“The gestation period is about 19 to 21 days, and they give birth to a litter of – on average – six to eight. One female can have five to 10 litters per year, so the mouse population can increase very quickly. Breeding occurs throughout the year.” Well thanks for that, I thought, upon opening my email and doing the mental maths. The response I had been looking for, on sharing my mouse dilemma, was something along the lines of: “Poor you, I’m sure you’ll get on top of the problem.”
A. tells me it is unlikely I’ll ever get on top of the problem. She says there isn’t a tenement in Edinburgh that doesn’t have mice, that I’m lucky not to have seen one until now. Six months of co-habitation, that’s how long it took before it came out to take a bow. Denial is a wonderful thing, all the same. I saw droppings over a period of months. Quite clearly mouse droppings, but as long as I did not see a mouse, then they were not droppings, but crumbs, and there was no mouse. Refusing to read the signs has its place. We do it with all sorts of things: cracks in a relationship, a niggling pain that you don’t want to take to the doctor, the laptop that hasn’t been backed up for 562 days. My dad used to do it with the car, saying, “what noise?” Eventually, one of two things would happen: the noise would go away (and it often did), or the car would grind to a halt. I had a hairline crack in my favourite mug that I decided was just a little surface fissure until I put a teabag into it one morning, poured on boiling water, and it broke cleanly into two pieces, hot water flowing everywhere. The end of denial.
Eventually, my mouse-denial strategy (singular – because, despite my helpful email advice, I have only one mouse) runs out of steam. It appeared last week, late in the evening when I went into the kitchen in the half-light. I thought I was seeing the biggest spider ever until it moved at Usain Bolt-speed to a roughly finished part of wall behind the washing machine. First, I googled ‘mice in Edinburgh’, and read horror stories for about two minutes: “Edinburgh’s old flats are notorious as a breeding ground for……”. The un-typed word is a collective noun for gnawing and nibbling mammals, which includes much more than mice. I wasn’t reading any more. Next, I went across the street to the ‘we-sell-everything’ hardware shop. “How are you getting on with your plunger?” the owner’s son asks me. He has a law degree, remembers everything, and is unfailingly bright and positive. “You wouldn’t believe how many plungers I’ve sold in the last fortnight. I blame baby-wipes. What are you in for today?” I lie, tell him I need a lightbulb, and wander in that direction, stopping to look at traps and poison – I think, discreetly. It’s not that I don’t want him to know about Mr. Mouse, I just don’t want him asking me how the houseguest is every time I step into the shop.
I leave with only a light bulb. Denial has served me well up until now, maybe it was just a big spider. D., across the stair, has a cat. That must be keeping the numbers down, somewhat. And if the breeding schedule that was emailed to me is correct, then I figure that trying to get on top of the problem would be like painting the Forth Bridge, no point in even beginning. I decide that peaceful co-existence is the way forward. I’m not afraid of the mouse (remember, there IS only one), I just don’t want it hanging about when I am there. Now, I give it plenty of notice when I come into the kitchen. I turn the lights on and talk to it. It’s a new state of what I’m calling ‘diluted-denial’. Or should that be, ‘deluded-denial’? Either way, so far so good. I have visitors coming to stay soon. I hope mouse keeps a low profile while they are here. If not, I’m practicing my best innocent eyes to go with the words, “what mouse?”