal whose last half-hour had been spent as a Frisbee could manage.

My husband and I took off after the mouse, but once it spotted the half-inch space between the skirting board and the freestanding pantry, the game was over.

We returned to the warm living room, leaving the back door open enough to offer an escape route. We knew little of mouse psychology, but assumed any sensible rodent would take the chance of returning to the wild. That night we shut the three cats in the front of the house, just in case the escapee was still hanging around.

The cats sniffed around the kitchen, then settled themselves watchfully. The offending Burmese stretched herself low on the floor, nose pressed to the space between the stove and the pan cupboard.

"See how keen she is!" I said proudly to Gene. "She's trying to make up for letting the mouse go. If it shows so much as a whisker, she'll be on it in a flash."

He hunkered down beside the cat. "I doubt that. Her eyes are closed. The stupid cat's asleep!" He poured a glass of wine and retreated in disgust to his den.

Several days later I found half a mouse on the back porch and fed it to our old hen, who considers mice a delicacy but isn't quite fast enough to catch her own. I assumed that this was the end of the mouse story.

Next week when I was cooking Indian naan breads under the griller, a most appalling smell filled the kitchen. My husband said "No wonder they usually cook those things outdoors in a tandoor oven. I hope they taste better than they smell."

I turned off the griller and extracted the grilling pan and rack. In the back of the pan were a number of tiny charred black things which looked like caraway seeds turned to charcoal, which was odd: I had not grilled anything with caraway seeds recently.

I scrubbed the pan thoroughly and resumed cooking the flat breads. The smell was just as bad, in fact, the more breads I cooked, the worse the smell got. I opened windows, turned on the extractor fan, and decided not to cook anymore naans that night.

Next afternoon I decided to really clean out the griller compartment, in case something had gone bad in there. I pulled out the clean griller tray and saw it was speckled with more things that looked like caraway seeds, not burned this time. Picking one up and smelling it, I re-discovered one of those universal truths: everybody's poo stinks, even a mouse's. In the back of the grill cavity was a tuft of pale yellow fluff, which seemed to be fibreglass insulation.

I rang Gene at work. "Bring home some mouse traps, we've got a problem."

That evening, muttering in his beard (literally) about useless lay-about cats, Gene dismantled the gas stove. Once the top was off, we saw the roof of the griller was heavily decorated with mouse droppings, plus some sticky puddles which turned out to be mouse urine.

"The little monster is using this as his latrine" Gene said, sniffing his fingers in disgust. I sprayed the griller top and his fingers with eucalyptus oil, which de-sticks things and neutralises any smell.

Almost any smell.

Half an hour later, after many applications of kitchen cleaners and another spray with eucalyptus, the griller top was clean.

The wires leading to the ignition system looked a bit sticky too, and I pulled them through a soapy sponge to clean them. (Yes, of course I switched the power off at the wall. Not soon enough, but that's another story.) As I cleaned the last wire, it seemed to be stuck on something up under the console at the back of the stove, the thing that holds the timer and the fan switch. I gave it a good tug, and out popped a very surprised fat mouse, which said "Nyah-nyah" at me and ran back inside the console.

"Gene!" I yelled.

My long-suffering husband came out of his den, one of the lay-about cats draped over his shoulder.

"The mouse just jumped out and razzed me", I explained. "Does this stove come apart any further?"

Dumping the cat, he took up a screwdriver and after a lot of swearing, got the console off. Because it is attached to all the wires that run to the fan and the ignition gizmo, it couldn't be put down on the floor, but had to be propped up on a chair. And the stove itself, being gas, is attached by a short hose to the gas outlet in the wall, so we couldn't pull it very far from its mooring.

By now our galley kitchen was rather crowded. The stove parts were arrayed around the walls, leaning on the cabinets, the stove itself was as far from the wall as it would go, the console was propped on a chair behind the stove, and two of the three cats were sitting watching the fun.

With all these parts removed, we could see the insulation at the back of the stove. Gene groaned. "If the mouse has got in there, we'll have to replace all the fibreglass, and that's a terrible job."

I sniffed hard at the insulation. "I can't smell anything like mouse pee. Maybe he or she pulled that tuft out and didn't like it. Fibreglass insulation is itchy, isn't it?"

"It's awful stuff. I used fibreglass in a job once years ago, and we had to take cold showers after work to get the fibres off ourselves. Worst job I ever had." He said morosely.

"Well, I don't think we'll have to replace the insulation. Tomorrow I'll scrub everything you've removed and put it in the sun. Meanwhile, what about the traps?"

Using slivers of very expensive bacon--never let it be said we're cheap mouse-trappers--Gene baited and set two traps, with only one near disaster to his fingers. One trap went on the floor near the pan cupboard, and one went into the griller cavity.

"The mouse will never turn up tonight, there's been too much noise in the kitchen" he said, "not to mention all three cats being here now." The old Maine coon cat had joined the fun, and was observing everything from her perch on the Welsh dresser. "We'll have to keep the cats out of the kitchen tonight, no point in having vet bills on top of everything else."

Picking up all the cats, we went to the living room to watch the late news, resigned to having all three cats spend the night on our bed to protect them from the hair-trigger traps.

"That mouse will be long gone now," grumbled Gene, "We'll have to set those bloody traps every night for a week."

From the recently vacated kitchen came a loud snap.

I leaped up and switched on the kitchen lights. Thrashing on the floor was a fat mouse. "Oh, God, it's caught by the tail and it's hurt, it's not dead, and it's bleeding." I cried.

By the time Gene had divested himself of his wineglass and the cats, the mouse was no longer thrashing. Somehow it had been killed by the trap but not held by the snap bar. Putting the corpse in the trash and removing the trash bag to the bin outside, Gene mopped up the mouse blood with every evidence of satisfaction.

I spent all the next day cleaning stove parts. That night Gene reassembled the stove. As he screwed the last bit on, he said "It's hard to believe that a two cent mouse could thoroughly trash an eleven hundred dollar stove in less than two weeks."

"Perhaps he didn't see himself as a two-cent mouse. Think of it as a learning experience. It's a wasted day when you don't learn something new." I said.

"And what have you learned from all this?"

"Four things. Gas stoves are put together in a frighteningly slapdash manner. Grilled mouse poo smells like cheap cigars. Hardly anyone makes mousetraps that fit your griller. And some people keep cats just because they're decorative."

"I could have gone happily to my grave knowing none of those things," Gene said, pushing the stove back into its accustomed place against the wall. "From now on, frisk the cats before you let them in."

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