Yoni’s mouse


If you remember, in my last post I mentioned an intrepid mouse that narrowly escaped death by cat. As it turned out, it didn’t perish after all. I waited almost a week for the tell-tale odour to indicate its passing, and meanwhile cleared up the remains of several more ‘gifts’ from Yoni that hadn’t fared so well. Emailing details of this to a friend she replied: “We had 15 dead birds in our house over the last year, and a blood bath on the carpet – got the carpet cleaner in and two days later on the same spot found another half dead blackbird, with blood and feathers all over the place.” As you can imagine, reading these gory details made me feel so much better.

I started to wonder whether Yoni has some form of Attention Deficit Disorder (along with all the other adverse personality traits) that causes him to be so easily distracted. He’s not really a dedicated assassin, more like a playful clumsy boy with instincts he hasn’t entirely mastered yet. This charitable interpretation of his behaviour is the basis for my continual forgiveness anyway. He isn’t really a murderer, is he? There’s nothing remotely personal in it. He just takes the game a bit too far sometimes. Well, always, if I’m honest.

And then the morning came when I opened the kitchen cupboard under the sink and saw a trail of mouse droppings weaving a path through the multiplicity of cleaning materials, there mostly for decorative purposes since I rarely clean anything. This was the golden opportunity for that cupboard to get cleaned, even though I dreaded finding a small corpse at the back of it. How can one person accumulate such a huge variety of spray containers of stuff for cleaning every conceivable surface? And when did I ever realistically believe I would want to polish stainless steel or add extra whitening to my washing load?

I followed the track of the mouse as I removed every item, using one of the sprays to disinfect as I went. Finally I came across a half chewed J-cloth and a tiny sieve (why did I ever get that? What would I even use it for?) filled to the brim with mouse droppings. Ah, finally it had been assigned a purpose! That intrigued me. Had it been designated a latrine for some arcane reason best known to the mouse, or was it simply the right size for the job? And the chewed J-cloth just broke my heart. Was it that desperate for food? Or was it building a nest? Suddenly my propensity for anthropomorphism kicked in and I started to over-empathise and worry about the mouse. I visualised it, isolated from its family, hiding out under the kitchen cupboards, subsisting on dust and J-cloths, pining for the water-logged fields from whence it had been dragged. I began to think of it as plucky and resourceful, making the best out of a bad situation, much like Anne Frank in Amsterdam during the Second World War.

I was relieved when the entire cupboard had been laid bare to find nothing but the vast amount of droppings as evidence of the mouse’s sojourn there. Perhaps she (by now it was definitely a ‘she’) had escaped somehow through an unseen hole under the sink unit and found her way back to her real home? I could but hope. The following morning I opened the cupboard again to take out the washing up liquid (I’m not an entire slob) and saw more droppings. She hadn’t escaped, then. Good on her, I thought, although I was a tad irritated by the need to clean up after her again. Then I opened the drawer under the sink to get out a tea-towel (I’m reasonably domesticated in some areas) and there she was…

We stared at one another, transfixed, for one of those breathless nanoseconds where you wait for your fight, flight or freeze mechanism to remind you of the animal you really are, and then she opted for flight, while I froze. Too late, I pulled the drawer wide and called out: “Anne! It’s ok! I’m here to rescue you!” She had already leapt from the back of the drawer down into the murky depths of the underworld beneath the sink. Yoni, meanwhile, was sleeping on the sofa, in that enviously profound state of unconsciousness that cats do so well. The mouse had looked suspiciously well fed, and I wondered whether it wasn’t just the cat down the road who was as usual blatantly stealing food from my boy’s bowl, but perhaps the mouse who had also developed a liking for it. Anything had to be an improvement on J-cloths, after all.

As the days passed, Anne and I developed an intuitive rapport. I would cautiously open the drawer with my mouse rescue kit at the ready and find a fresh pile of droppings decorously placed at the front. There was soap in the back of the drawer and I realised on seeing the tooth marks and shavings that Anne was desperate enough to survive on it. I felt racked with guilt. This mouse had set up home amid the squalor of my kitchen cupboard (admittedly remarkably much cleaner now) and I couldn’t even offer her a decent meal. I couldn’t bear to think of her starving, but I couldn’t possibly set a trap for her… or could I? I went out and bought a humane trap, designed to lure the mouse inside and then keep it there before being escorted back to the wild. Excitedly, I cleared the drawer of everything but this, and waited.

