A gift of mice
When in a tricksterish sort of mood, the larger of our two black cats, Mortimer, enjoys nothing more than releasing a live and preferably unscathed mouse into whichever room we happen to be relaxing. If, by happy coincidence, he finds you in a slightly precarious position, say wrapped in a blanket with a hot drink balanced on one knee, he considers that an added bonus. His timing is impeccable.
To give us a sporting chance he announces his imminent arrival with a hearty rendition of what we call his Song of Triumph, a loud, insistent meowing that you can hear approaching from several doors down, and which sounds uncannily like “meowse…meowse…MOUSE!” When coupled with his ability to drop SAS-like through the bedroom skylight, bellowing his triumphant return from the fabled hunting grounds, the complete performance can be quite startling.
No sooner has be passed over the threshold than the mouse is released, its internal spring tightly wound by a combination of mortal fear and a powerful instinct to seek shelter in the most awkward, hard to reach spot in the vicinity.
Evasion really is their only means of self-preservation, and it does seem a rather startling evolutionary oversight to render them easy prey to almost anything with binocular vision and slashing claws, with only moderate dashing speed and zero means of self defense. They can deliver a sharp little bite, but little else besides. Surely some kind of scorpion-like stinger would be in order, or the ability to puff themselves up when cornered, especially when they represent such easy pickings. When fully inflated cats would bat them about until they got bored and wander off, leaving the mouse free to deflate and go about its business.
The prospect of being hunted by a cat must also be completely horrifying in ways I doubt I will ever be able to fully comprehend. Mortimer is easily five hundred times larger than your average mouse, probably more, a cuddly tyrannosaur with jaws capable of engulfing not only the poor rodent in question but most of its immediate family as well. Its an horrific prospect for something so small, and as I say, absurdly defenseless. Peering into the shiny, unblinking peppercorn eyes of our most recent involuntary visitor, I could sense the bottomless terror of a creature whose short existence is defined by its status as something pursued by monsters.
My current theory is that Mort doesn’t see us as separate entities. To him we are just large cats. Large, useless cats, that despite an ability to produce a seemingly limitless supply of cold, gelatinous meat paste from foil packets show little initiative when it comes to The Hunt. This leads me to wonder whether these little catch-a-mouse games are a form of training, and that the occasional gift of mice is a chance for us to hone our woeful predatory skills. I’ve seen this with birds of prey on wildlife documentaries, who bring back live offerings which their greedy young must dispatch themselves. This is all instinct grown out of necessity of course, but it’s still a rather strange experience to find yourself being formally inducted into this world by the family cat.
Having released the mouse, Mort will step aside, nonchalantly licking his paws with the indifference of a minor royal observing parade ground marching drills, as Debbie and I go dashing after his latest victim with a tea towel. The recapture process usually involves a lot of creative swearing and the moving of heavy furniture since the high speed chicken nugget will automatically zip towards to most inconvenient spot in the room, Debbie frisbeeing the towel at it like a fisherman throwing a cast net.
Ever the eager but cautious observer, Mags, our other black cat, now fully alert and switched on, will be following closely behind and generally just getting in the way. I like to think that Mort extracts a certain amount of impish pride from his Machiavellian designs, and on more than one occasion Debbie insists she heard him emit a villainous snicker, having reduced our otherwise tranquil household one of sweary chaos with the simple addition of a mouse. I wonder if he feels that in doing so he has fulfilled his duty as an educator, since having made his deposit will go and sit expectantly beside his food bowl as if to suggest that a reward is in order.
Once the mouse has been safely cocooned in a towel or t-shirt, one of us will carefully return it to the outside world while the other distract the cats. This sudden turn of events must be an additional shock for our poor captive, who is now miles (mouse miles) from home and deep into what must be a near constant cycle of PTSD. The back of the garden shed is our chosen release area for mice and large spiders, furnished with plenty of hiding places where a small mammal might recover its strength and steel itself before slipping through one of the many exit points.
Does a displaced mouse take up with another mouse colony I wonder as I stand there apologising for its ordeal? Unable to retrace their steps perhaps some take up a solitary existence, a Mad Max or Lone Wolf McQuade character who shuns communal existence for a nomadic life filled with danger and illicit sex with strangers, leaving in his wake several hundred fatherless offspring.
Some might disagree, but there’s also a distinctive mouse smell, or at least I like to think so, slightly musty with a hint of morning-after-house-party, the whiff of stale cannabis and body odour in the air. In the past, I could usually sniff out an itinerant mouse with relative ease, a special ability that Debbie finds particularly weird. “What do you mean you can smell a mouse? Is that code for something?” she’ll ask as I stand in the doorway theatrically sniffing the air like a Doberman.
“There’s definitely a mouse in here somewhere”, I’ll insist, “or at least there was a mouse in here up until quite recently”, as if that additional and highly specific detail somehow enhances my credentials as an expert mouse-sniffer-outer. In a household featuring two cats it is a statement that has the benefit of logical consistency, but one that does little to dissuade Debbie that she married a lunatic. My senses heightened, I’ll crawl around on all fours with my Gerber pocket flashlight peering under sofas and cabinets, nostrils quivering, searching of the fragrant little fucker.
“Fetch me the mousing t-shirt!” I’ll announce, “I’ve found him!” and then whole catch-and-release drama will start again.