Along the Way: Encounters With Mice and Human Beings

What if, one day, life played out in reverse?

MY MIND is occupied this morning with the whereabouts of a mouse. He or she is here somewhere, having gained entry through some wink of charm in our 70-year-old home. She—we’ll go with she, given her wit and intelligence and instincts—arrived with a companion a few days ago during an unusually hot stretch of the year, and they alerted us of their presence with a trail of droppings on the stove.

I have no qualms with mice, and try not to claim more possession of this property than I need to, but if we have one rule in this home it’s that you can’t poop on the cooktop. Besides, the arrangement doesn’t work for Laura, whose only encounters with mice as a kid were at Discovery Place. I grew up in a home in the woods, where this sort of intrusion happened often, which means the job of removing our guests rests with me. 

The first night was a success, at least from where I lay. I woke up yesterday and walked to the kitchen to find a trap snapped and a mouse stiff. I took it outside for the hawks and owls. “What if there’s another one?” Laura asked. I woke up today and saw that the trap was still in the upright position and thought we were free of this terror. But when I got closer, there were more droppings. And somehow, the peanut butter was gone. Touché, Ms. Mouse. An impressive and graceful trick. I poured a cup of coffee and thought, Would I stick my head into a trap for peanut butter? I’d like to say no, but just the other day, I climbed on our roof with a chainsaw to get a better angle on some branches, so I can’t say I’m immune to temptation.

We’ve been acquainting ourselves with these surroundings since we bought our home last spring. It’s in Commonwealth Park, and on a big lot as far as city property goes, with three willow oaks in the backyard and three dogwoods in the front. Only in summer have we noticed how much life they bring. 

The other day, before the mice, I sawed off a branch about the thickness of a dough roller, and it fell on my head. This branch had twigs jutting out of it and those twigs had leaves. I must’ve looked foolish standing there, trying to escape from under it like a child wiggling free from a bedsheet. 

At just that moment, a lanky teenage boy happened to be pushing a lawnmower on the sidewalk in front of the house. 

“Do you need any help?” he asked.

I told him I had it under control.

“Yes, I see,” he laughed. “But can I still help?” 

He was looking for work anyway, he said. His sincerity cut through the absurdity. We shook hands and exchanged names. He’s only 13, so for the purposes of this story, I’ll just use his first initial, J. He said he lived farther down Central Avenue and went to a middle school nearby.

J. proved to be a handy companion, but hardly a conversationalist. Together, we quietly lined the sidewalk for the yard waste crew to pick up later in the week.

I handed him some cash and he gave me his phone number before pushing on to the house next door, where I’m happy to report he picked up another client. 

The encounter came during a strange season for human interactions in America, when video after video shows that people who look like J., who is black, have reason to be hesitant when approaching people who look like me. In June, a 12-year-old black boy was mowing a woman’s lawn in Ohio when he apparently cut over the property line, and the white family next door called the police. Before that, a white woman dialed the cops on a black family having a cookout in a public park in Oakland, California. And on July 4, a white man in Winston-Salem called police on a black woman at the neighborhood pool, despite the fact that she was just as much a resident as he was.

This month, as this magazine looks back at 50 years in print and 250 years of the city, the news of the world makes me worry about the future. A 13-year-old will likely see more of it than I will, and I hope the seasons change for the better. I hope my black friends, most of whom are J.’s parents’ age, can one day stop worrying about their children going door to door. I hope white people will, for the love of God, stop using cops as personal security guards when they see a black person having an enjoyable time. I hope the Charlotte of the future is a place that helps J.’s business grow, whatever it is.

I often wonder how situations might play out in reverse—if the fish jumped out of the water to eat the pelicans, for instance, or if squirrels complained about my father stealing their tomatoes. Today, I wonder if our remaining mouse is lonesome and vengeful and conspiring to trap me, and I also wonder if someday I’ll be the one to walk up to J.’s house, asking if he needs help, hoping the kid will never stop saying, Yes, I see.

Categories: In Print, The Buzz