Not a Creature Was Stirring

Hibernating Mouse

Yesterday I walked around the backyard, taking in the remainder of the damage from Hurricane Sandy. Our biggest loss was a 70-foot pine tree that crashed down within feet of the house, taking with it two other majestically mature trees. Although we cleaned up that mess a week after the storm, The One is still dragging downed branches and smashed bushes to our Christmas-tree graveyard beyond the back stone wall.

As I sat on the wall, thinking about how exposed we suddenly were to the neighbors—whom we’re thrilled rarely to see, either accidentally or socially–I spied our old grill. I was surprised that it was still standing. After all, it’s a cheap roller version, no bigger than those rickety carts that flight attendants wheel past row after row of passive-aggressive passengers.

Then I remembered a certain family that lived nearby and wondered how they’d weathered the storm. The Peromyscus leucopus family. Field mice, to be exact. Unlike the neighbors who live on either side of us and creep through the thicket of trees (which are now gone, thanks to Sandy) and scare the hell out of us while we have dinner on the patio, this family had never, ever accosted us.

I’m sure they wish they could say the same for us. Two years ago, when we decided to replace that old grill with a brand-new Weber behemoth, I was in the basement when I heard the equivalent of a school yard full of screaming six-year-old girls—followed by a terrifically loud THUNK! I’d long since grown accustomed to such shrieking outbursts from The One, usually when he encountered a snake, a spider, or a driver making an illegal lane change. Yet the Momma Leite instinct in me kicked in and I was off running. I had visions of fingers scattered all over the lawn like pink sprinkles on pistachio gelato due to a run-in with the hedge trimmers, or a bone jutting out of his calf from a fall from the ladder that’s almost as old as me. But when I arrived on the patio, clutching my man boobs and heaving, he was intact, but plaster white. I looked around for any sort of flora or fauna that could’ve triggered his involuntary castrato trill. Nothing.

“Gas them!” he yelled, pointing at the grill. “Incinerate them!”

I lifted the cover, which had been the source of the thunk when The One dropped it, and found a nest of leaves, feathers, down, and grass…occupied by two small mice that were looking up at me with perhaps the most pleading expression I’ve seen since my Mickey Mouse days. As I leaned in closer, I saw a litter of purply-pink pups that looked like a pile of nubbins straight of out Hagrid’s cottage in Harry Potter.

I looked back at The One, as if to say, “This is what scared the girls out of you?”

“Gas them!” he shouted again. I would do no such thing, and he knew it. So, like one of those flight attendants exasperated by an irate passenger, I wheeled the grill to its present spot, careful not to lose even a single nubbin along the way. I removed the gas tank, lest The One’s exterminating tendencies get the better of him, and the grill has sat there untouched and unsightly lo these past two years. Since then, I’ve regularly left canning-jar caps filled with nuts and seeds in the grill for the family, but every time I lifted the lid, all I found was the abandoned nest, crumpled from disuse. Not unlike a rodent Bronx, circa 1975.

Yesterday, though, when I lifted the cover, the nest was unusually tidy. My first thought? Two gay mice have moved in. (Think about it. What’s the first thing we do when we move into a new home? Redecorate.) As I leaned in closer, I saw it. A tiny pink nose twitching. I immediately ran to the shed and poured some bird seed into a small container and placed it in the grill. I checked back this morning, and most of it was gone. I’m still not convinced we’re not landlords to gay mice, as the shells from the sunflower seeds were arranged in a tiny croquembouche cone. Either that or they’re celebrating Christmas early this year.

David Leite's signature

Croquembouche — pâte á choux puffs with a creamy filling, dipped in hot caramel, and stacked into a pyramid — is one of my favorite special-occasion desserts. Sometimes I make a towering one and adorn it with spun sugar, but this year I kept it small, simple, and sweet. The cookie stars look like ornaments on a tree. Use small star cutters (ultimatebaker.com) and medium-size ones (coppergifts.com). Decorate with royal icing, and sprinkle the icing with fine sanding sugar; let stand until set.–David Leite

Croquembouche

Comments

  1. A beautiful story for the holidays (Not up there with “Gift of the Magi,” but still . . .) We had a similar experience with . . . well, rats. We relocated two to the outskirts of town. Unfortunately, one soul critter chose to try to liberate himself in the trunk of our car and garotted himself on the wire cage. RIP.

