Thursday, November 27, 2014

Of Dead Mice and Men

It was a massacre.

And it was one of my own design.

I had been left to my own devices, somehow.  Sent on an expedition to replenish the pantry.  My mission was to acquire the necessary foodstuffs to keep the family going for one more week.  So, of course, my first stop was to the hardware store.  Lowe's.  There was a line that needed to be drawn, and the time had come that I could no longer ignore past transgressions.  Accounts would be made.  Payments made in full.  Balance restored.  That was the way it had to be. It wasn't for sport; I took no pleasure in it.  It was a grim responsibility.

"Where do the mice go after you catch them?" she asks, eyes wide.

My children were both looking up at me, their faces the very definition of childlike wonder.  They knew only curiosity.  They didn't know where it might lead or that they might not like where it took them.  They knew only that they must follow wherever it beckoned.  That is the Childhood Creed that we are eventually all guilty of breaking.  Payment made in full...

Standing with one hand on the garage door and the other holding a knotted plastic Walmart shopping back to keep its contents sealed, "Outside.  I set them--they go outside."

"Can I see?"  My son this time.  Looking down into his eyes, his face, life, how can I tell him that I am a dealer of death?  How can I explain my grizzly business?  Convince them the monster is really still a man?

I'm not sure how long the assault had been going on, but our borders had definitely been breached.  I had no choice but to retaliate.  And now I was on my way to the trash with my twelfth dead body in a week.  I was holding a dead body in one hand and lying to my children with my mouth.  It wasn't that I was trying to insulate them from death.  They'd seen dead animals, been to human funerals.  I was selfish.  I didn't want them to look at me with those kinds of eyes.  I was weak.  I couldn't bear to have them look at me and see the executioner.  The hangman always looking for his next noose.

 The traps had been working well for the most part.  The first dead mouse left more blood than I had anticipated and I worried that the smell of their comrade's blood soaked into the trap might overpower the smell of the peanut butter bait.  I needn't have.  The desperate drive for life overpowered any portents of death.  As it will.

My mind was caught on two specimens.  Numbers Two and Seven.

Numbers Two and Seven I'd had to drown.

Saturday morning with the kids.  I was busy trying to distract them so that I could fall back into a restless sleep on the couch.  Before settling back in I needed to take a piss.  Downstairs.  Where I could relieve myself in peace.  As life continued to spiral towards dark depths of responsibility and social obligation, the bathroom had become a refuge.  A temple.  It was a place to relieve oneself not only of biological waste but also spiritual waste.  Sitting there, alone in quiet contemplation, I had experienced entire worlds more vast than I could have imagined and caught myself looking deeper within than I typically would.  It was a way station on that long highway known as Life where a man could stop and take a few moments to gather himself before he had to be on his weary way again.

That morning's contemplation was disrupted, however, upon the discovery that one of my traps had again attracted its intended prey, though with unintended consequences.  On my way to the bathroom, I stopped to see if I had claimed any more victims with my death machines and experienced twisted satisfaction upon finding another corpse.  Only this corpse wasn't a corpse.

Something had gone horribly wrong.  Instead of crushing his soft skull, the hammer had come down on the rodent's torso.  It was still alive.  I wasn't sure, but I think its spine was broken as the creature seemed to be moving only from the waist up.  Shit.  I wasn't prepared for this eventuality.  I could deal with blood, but what do I do with a still-beating heart?

I needed time to think.  I took my piss with no solace, and the mouse was still there.  I walked back upstairs, and the mouse was still there.  I ate my bagel, and the mouse was still there.  I watched part of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II, and the mouse was still there.  A terrible refrain punctuating my every move, every breath, every thought.

I hoped that maybe I could just leave it there, let time do the deed for me.  No, that was too slow, too cruel, especially when I'd waited so long already.  I tried to imagine murder.  The first thought was to crush it somehow.  Put on my boots and step down.  Hard.  It seemed too messy.  It would also have taken the type of total commitment that I was lacking at that moment.  I needed something clean, something quick, and something less gruesome.  How to kill cleanly and quickly without leaving a mark?

Then lightning struck.  I had an inspiration for my first true execution.  There was the bucket.  Water would simultaneously wash away my enemy and my sins.  With the children distracted, I ventured back into the basement.  I found the bucket we kept in the laundry room and filled it in the utility sink.  I went to the dark corner where my quarry lay crushed by defeat and metal and wood.  It was all slow, methodical.  I reached down and picked up the entire thing: mouse and trap, flesh and machine, fused together.

