Even a Mouse

Anne, the high school student had finished shelving all the returned books. “Did you pick up the books that were on the tables?” I asked.

“Yes, and I straightened all the shelves,” she said.

“Thanks, then I guess we’ll see you on Monday,” I said.

She put on her puffy winter coat, wrapped the wool scarf around her neck, and pulled the knitted hat down to cover her ears. As she waved goodbye she tugged up the scarf to cover her lips and the tip of her nose. A wisp of cold air ghosted through the hall and around the corner where I sat at my desk reading review journals. The children’s room of the library was rarely quiet. This evening the only sound I could hear was Judy in the next room picking out picture books for next week’s story time.

It was just a few days past the winter solstice I could see the street lights come on shortly after four. It would have seemed less dark and less cold if there had been some snow on the ground. I heard myself humming the tune to “In the Bleak Midwinter.”

With the holiday break only a few days away children would have no homework. Anyone with any sense would be home baking cookies this afternoon I thought.

I glanced at the clock. Only about a half hour to go and the library would close.

The scream from the next room pierced my daydreams and brought me to my feet. “What’s wrong?” I yelled out to Judy. We almost collided head on at the door.

“It’s a mouse!” Judy said. “It’s over in the corner behind the puppet stage. You’ve got to catch it. I’m too frightened.”
I sighed. “Judy,” I said, “If I catch it I will have only three choices. I can put it outside, but it will likely come right back in. It obviously knows how to do that. My second choice would be to kill it and I’m telling you right now I could not do that.” I felt myself stalling for time because I knew there was only one choice. “Or,” I said, “I can keep it as a pet.”

“I don’t care what you do with it,” Judy said. “Just catch it.”

“Ok, keep an eye on it and I’ll be back in a minute.” I saw Judy roll her eyes, but I thought it was a fitting punishment for her silly fear of a mouse.

I climbed the circular black iron staircase to the staff lounge and found an empty coffee can in the trash. I wiped out the remaining coffee grinds and punctured a small hole in the plastic lid.

When I got back Judy was on a table, looking like the cartoon image of a woman afraid of a mouse. She pointed, “It’s over there now.”

I approached the mouse one slow step at a time. When I was close enough to see it’s ears twitch, I put the coffee can upside down over the mouse. Then I slid a piece of stiff paper under the can, flipped the can right side up and popped on the lid. I had done a lot of critter catching as a child, but never thought about this experience as a skill I could use on my résumé.

Judy gasped. From the opaque coffee lid I could see the mouse quavering in the corner.

The mouse and I went home together. Driving home, I named the mouse Hezekiah.

When my father asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said without hesitation, “I want you to build me a mouse house.”

My father was pleased with the request. It had been years since he had constructed a critter house. When I was a child, he had made one just for spiders with twigs sticking out from the inner walls. I could catch an interesting spider watch it spin it’s web between the twigs, then set the spider free. My father made a screen lid for a used aquarium. My friends and I carpeted the floor with moss. We filled a plastic bowl with fresh water and then put on the screen lid. We walked to the library to research what our guest would like for dinner. We learned that the Preying Mantis would sip water from a spoon held in front of it. We watched a toad shed its skin.

When I arrived at my parent’s home later that week for the long holiday weekend, Hezekiah’s new home was ready. The front and back were Plexiglas panels that slid up so that the water bottle and food could be refreshed. Dad had laid down a blanket of hard wood saw dust and constructed a zigzag exercise ramp that ran from the left to right, then right to left. The droppings could get cleaned out from the bottom each day. Hezekiah soon learned to go back in the coffee can while his house was cleaned.

The following Monday, Hezekiah came with me to work. Inside his new house he had a full view of the children and they had a view of him. He seemed to like to amuse his audience with running up and down the ramp or chewing on a used toilet paper roll. Three-year-olds looked up to him and giggled when he made his most breathtaking leaps. Even the most cynical twelve-year olds, stopped on their way in or out of the children’s room to greet Hezekiah.

At the end of the first week I received a copy of a memo written by the Supervisor of Technical Services to the Library Director. The title of the memo was “Rodents Threaten the Library.” The Director called an emergency meeting of Department Supervisors to discuss the matter. To my surprise, the children’s room staff took a united stand. They might not of cared for Hezekiah in the beginning but to call him a threat was laughable.

When the Department Supervisors met, sides had already been chosen. A compromise was worked out in writing and entered into the policy manual. It stated that any department that chose to keep a rodent as a pet must have 100% approval by the staff members in that department.

After that each staff member in the children’s room volunteered to help with Hezekiah’s care. Before the room would open each day one person had to clean out the droppings from yesterday and refresh the water and food. We all took a turn, even Judy. On Saturdays the library was only open until noon. On Sunday it was closed. We had to make sure that Hezekiah had enough food and water to make it through until Monday morning. In January snow began to fall. Schools closed for snow days and so did the library. By February there were ice storms. But when the library re-opened each time Hezekiah seemed happy to see us back. How would he survive if we did not return?

Then on the first warm day in March I arrived at work at noon since I would be working the night shift that day. Standing around my desk were four staff members clustered around Hezekiah’s house.

“We don’t want you to be upset,” said Grace.

“We know how much Hezekiah means to you,” said Pat.

“But, when I opened the door to clean out Hezekiah’s house he didn’t go into the coffee can. He just ran and disappeared,” said Anne.

“We’ve looked everywhere,” said Judy.

I looked from sad face to sad face and then I just couldn’t hold back the laughter any more.

“No doubt we gave that little mouse a winter vacation he won’t forget. Now it’s time for him to make a family of his own. No doubt he found his way out the way he found his way in.”