The next morning I discovered that Anne was cannier than I had realised. In spite of the ingenuity of the trap, which was weighted in such a way that a mouse stepping on to the feeding platform automatically caused the door to shut, she had got in, eaten the food, and dashed out again. I decided to seduce her with tasty morsels, and possibly fatten her up enough to slow her down. As the days went by this became our ritual. I primed the trap initially with cheese, then after some research found it’s actually not good for mice and peanut better would be preferable. Twice every day I laid the bait. Twice every day Anne exchanged it for healthy looking droppings in a corner of the drawer. I never actually saw her face to face again, but her calling card was evidence enough.

After a week of this I’d resigned myself to the fact that I actually had a pet mouse I kept in a kitchen drawer. I felt embarrassed. This had to be resolved. I went out and bought another humane trap. I tried to think myself inside the mind of a mouse. It’s hard enough with humans. At least there I have some clues in my own thought patterns and behaviour. This time I primed both traps with dollops of irresistible peanut butter. Surely one of them would work? I tried to imagine the frame of mind a mouse might be in with a full belly and an insatiable desire for derring-do. Would she risk the second trap just because she could? “Go girl!” I cheered her on in my own mind, almost believing that by now we had telepathic contact. (All right, I agree – I really should get out more.)

In the morning I opened the drawer as usual. There was always a moment’s frisson of expectation, so far each time dashed. I checked the first trap and once again it was resoundingly empty. One stray dropping fell out of it as I picked it up. Sighing, I lifted up the second trap and noticed a faint suggestion of heaviness. I gently shook it, and there was definitely something inside. However, I’d been fooled a couple of times like this before and been disappointed. Imagination is a deceptive magician well practised in raising false hopes. I carefully carried the trap out of the kitchen and into the garden, shutting the door behind me to keep Yoni well out of the way. Gingerly, I placed the trap close to the ground and raised the closed flap at the front. Nothing happened. I crouched down, lifted it to eye level, and began to look inside – but at that same moment the mouse leapt from the trap, bounded across the flower bed and through the fence to the precarious future beyond.

“Anne!” I called out after her. “Take care. It’s a wild world out there!”

Not even a glance over her shoulder. Not one gesture of thanks or regret. I think I may have shed a little tear as I went back inside to disinfect the drawer for one last time. I would miss her.

The Chronicles of Yoni

Intellectual Yoni

Anyone who knows me is forced into a love/hate relationship with my cat, Yoni (Full name Yin-Yang Yoni, but don’t let’s stand on ceremony.) He is very clear about who is in charge around here, and I have learned to know my place (preferably on pouch-opening and kibble serving duty by the food bowls.) I used to spend my reclining hours in a room which I jokingly referred to as the Mistress Bedroom, slightly dominated by a conveniently Queen sized bed. That’s his room, now. I have conceded defeat. He tends to leave the room in a huff rather than move over if I ever attempt to reclaim the territory. Fortunately there is more than one bedroom in my house – although as all cat slaves will know, every room in a house is a potential bedroom for a cat. He also favours my chair in the room I use to see my therapy clients, and I must admit looks quite at home there, his inscrutable gaze and Buddha-like composure well suited to the role. Would it make much difference to clients if instead of shoving him out of the way to sit there I simply left him comfortably in situ to listen to them? It’s an experiment I haven’t so far dared to make.

I get the feeling he mostly tolerates me, and have asked myself a few times why I picked such an obvious loner from the litter of mostly friendly purring kittens. He was the one squealing with aggrieved insecurity as his mother showed clear preference for his cuddlier siblings. Perhaps we simply understand one another. He refuses to do anything as girlie as sit on my lap (I did think he was a girl initially until nature proved me wrong, and by then I was already committed and a bit in love with him.) However, when I’m sitting in an armchair with a furry rug at my feet, he will settle himself on the rug, paddle his feet a couple of times in the fur to get that mother cat buzz, and then look at me pointedly until I get down on the floor and provide a space between my legs for him to snuggle inside. It’s not the most comfortable position in which to relax. Not for me, anyway, with my bad back. However, I willingly trade-off one kind of comfort for another, as there is something infinitely consoling about the mutual appreciation between one barely tamed creature and another. They never could entirely domesticate me, I’m happy to say.