It was afraid.

It shied away from me, tried to crawl away with its two good legs.  But it had no chance.  I looked at its eyes as I held it above that icy cold pool of water wondered if it was looking back at me.  I couldn't tell; its eyes were all black and gave no hint as to the object of its gaze.  I hope it wasn't me.

I tried to steady myself by focusing on the positive.  At least merged with the trap it will be easy to hold him under without worrying about being scratched or bitten.  Then I stopped myself.  "It" had become "him."  This couldn't be allowed to go on.  Action had to be taken.  Death and mercy doled out in equal measure.  That was some small comfort anyway.

"I'm sorry."

Then it was into the frigid depths: the mouse, the trap, my hand.  Immediately he--it--began struggling, fighting its way back to the surface.  It was so much stronger than it had looked, crippled by my trap.  It--he--fought so hard to live.  And I held him under.

"One, two, three, four, five..."

I couldn't look.  I peeked over a few times, but I couldn't keep it in my eye for long.

"...nineteen, twenty, twenty-one..."

I felt like I was intruding.  Death was the most intimate of experiences, and I felt like an interloper.  I was trespassing on this most sacred moment, weaseling my way in without permission.  What right did I have?  Unique circumstances require unique protocols.  I was there out of obligation.

"...thirty-five, thirty-six..."

It was a good sixty count before he stopped moving completely.  I held him under for another thirty.  Just to be sure.  I lifted him out of the water, his fur all matted and uneven.  There's something unspeakably pathetic about a dead wet animal.  There's something about the water that draws out pathos.

It was dead.  The deed was done.

And I could never take it back.

It struck me as I gently placed his soaking corpse into a plastic shopping bag and tied the top shut that there was no return policy for this particular item.  All sales were final.  And the finality of it was what struck me the most.  

Compared to Number Seven, though, Two was easy.  Number Seven was in even better shape when I found him.  Caught in the same trap.  That accursed implement of death.  It seemed possessed by some cruel spirit bent on torturing the bodies of my enemies and my own mind.  Number Seven was caught only by his front, left leg.  When I walked by, it actually jumped.  It scared the shit out of me.  It was underneath the upside down trap, and when I'd gone to pick up what I thought would be another cadaver, I was instead greeted with a wrathful beast, still full to the brim, ready to burst.

How could this be?  Was I the butt of some cruel, cosmic joke?  Had I lost some bet with the Universe that I wasn't aware I'd made?  Once again, I was forced to go all in.  The bucket.  The water.  The bag.  Only this time when I picked up the trap, my victim had much more fight left in him.  He squirmed and wriggled and clawed frantically.  I almost dropped him before I could get him over the bucket.

"I'm sorry," again.

Everything was reflected, enhanced.  As I plunged Number Seven into the chilly depths of that red cauldron, I beheld not only him but also his counterpart from several days before.  Two sets of beady eyes staring up at me, accusing.

"One, two, three, four, five..."

Number Seven fought so much more fiercely.  I couldn't hide him entirely from view under the trap, and he forced himself to be seen under the waves.  I tried to look away the whole time, but I couldn't not look.  He demanded to be seen.  And so I saw.

"...nineteen, twenty, twenty-one..."

Legs flailing wildly, body writhing and convulsing as it struggled to breath liquid.  Mouth moving silently.

"...fifty-nine, sixty, sixty-one..."

How much air could such a tiny container hold?  How much life?  Jesus.  What was keeping it going?  There was no oxygen left.  It was subsisting on sheer determination now.  It was a seventy count before I was sure.  Another thirty to ease my mind and ensure that mercy was served.  If it could be called mercy.  

I put the latest package into the garbage can in the garage, and with it, another morsel of my innocence.  It was a small-scale test, but I had passed.  Much to my dismay.  I had held firm as I squeezed the life out of another living creature.  I had killed deliberately and methodically.  Hesitantly, but the result was still the same.  I was capable.  When the need arose, I could be culpable as well.  I tried to convince myself that reluctance and mercy had made the deed tolerable.  Justifiable.  Palatable.  Still, the aftertaste lingered. I'm not sure whether it faded or I just grew accustomed to it.  I'm not sure I'll ever be sure.


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