Mousy Fellow Mortal

Valentine’s night we went to one of the town’s favorite cafés for treats of delicious suppers and the live jazz of a friend’s combo. We were in a covered patio, seated at a small table close to the musicians, more celebrants at tables behind us. I was glad I’d brought my shawl because whenever someone opened a door off the patio to go out into the night, it was cold.

Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” was bouncing in the air and I was softly singing along, ignoring my penne all’arrabbiata, when beside me young Cameron murmured, “See the mouse?” He has amazing eyesight.

Mouse? “Where?”

“In the corner,” he lifted his chin toward a corner a dozen yards away.

I saw no mouse.

Just then through a glass door by the corner, a busboy carrying a tray heaped with supper remains slammed into the patio. I gasped as he planted his feet near the corner, tipped over his tray, contents clattering into what I hoped was a sink. Clearly the busboy saw no mouse.

Nor did Grandpa on my right, happily absorbed in his fettuccine. I returned to Gershwin and my penne.

After a couple of minutes, my grandson said softly (his voice is changing and it is mellowly deep), “There it is.”

Again I looked over at the corner, gray cement floor against gray cabinets, and I thought I saw a nubbin of gray–just the merest puff of a puff–but instantly it was gone. Had I really seen something?

That was tantalizing. I set down my fork, trained my eyes on the corner.

Now in my life I’ve seen more evidence of the presence of mice than I care to tell you. But I can’t remember ever actually seeing a mouse up close. No, I’ve just remembered. Once in the food storage locker of our house in Malibu, I picked up what I knew to be a very old box of matzos, opened the top to taste one to see if they were stale, and out flew six baby mice! Jewish mice, no doubt.

Now I indeed saw Cameron’s mouse. A dozen times, Mousie popped out of its hidey-hole…disappeared back in…came out for seconds…vanished back in… It almost seemed to me that with its show of indecision, it was saying, “Okay, Sylvia, yes I’m here, but pay no attention to me, please eat the supper your Valentine gave you.”

But then I caught my breath because suddenly the gray nubbin was whizzing a-mile-a-minute along the cabinet wall toward the door to the street. (I just read that the eyes of mice are set on the sides so they run close to something for security’s sake.)

Where was this tiny tyke going so fast? What did it hope to find? Some of the times it ran out, stopped halfway along the wall, abruptly turned, flew back to its hole. Other times, Mousie reached the end of the cabinet then disappeared behind the left side of a potted palm…it did not emerge on the right side of the palm but reappeared and went whizzing back along the cabinet then vanished.

Over the next half-hour, the inch-high-two-inches-long gray puff appeared, hesitated, disappeared, whizzed, sometimes along the cabinet for a few inches, sometimes to the end, sometimes around the back of the palm pot. I assume it was young and inexperienced, had no clue as to where it was supposed to go, what it was supposed to do. Endless pathetic nowheresville.

I worried. Where would it find sustenance…was it doomed to perpetually make fruitless dashes till it dropped?

Did I feel for the nearby cooks? Nope. I was sure appropriate defensive measures had been taken. And as I feel about the gophers, squirrels, birds, mice, rats, and other hungry critters in our garden, they are God’s creatures and have as much right to the space as we do. I just keep them away with barriers and deterrents.*

Then yesterday morning something struck me: I was amused to realize I’ve seen the source of the adjective mousy, variously “nervous, shy, timid, quiet, stealthy…” I’ve seen those qualities in real life.

And was touched.

Of course I thought of Robert Burns’s mouse in Scotland two hundred thirty-eight years ago:

To a Mouse

On Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough,
November, 1785**

Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee
Wi’ murdering pattle!

I’m truly sorry Man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow-mortal!…

* Mice and rats hate peppermint–a barrier of epsom salts fragrant with peppermint oil sprinkled around our outdoors-parked car keeps them from nesting in the engine on cold nights.

** Accessed 2/17/2023.



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