I have an embarrassingly intense phobia of mice and rats. I once made my ex crawl around in the ceiling at 3am looking for a mouse I could hear in the roof, which actually turned out to be a fly in the air conditioning vent. I can’t even look at them on TV – the hairs on the back of my neck literally stand up and I get all hot and panicky. The way they scurry frantically around, their gross little tails, their ability to scale walls and furniture so virtually no place is safe – they completely and utterly disgust me.
As you may have gathered from earlier posts, I don’t have the world’s best housemates. They are selfish, messy, and inconsiderate. In addition to this they own a cat (Claudius, approx 6 years old) and a dog (Benji, approx 4 months old) who constantly make noise, leave hair on furniture and piss inside. Our teal living room carpet now resembles some kind of aqua-flage littered with dark stains from animal urine and lighter ones from the Spray-And-Wipe they’ve used to spot clean some of the bigger messes. My housemate Cherie once made a comment about taking shoes off inside and looked pointedly at my ballet-flat clad feet. I actually just stared at her with my mouth hanging open. There were no words.
If you are wondering what my pathological fear of rodents and my housemates’ boundless selfishness and shitty pet-ownership have in common, read on.
The cat, it seems, in addition to having a rarely emptied and pungent litter tray in the laundry (which, incidentally, is adjacent to my bedroom), likes to come and go from the house as he pleases, and in aid of this the housemates frequently leave the back door open, despite my frequent comments about security, mosquitos and the like. Home alone on a Saturday night and cherishing the privacy, settling in for a night of expensive cheese, wine and Desperately Seeking Susan, I see the cat transfixed on something he has just dropped in the corner of the room.
Small and brown, it lies unmoving in an awkward splayed position while the cat stares, paws out in front, head tilted 25 degrees to the left. Horrified, I jerk my feet up off the floor and spring onto the back of the arm-chair while wailing at the cat, “What have you DONE?!!” He looks at me, confused, and in that second the mouse seizes his chance and flees to the opposite corner of the room. I begin to sob, rocking back and forth on my perch as Claudius stalks leisurely towards his toy. He paws for a few minutes at the corner of the couch before shooting an annoyed look in my direction. I can’t watch. Never having had a cat before, I imagine once Claudius catches it he will display the carcass to me for approval before dismembering it slowly on the lounge room carpet in some kind of macabre feline ritual. My panic reaches new heights – the mouse itself is one thing, but to deal with its entrails spread across the carpet is unthinkable. I shout hysterically at the cat, demanding he take the mouse back outside and forbidding him from killing it in front of me. Claudius ignores me and continues to stalk the length of the couch, daring his prey to emerge. Sweating and sobbing, I realise I cannot deal with this on my own.
There is a moment of complete helplessness when in the grip of a phobia when you become completely aware of how pitiful you are and how ridiculous your behaviour is, but are powerless to change it. I experience this moment as my friend Lucile arrives in response to an SOS text that simply read: Mouse in my lounge room. Home alone. Can’t move. Help me. I immediately picture the scene from her perspective – a grown woman of some 180cm perched like a giant budgie atop an arm-chair, rocking maniacally back and forth, hands blocking her ears (the logic here was two-fold – to prevent hearing any scuttling noises and to block out the sound of Claudius killing the mouse should he catch it), damp with sweat, tears rolling down her now red and puffy face. On the opposite side of the room, the cat meows pointedly and scratches at the couch. Behind the couch cowers a tiny brown mouse, terrified and harmless to the other two occupants.
Lucile immediately brings things under control. Firmly and calmly, she tells me everything will be alright, and she will have to move the couch to get to the mouse, which may cause it to run around the room. She assures me that Claudius will not dissect or mutilate the mouse inside the house and that one way or another, she will make sure the mouse leaves the house. Before I know it, Lucile has sourced a pair of yellow dish-gloves and a cardboard box for Operation Mouse Removal. As she heaves the couch away from the wall, she gasps in pity at the poor, terrified creature cowering against the wall. Claudius, clearly believing Lucile’s efforts are in aid of his gratification, sits patiently awaiting his reward. Lucile’s pity soon turns to frustration as the mouse, apparently revived, eludes capture and dashes around the room. I take hold of Claudius, who in his growing impatience has started to get in the way. Finally, Lucile has the creature in her cardboard box – but all at once things descend once more into anarchy. The mouse, in a final bid for freedom, leaps from the box and dashes towards the kitchen. Claudius, spurred by instinct, immediately gives chase. Lucile, now thoroughly irritated, follows hot on their heels, and after two frantic laps of the kitchen and a brief pause behind the fridge, both cat and mouse are herded outside and the door firmly closed.
I look at Lucile. She is red-faced, her hair plastered to the sweat on her forehead, over which she wipes the back of her hand, still clad in a yellow dish-glove. I am still curled tightly on my perch, puffy-faced and sweat-soaked. In the same moment we recognise our mutual ridiculousness and dissolve into laughter. Lucile collapses on the couch and I feel the sudden urge to shower her with attention in some kind of hero-worship. I bring her a glass of wine and some of my barely-touched cheese and we settle in for the remainder of Desperately Seeking Susan.
I know we are both thinking the same thing – despite the wildlife, the hysterics and the Benny Hill-type chase scene, it’s turned into a good night. Wine and friends will do that. Every time.