      1. there are rats called wood rats which are squirrel sized perhaps also called pack rats. my cat actually brought in snakes…live…several times this yr…love the story..and your humor

  2. Just so long as they really are sweet little field mice.

    Some years ago I had a neighbour who lovingly tended a bird feeder which she kept hung in a tree near our fence. Every day, and sometimes twice a day, she would fill it with seed and fruit scraps from her kids, happy in the knowledge that she was nurturing the local bird-life. That was until the day we were sitting in her backyard, enjoying some spring sun, wine and a barbeque, and happened to look up to see a great big rat scuttling along the fence to the bird feeder, snatching his loot and slipping unpleasantly away. The next day the feeder was removed, the local authorities were called to lay baits, and the birds were left to their own devices. 😉

    1. I promise. The nubbins were no bigger than a sizable gnocchi.

      We had to ditch the bird feeder too. Not because of rats (do we have rats in the country?) but because of Devil Cat. I refuse to feed the bird population just to offer him a smorgasbord of avian delights. Do you know that son-of-a-gun was eying our four hummingbirds–and their feeder, the kind that sticks to the window, is 10 feet off the ground.

  3. Cannot. Breathe. Laughing. Too. Hard.

    Glad your Connecticut place is okay, other than foliage deaths.

    Congrats on getting the byline into my email message. I’ll always read your posts.

    1. Why thank you, Dianne, I’m blushing. When you visit again, I shall show you the mouse house. I’m hoping by them it will be a condo. I’m thinking of putting in a swimming pool (read: a Tupperware container with a wooden spoon for stairs).

  4. Too funny. That reminds me of my mom when I was a kid and she saw a baby mouse in the house. Her little 4’10”, maybe 90lbs. soaking wet body jumped straight up onto the top of the washing machine. Not two jumps, literally she jumped that high in one jump. Then she screamed non-stop until my Dad came in. He couldn’t get out of her what was wrong due to the screaming, but he figured it out with her pointing. Unfortunately I witnessed my Dad taking a broom and whacking the baby mouse. It died with the first blow. Then Dad said “Where’s there is one mouse there is more.” So while mom tried to compose herself he went to the store and got traps. It is from him that I learned mice would rather eat peanut butter than cheese and that is what he put on the traps. He got them all within less than a week due to his careful placement of the traps. He also found the small hole where they had found their way into the basement and upstairs from there. So he cemented it in and then sealed the cement with cement sealer a few weeks after he was sure the cement was sealed through. I can still remember laughing at mom as she was screaming at the baby mouse. Then remember my quick silence as I said “Dadddy No!” When he struck the broom blow. Mom wasn’t happy with me laughing at her. She went on and on about various diseases rodents can carry and that I wouldn’t have thought it funny if one of them bite my finger, ear, nose, toe as I slept. She went on and on about a friend getting a finger bite off by a rodent as a little child. I feel sorry for the little mice though and know they have to be more comfortable outside then inside a house with broom stalking humans. Loved your story and LOL about holding the man boobs. You’re a hoot.

    1. That’s hysterical. And it reminded me that not only is The One capable of jumping four octaves in a single note, he’s also able to stepping onto the counter in a single step. That was when mouse appeared in the country house we had in upstate New York. Such amazing feats of physical prowess in times like these!

  5. Oh, it’s just so sweet. I sat reading this with a smile on my face the entire time. Last night I caught one of the critters in a trap, and laid it out in the back yard to be recycled by a passing carnivore. Then, this afternoon, I see the neighbor’s orange colored outdoor cat prancing out of my yard with the little frozen rodent in it’s mouth. I wonder if he brought it inside my neighbor’s house to show them his trophy? I can only hope. I’ll listen for the castrato trill.

    1. Stu, Devil Cat is like a stealthy ninja when it comes to any four-legged creature that dares enter our property. And he has dropped many a one on our doorstep. The One really let loose a big castro trill when he came down the stairs one morning and found a dead squirrel in the foyer.

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