One morning a few months ago I got up at 6 a.m. for no better reason than that I was bored, having been awake since 4:30 contending with the continuing effects of a bout of pleurisy. “A nice cup of tea,” I thought optimistically. “That will help. And maybe then I can drift off again for a while.” But no, it wasn’t to be. I’d no sooner opened the kitchen door when Yoni came bounding in through the cat flap with a mouse dangling from his jaws – a very sweet, very alive and wriggly field mouse. “Put it down!” I yelled, as I invariably do. I had my mouse rescue kit ready. This comprises a large plastic tub originally containing soup and a piece of thin cardboard. With enough speed and dexterity it works. There was a time when I used to pick up the dear little creatures in my cupped hands and ferry them back outside again, as far away from Yoni’s grasp as possible, until the day when one ungrateful sod bit me and I spent the next seven hours in A&E waiting for a tetanus jab. Oh, how the nurses laughed. I still don’t understand what was quite so funny about being assaulted while in the throes of a compassionate mouse rescue operation. “That’s the third mouse bite today!” one of them said to another. “Strange how they go in threes.” Strange, indeed… I was distracted from my musings about a possible mouse revolution and an army of rodents plotting world domination by the jab of the needle. “You’ll need antibiotics, too,” the nurse said. At least we were ready for them.

However, back to my narrative… At the sound of my voice Yoni looked at me in disbelief. He never gets why I’m not as enthusiastic as he is about the mouse capturing game. He opened his mouth, possibly to make a sarcastic comment in cat speak, and the mouse saw his moment and made a valiant bid for freedom. I had to admire his chutzpah and his technique. He zipped across to one side of the kitchen, and by the time Yoni had figured out what had happened and followed him, the mouse had changed tack and sped back towards the opposite corner. There he squeezed himself through a hole at the side of the units you wouldn’t have thought you could get a paper clip through (but somehow mice manage it.) I sighed as I watched Yoni still sniffing at the place the mouse wasn’t. I knew this meant we were in for the long haul. We have been here before.

Eventually he followed the scent trail back to where the mouse had last been seen, but let’s face it, the mouse was by now in that vast hinterland beneath the kitchen units where he could survive for days if necessary. Did I mention that Yoni has a touch of OCD? Perhaps all cats do. His capacity to focus on the fine detail is astonishing. If there is a speck of the last rejected meal left in his food bowl, for instance, he will turn his nose up at anything fresh put on top of it and walk away in disdain. When it comes to escaped prisoners, his bent for obsessive attention is unleashed to the full. The last time this happened he sat in front of the freezer for 24 hours, with only the occasional comfort break, barely moving, staring intently, waiting for the escapee to emerge again out of hiding at the exact spot where he could still catch a lingering whiff of it. As if.

This day was no different. I knew, the mouse knew, and probably you as you read this know, that Yoni’s vigil by the kitchen cupboard was like waiting for Godot, an utterly futile exercise. I hate to say it, but the most likely exit point for the mouse – given my wealth of experience on this subject now – is going to be mouse heaven. Cats seem to be very good at demonstrating the power of hope over experience, however, and nothing was going to make him give up. I left him to it. He did get bored a few times during the day, or was possibly distracted by the thought of food (not really what he wanted, as usual – he has a bit of an eating disorder, too.) But each time he remembered the mouse he was back there on duty.

When I went to bed that night, he looked at me reluctantly, and if I could interpret cat speak I’m sure he would have been saying something like: “It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.” The next morning he looked like a cat who has not slept a wink (an unusual sight, given that they spend most of the day doing it.) He also seemed slightly depressed, as anyone who has invested too much energy and attention into a project that just hasn’t worked out is wont to look. Or am I projecting too much into what, let’s be real about it, is a blatantly expressionless expression on a cat’s face? In any event, he had given up. I felt sure that evidence of the escapee now being in mouse heaven was likely to soon follow, and would linger in the miasmic air of the kitchen for quite a while. As I said, we had been here before. However, that wasn’t quite what happened next, as I will reveal in my next post.

You can find out more about my books and about me at my website www.lesleyhayes.co.uk

… and there is a rather interesting cat called Morpheus in my novel ‘The Drowned Phoenician Sailor’ who bears more than a passing resemblance to Yoni.