A few nights ago, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a flash of movement in the kitchen. It turned out to be a mouse. At lunch the next day at the cafe, I mention it to Sam, a regular. He’s working on a house project; he’ll give me a plan of action.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “You gotta pull the oven out from the wall. They like to get back there, between the stove and the wall.”
“Ok,” I say. “And what do I do if it’s back there?”
“I don’t know,” he says. After a pause, he adds, “You have to clean out the nest. And then maybe sprinkle some chemicals around it.”
“Chemicals?” I ask. “Just … general chemicals?” I start to laugh.
It’s honestly never occurred to me to pull the stove out from the wall. When I do, I realize, all those times I spilled stuff down the crack and thought, “Oh, well that’s gone” — it’s all right there, the spilled oats and dribbled soup and escaped egg yolks. Still there, easily cleanable.
And the mouse poop. I tell my husband, “When Sam said ‘a nest,’ I guess I was picturing, like, a bird’s nest.” He was too, my husband admits. We both imagined we’d pull the stove away and find, tucked into the paneling above the bottom drawer, a cozy home made of twigs, maybe with a mouse or two curled up inside. But it’s just a pile of tiny droppings. I make a mental note to ask Sam if this is what he meant by “nest” — though clearly he didn’t really know what he was talking about, either.
Later, we’re talking on the couch when the mouse runs onto the kitchen counter. “There it is,” my husband says calmly. It creeps over to the panini grill and starts rooting around in the runoff tray. “Asshat!” he shouts.
“Did you just call a mouse an asshat?!?” I say, suddenly laughing so hard I can barely get the words out. When I catch my breath, I say, “He’s just looking for snacks. Just like us, this time of night.” I have already eaten some chocolate and a bowlful of crisped chickpeas. I unwrap a date bar. “It’s kind of a big mouse.” A new thought occurs to me. “What if it’s a rat and not a mouse? And it’s going to give us all the bubonic plague?”
“It must be so hard, being you, living in the world with your imagination,” he says. “I feel sorry for you.”
“Good!” I exclaim. “Now you understand what life is like for me! If only I could put my wild imagination toward writing stories.”
“Yeah, that would be good,” he agrees. He drops a cube of mouse poison in the space between the oven and the wall, the space it’s never occurred to me I had the power to create. The cube is a pleasing shade of emerald, like a bar of my mother-in-law’s pear soap.
The next morning, the poison cube shows nibble marks. I was supposed to do an interview in Cullowhee, but we’ve postponed due to freezing conditions on the mountain. I have no real excuse not to clean the mess.
I angle my body at the stove so I can’t see the nastiness behind it, figuring I’ll avoid looking at it and eat now, since after I clean it up I might not wish to. I fry two eggs and get to work, filling a bucket with hot water and vinegar, trying to drudge up a scrub brush, settling for the sponge I threw in the trash yesterday, after pulling off some hairs and fuzz.
As I apply Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser to the wall behind the stove and the cabinet bottom above it, I think about the place I worked for a summer during college: Ceiling Professionals International. Ceiling Professionals International (CPI) sold cleaning agents to fast food companies that accumulated nasty buildup of grease and who-knows-what-else on the ceilings above their cooking areas. Actually, they sold the franchises that sold the cleaning agents.
I answered the phones; I got the job because the previous receptionist had had an affair with one of the salesguys.
One day, a franchisee called in, frustrated because another franchise had opened up close to his, too close, according to the franchising agreements.
Really? I thought. Are there really that many of these franchises, springing up all over the place? I reported the message to the boss/owner, “Brad.” Brad rolled his eyes.
“We’re not going to respond to him,” Linda, my supervisor, whispered to me at the front desk. “You don’t have to give Brad those messages.” Linda was Brad’s girlfriend. The new franchise was, in fact, too close, violating the terms of the franchising agreement. They did not return the calls.
The following summer, I answered phones at a juice company, a similarly unglamorous setting. One afternoon I heard the boss/owner, Tom, talking in his office with one of the guys who worked on the assembly line, switching out the name-brand and generic cartons as needed. The employee was having financial trouble. “What can I do to help?” Tom asked. “How about an advance?”
I liked working at the juice company, even though I earned minimum wage and people smoked in the office, and I could see from my window the glorious summer afternoons whiling away outside. Tom treated people well; he hired his mother-in-law to do the books. As far as I know, no one in the office was sleeping with each other.
The Magic Eraser does the trick, no ceiling professionals needed (I only learned about these last year, but everyone I tell about them is like, “Oh yeah, I love those things!” Did everyone know but me? I won’t think about what chemicals they do contain …). The oven, the walls around it, and the floor beneath it shine bright and clean, old soup and crumbs and egg yolk magically erased.
I look one more time in and around the oven’s potential crevices. I run the cobweb cleaner up in the corners. I still don’t see a tiny nest. At some point, I guess we’ll have to locate the poor mouse’s body.