Tag: stories

The dead mouse story.

The dead mouse story.

Central to this story is how little I can cope with dead things. Sure, not many people are great when confronted with death of any sort, but for me it lingers closer to the ‘phobia’ end of the discomfort scale. Even insects, I can’t bear to touch them if they’re dead. I’m perfectly happy to chat to a live spider; dead spiders give me chills and a deep sense that I’m about to be sick.

This is largely why I can’t stomach meat that still contains bones, or dishes that look like the animal they once were. If it wasn’t for the fact that you can strip away the bones and identifying features and be left with a piece of meat that looks like food and not an animal, I would undoubtedly be a vegetarian. It takes everything I’ve got just to dispose of chicken bones.

It’s a sensory trigger that, when I encounter something that is not a plain meat, my brain screams DANGER THIS IS NOT FOOD or THIS USED TO BE ALIVE. The repulsion that goes with it is so strong that it will end in me being physically sick.

So that about describes how little I cope with the presence of dead things.

When I moved into my new house, the silence began to bother me. I’ve never lived completely on my own, so being the only one moving about and making noise was both lonely and weird. The lawns were overgrown before I got the keys and cut not long before, removing any little homes creatures had made in the backyard while the house lay vacant.

Which is how I came to know Giles, a mouse who took up residence in my rundown little house around the same time as I did. I didn’t name him at the time. I’ve posthumously named him for the purposes of this blog in the hope a name brings empathy from readers, rather than the usual ‘mouse? Gross!’ response. It may help you understand how I got weirdly attached to this fellow.

I noticed him first when he scurried from the second bedroom, and toward the lounge room. At the time, I had no furniture to speak of, so I was sat leaning against the wall with a pillow from my bed as a cushion. My computer sprawled out on the carpet in front of me. He stopped at the entrance to the lounge, froze on the threshold between kitchen and my very unexpected presence.

We stared at each other for a long moment, and he raced back past the bathroom into the other bedroom. The sound he made was almost comforting, there was another soul in the house and even if it was a rodent that took the edge off an otherwise empty house.

Our exchanges were mostly like that. Caught unexpected, staring at one another and daring the other to move first. We came to a tentative truce. There were no signs of rodents in my kitchen, no nibbles to the boxes of muesli bars, no tell-tale droppings. For so long as that remained true, and Giles’s presence did not interfere with my ability to keep a clean and healthy house, I would take no action.

He was no pet, though. I didn’t encourage him to stay. I suppose that both the mouse and I lived our lives around the house, quietly hoping that if we were patient long enough the other would choose to leave. A fortnight later, I returned from work to find the edge of a bag of hot cross buns nibbled and crumbs across the bench.

I wish he hadn’t done that. I didn’t want to actively destroy him.

The next day, I purchased rat bait. My next fear became finding him on the floor, contorted in death–the thought made me feel ill–or worse, not finding him until the stench of decomposing rodent reached me from whatever crevice he had made his tomb. Every hour that I didn’t see him after that, I felt guilt ball in my stomach. Every time I saw him again, I felt relief that he wasn’t yet dead–and woe at this problem I still had to deal with.

A week after placing the bait, I was putting away fresh washed cutlery when Giles stumbled across the counter. Literally stumbled, as though he were drunk. We stared at each other again, and I pondered my next move. This was a chance to try and remove him from the house properly, but how?

I started with a shopping bag. Standard, thin plastic disposable bag from a recent lot of groceries. Then, with a cup I’d been planning to toss out anyway, I half-scooped half-flicked him into the bag and dropped the cup in alongside him. It was almost too easy. I tied the top of the bag, and stared at it.

Now I had Giles in a plastic shopping bag–where to from here? I bolted for the front door and threw the bundle out onto the dark front lawn.

There.

He was out of my house.

I relayed the events to a friend online, who firmly reminded me that Giles was not incapable of chewing through that thin plastic. By morning he would be out and back inside. She was right. I retrieved the bag from the front yard and contemplated my options again.

A swift knock to the head would be humane, if I did it right. What if I didn’t? What if I did it too well? My mind’s ear played a series of sickening cracks while I imagined his tiny crushed skull inside the plastic. No. I couldn’t physically do it. I needed to make sure he couldn’t get out.

I put the bag inside another bag, and tied it up. And those bags into third bag and tied that too. The plastic was not airtight, it punctured and ripped easily. I knew that from my years working in supermarkets. How many bags would be enough to ensure he was secure? Ten?

