Man vs. Mouse

Excerpted from Tales of the Interstate

by Stewart White

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Picture a mild-mannered motorist departing Metro DC after a somber family occasion. Our motorist, deep into middle age and perhaps a pound or two above his ideal weight, has cause to ponder the cycle of life and the fact of an indifferent universe.

A house of pancakes appears to his hungry eyes and he avails himself of its services. After a satisfying meal he returns to his automobile, tosses the receipt in the back seat and before closing the door manages to glimpse a small grey blob waddle under the driver’s seat.

The motorist is deeply troubled. It simply won’t do to have a rodent loose in the car whilst traversing a high-speed motorway. He returns to the restaurant and seeks aid from the hostess, a middle-aged black woman, no doubt well-versed in the ways of rodent suppression. Assisted by a young white female, heavy of flesh, she prepares a plate of cheese in hopes of tempting the interloper. Equipped with thick elbow-length oven mitts, the helpful women probe nooks and crannies in hopes of flushing the quarry. No success is had. The hostess does affirm, however, the presence of copious amounts of mouse poop, an identification in which food service personnel are well-trained.

The idea is floated that, with all the doors open, the offending rodent has simply scampered to safety unnoticed. The motorist, grateful for the ladies’ efforts, monetarily compensates them. He hits the road, safe in his delusion that the beast has no doubt departed the vehicle.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I-66 debouches onto I-81. The miles tick by: Woodstock, New Market, Harrisonburg, other historic names. The sun leaves its vivid orange mark on the horizon and disappears. Night has fallen in the Shenandoah Valley. And then, it happens.

The motorist, complacently listening to his recorded book, feels a sensation on his (bare) left arm and distractedly notices a furry grey object scampering up said arm. The arm launches the grey object into the window, the mouse bounces away, God knows where. The motorist delivers the most frightful oaths and blasphemies. The pull-off lane is sought, flashers applied, the motorist exits the vehicle, still spewing the most irreligious complaints. He stands there, headlights flashing by, vehicles whizzing past, slipstreams whooshing, and all he can do is stare, stare at the chamber of horrors.

And then, by the most extraordinary coincidence, flashing yellow lights approach. The motorist can hardly believe his luck: the VDOT roadside assistance corps has arrived. Surely, surely, this person will have an anti-mouse strategy. A middle-aged Caucasian man exits the bulky truck. Grizzled, grey-bearded and possessing something less than the God-given allotment of thirty-two teeth, his only recourse is to spray a pine-scented disinfectant, hoping the chemical aroma will drive the mouse mad and encourage its exit. This technique does not avail, however, and the good-ol’-boy veteran of the highway suggests Plan B: a mere three miles further down the road is Exit 98, where a Wal-Mart is to be found. It being only 9:00 and the Wal-Mart open until 11:00, mousetraps and bait could be obtained, surely resulting in the doom of the mouse.

Indeed, Sam Walton’s bounty supplies all the motorist’s needs. He has enough experience with luring mice to their doom to know the unbeatable bait: peanut butter and Snickers. No rodent can resist this combination. Traps are set, front and rear, and the journey continues. The motorist is confident—there will be no more violations of his personal space. And the dark miles click along once again, the motorist waiting, waiting for the tell-tale SNAP that will mean his problems are over.

But, inevitably, it happens … the motorist’s keen peripheral vision detects a grey shape scurrying up his right pants leg. The result is volcanic: new heights of volume are achieved in the delivery of profanities. Oedipal behavior is imputed to the mouse using twelve-letter terminology normally associated with Rahm Emmanuel and Marshawn Lynch. Our motorist has been pushed beyond the limits of endurance. And this time, he is in the act of passing another vehicle at the moment of crisis. High speeds are employed to once again seek the relative safety of the shoulder.

The motorist stands helplessly staring at his polluted vehicle. He is determined to wait it out—the mouse is, after all, a well-known vector of disease and our motorist recalls the worst: Hantavirus, yersinia pestis, other banes of mankind. The tiny teeth and nasty nails of the wee beast loom large in the motorist’s imagination.

Ambient air temperature: 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

The minutes tick away with agonizing slowness. There can be no mistaking the SNAP that means death, it surely must come soon.

Ambient air temperature: 44 degrees Fahrenheit.

The motorist addresses the four-letter Anglo-Saxon synonym for intercourse at the dark woods, at his highest volume. No response. He delivers the same to the other three points of the compass. Implacable Nature remains silent.

Ambient air temperature: 43 degrees Fahrenheit.

The wind picks up. Shoulders hunched, hands thrust in pockets, the motorist quietly ponders his decision to pack only cotton slacks for his journey.

Ambient air temperature: 42 degrees Fahrenheit.

No VDOT roadway angel appears this time; the motorist is on his own. His endurance crushed, he returns to the driver’s seat and continues through the dark woods of Southwestern Virginia. Long-sleeve shirt buttoned, jacket pulled close, pant legs tucked into socks, he assumes a kind of tight crouch over the steering wheel. There are but five hours left in his journey. His senses are heightened.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Incredibly, the mouse makes no further appearance. Around six in the morning, the motorist arrives at his suburban Atlanta home, Monday morning commuter traffic already gathering. He bids the car goodbye and sleeps the entire day away.

Tuesday morning and time to empty the car of its contents. And what to his wondering eyes appear?? TWO mousetraps have been tripped and the lifeless contents splayed in their death throes. The motorist feels a twinge of sadness: has he wiped out a mouse family? He takes his luggage upstairs and ponders the cycle of life. He also ponders the expense of replacing automobile carpeting that is soaked in rodent urine.