I settled on fifteen.

At some point it dawned on me that he would starve to death, and this was hideously cruel of me. I dropped rat bait into one of the layers, like cyanide for a spy taken hostage. He had a quicker way out should he need it.

The completed package I dropped into the black bin outside, and returned to the house to curl up over the monster I had become and try to assure myself that I’d done nothing more than try and maintain a healthy home.

It didn’t help much. The silence in the house echoed and expanded more with my guilt.

At first I thought I was imagining the second mouse, a hallucination driven by a desperate need to believe that I hadn’t ended Giles in a terrible way. I only saw this mouse, Giles II, in the spare bedroom and it was only after three sightings that I believed he was actually there.

The bait had not worked it seemed, and I had no opportunity to capture him in the way I did his predecessor. Reluctantly, I resolved that I would ask my local pest controller (who also happens to be my father) for rat bait more effective than the pellets I’d bought from the supermarket.

I didn’t get the chance.

This morning, while I wandered the house with a bowl of porridge in hand, trying to eat and dress myself for work simultaneously, I noticed an unusual lump on the lounge room carpet just by the TV cabinet. It hadn’t been there yesterday.

There lay Giles II, twisted with his front claws in the air, head tilted back, and deathly still. I felt porridge rise in my mouth, shock trembling through my body, I turned away and steadied myself at the kitchen counter. I had ten minutes before I had to leave.

All sorts of desperate plans came to mind. I couldn’t leave the body in the house like that, I could not walk out that door until it was somewhere that I didn’t have to look at it. I couldn’t use my computer, which sits atop the cabinet Giles II died beside. I couldn’t even cross the room to get my watch, which I wanted to wear to work.

And no one would be able to help me before I was horribly late for work.

I took a tea towel from off the oven, an old one, closing my eyes to drop it on the floor around where I remembered the body being. It floated and missed the first time, so I snatched it back up and tried again, still avoiding looking properly. The second drop was a success, and now I could at least enter the room without bolts of shock and disgust zapping my system.

Next, I found a bowl that I didn’t love, placing it over the raised lump beneath the tea towel. I didn’t want to feel the shape of Giles II under the fabric. I was willing to sacrifice crockery to that effect. In some of my unpacking I’d also found a magazine that had been kept for unknown reasons and was already marked for the bin–this I used to scoop the tea towel under the bowl and lift it all without exposing Giles II.

Poor Giles II, the bowl, the tea towel and the magazine all went into a plastic shopping bag, tied and into the black bin. Thankfully it’s also bin day and the truck hadn’t been yet. I scrubbed my hands and walked to work where I scrubbed my hands again, and then sanitised them with the alcohol-based gel at the register.

When the shock wore off, along with the sadness (I wasn’t as attached to Giles II as I was to Giles, but you’ve probably guessed by now that I don’t enjoy causing harm to anyone or anything) was a note of pride. Unexpected dead mouse in the living room is a good reason for a pretty extreme meltdown.

I faltered. It certainly knocked me, and I was still reeling a bit even while at work.

But I dealt with today’s problem in just under twenty minutes, so around the same time as you’d expect for the average comedy episode.

 

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Fantastically weird: why I’ll always love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

Fantastically weird: why I’ll always love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.

I never believed in grieving for celebrities. How could you miss someone who’d never truly been present in your life? The belief was, as all beliefs are, inherently flawed.

Presence is more than a physical proximity. It’s more, even, than a direct and personal communication. Presence occurs when your life is influenced, for better or worse, by another being.

But I never truly understood this until the passing of Sir Terry Pratchett.

As I’ve described many times through this blog, I was a strange child. I knew I was strange. I saw the world in weird and colourful ways; I had a habit of looking at situations sideways and that confused my peers. In social constructs where clinging to ‘sameness’ was the method of survival, this left me weak. I was vulnerable for my crime of too much imagination, for my love of learning and stories and for pondering what my beloved cats got up to while I was not around.

I established books as my ‘safe place’ early in life. A book was a whole world you could fall into, cast off the noise of reality and be consumed by a life of adventure and magic. Like Bastian Balthazar Bux in The NeverEnding Story, I escaped to places where I could imagine myself as strong, capable, even heroic. There was a freedom I had between pages that I didn’t have in my primary school life. Stories were a coping mechanism, a joy, a proof that maybe… just maybe there really was a cupboard out there that would turn my toys to life (The Indian in the Cupboard was another key favourite.

Even as indoctrinated in the ordinary magic of books as I was, nothing quite prepared me for my first plunge into Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series.

It happened by accident.

Mum, being the conscientious parent she was, took us to the library as often as possible. I would borrow huge stacks of books to devour, and then return late. We had a strict lights-off time at our house, and after I’d been caught pretending to use the toilet so I would have light to read, I sought a new solution to the ever-increasing problem of so many stories, so little time to read.

Audio books!

I went through dozens before I picked up a brightly coloured cassette cover with the title Interesting Times. I’d never heard of the author. It was read by Tony Robinson, though, who I knew as Baldrick from Blackadder and the Sheriff of Rottingham in Maid Marian and her Merry Men. I liked his voice, so I borrowed it.

I was eleven years old, I had not long changed schools, and I was truly beginning to feel that I was made in the wrong shape for this world. I was weird. Two schools confirmed it. But just four cassettes later (alas, I began with an abridged reading!) I was on a path to change the shape of the world around me.

Delivered in Tony Robinson’s uniquely expressive voice came ideas so marvellously twisted, yet so logical, I might have thought the same if given time. Here was the world as viewed by someone who also saw magic in the mundane, who also pondered the most bizarre ‘what ifs’. Most importantly:

Here was someone who had committed their weird view to paper, and who was not ashamed of it.

This was the first spark of belief that weird could be wonderful. I wasn’t the wrong shape for this world–the world was any damned shape you like, you only had to look to see it. If the people around me were only able to cling to what was safe and acceptable, this didn’t have to be my problem.

It took many more  years to be solid in that belief, but this was a beginning. This was proof. It wasn’t the same magic of the fantasy novels I consumed by the dozen, it was something more. I would always be enchanted by magical realms far removed from our own, but I didn’t connect with the authors of those in the way I did with Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett offered me the world I saw. A more colourful and curious version of reality, with characters so fantastical and yet so human (or inhuman as the case often was) that if I squinted through my eyelashes they might almost exist on this plane beside me. He took supermarket trolleys, sports, music, libraries, law enforcement and all manner of other ‘normal’, ‘boring’ things and gave them a twist of magic.

I was not the only person to have looked at an abandoned supermarket trolley, and wonder: how do they all get so far from their stores, and why?

I was not the only person to have thought up a bizarre and entirely unrealistic (yet somehow completely logical) answer.

Through his writing I began to realise that there must be others out there too. Yet more people who cherished the quirky and strange, and the way that the most unreal scenarios could explain us in a very real way. I picked up PyramidsGuards! Guards!, and Wyrd Sisters. Most books held me spellbound, testing the limits of my sideways thinking, they were more than stories. Some were mental exercises in themselves as his intricate plots twisted together in the most unexpected ways to form a conclusion.

And I wrote. I mimicked his style. In high school I began to truly find others who valued my quirks, and for them I wrote a series of stories in The Bare-footed Princesses series. Mostly they were terrible, full of in-jokes and my attempts to recreate the balance of warped reality, humor and drama that I found in Pratchett’s work. For all the hack-job writing these stories contained at the time, my friends enjoyed them.

My weirdness was appreciated.

His death hit me hard. I woke that morning, readied myself to leave the house–and checked Facebook. After digesting the news, I slowly dressed myself back in my pyjamas, crawled into bed, and resumed sleeping. I suppose part of me hoped that if I started the day again, it wouldn’t be true.

But it was. One of the fundamental building blocks from my childhood and teenage years was gone.

It’s likely I would have found other paths to accepting myself, these things are rarely denied for a lifetime. In this trouser leg, in this timeline, I developed faith in these key parts of myself through the work of Terry Pratchett.

I have most of the books now, and some (one or two) are unread. I may leave them unread for years to come. I rather like the idea that there’s still more pages out there of his that I haven’t consumed. A little bit left for later—whenever later comes.

Grief for an artist is strange, though. I am sad that we’ll never know what other strange and magical ideas he may have had. Perhaps we don’t grieve so much the person, but the impossibility of continued fresh material. What already is, will remain.

What already is, sits in libraries and in book shops. It waits. Not dead, not sleeping. Not even dormant. Each word is still as miraculous as it was the day I first read them, and will be to every reader who sees the world different and feels they are alone for it.

He may be gone, but the words, and his weird, live on.