The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse
In Several Parts
This being the Fifth
Which follows upon the Fourth Part, wherein was considered the fate of Chutzpah the Mouse and wherein the reader was privileged to experience the Saga from an altogether different point of view. Here resumes the Saga, wherein is told the tale of a gruesome death – a murther most foul – and wherein the protagonist is seized by pitiful Terror and gripped by awful Cowardice.
Weeks went by. Weeks during which we saw hide nor hair of Chutzpah. Perhaps we really had won. Perhaps he was dead. Or perhaps not. Part of me still believed Chutzpah was too smart, too good, to go out the way he seemed to have gone. But if the mouse we had brought to ruin was not Chutzpah, perhaps he knew from this that our apartment was no longer safe for him. Perhaps he was smart enough to know when it was time to fold and move on to cheesier pastures, pastures with pasteurized cheese instead of peanut-butter. Or perhaps he was biding his time, lulling us from vigilance into complacency.
Weeks went by. Weeks during which I was studying for my Greek translation exam.1 I have odd study habits. Or at least, I have my own study habits. If you care to imagine, I’m reading by candlelight, smoking my pipe, sipping whiskey and listening to some loud heavy metal. Helps me focus. Also helps block out distractions. For example, it helps block out the sound of a mouse being tortured to death. It’s a horrible sound.
There came a knocking. A knocking at my chamber door. I rose to answer the door, whereupon I discovered my roommate, looking quite distressed. “We have a problem,” he was saying. I opened my mouth to answer, when I heard a sound I’d not heard before. It was a sort of clickety-clack.2 It stopped. Then it started again. Then it stopped again. “What…,” I started to ask. But I didn’t finish the question. I didn’t need to. “Oh. No.” “Dude…,” He started to answer. But he didn’t finish the answer. He didn’t need to.
Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. We both turned to look. And there it was. Pitiful. Wretched. The poor bastard. He was in no way equipped to deal with the awful fate that had befallen him. Or, I should say, the fate that was even now befalling him. A trap, you see, had closed upon his left hind leg. It was a death sentence. The leg was ruined. He could never survive like this. Did he know? How could he? The poor bastard. Dead mouse walking.
Clickety-clack. He was scampering for anything that looked like shelter. He had betaken himself to a space between the garbage can and the wall. And as he made his way, pulling himself on his front legs, pushing himself with his one working hind leg, the wooden trap clattered against the tile floor. Clickety-clack.
“What are we going to do?,” my roommate asked. There was a tremor in his voice.3 “Dude, he can’t survive this,” I responded. I didn’t want to answer the question. We looked at each other. My roommate spoke first. “We have to kill it.” I nodded. “But how?”
Silence. Not even a clickety-clack. Perhaps The Mouse, an interested party in the issue of our decision, was listening. Did he have his own wishes? Did he want to be put out of his misery? Did he think if he could just escape the horrors of our kitchen that he’d pull through? When a horse breaks a leg, we don’t much care about the horse’s wishes, do we? No. We just feel bad for it as we reach for the shotgun.4
“Fuck, I don’t know!,” my roommate cried out. “Smash its head with a frying pan! Just end it!” I looked at my friend, a friend I’d known since I was fifteen. I looked at a man who’d taken clients to the hospital and sat by their bedsides as they expired with all the grace and professional dignity in the world, but who now was entirely unbenerved at the thought of euthanizing5 this poor mouse. I looked at my friend and posed a question. “Let me ask you something. After we smash its head in with a frying pan, are you going to want to cook with that frying pan?”6
“Fine,” he conceded. “Then drop one of your weights on its head.”7 I thought about it. That would do the trick, no question. There was no logical counter to this proposal. But I damn well didn’t have it in me to do such a deed. In the Odyssey, the Kyklops Polyphemos was said to dash men’s heads against the ground the way people would apparently dash the heads of unwanted puppies against the ground, which, it seems, is what one did to get rid of puppies one didn’t want.8 But I was no Kyklops. For one, I had two eyes. For two, if I was a Kyklops, I probably would have eaten the mouse for breakfast long ago.9 Still, I had to think quickly if I was going to get out of this one.
“F that,” I blurted out. “It’s your idea. You do it!” There. Logic had been satisfied. “Absolutely not!,” came the reply. “They’re your weights. You do it!” Stalemate. I raised my hand in the universal sign of ‘Hang on a second and let me think.’ Clickety-clack. Clickety-clack. I couldn’t think. I mean, what the hell does one do in a situation like this? “Maybe we can lure it onto another trap.” That was my roommate. Good thinking mate! “Great!,” I jumped. “Set the trap!” “Me?” I think he thought I would do it. “Your idea,” I offered nonchalantly. “I hate you,” he said coldly. Good, I thought. He’s going to do it.
Now, you must picture what our kitchen looks like. It’s a railroad kitchen, maybe three feet wide, but at least four times as long. The garbage can by which The Mouse was hiding is on the right hand wall. The peanut-butter bait-jar was in an under-counter cabinet on the left hand wall, maybe six feet beyond the garbage can. So my roommate, upon fetching another trap from his room, shimmied along the left hand wall much the same way a man in the movies shimmies along the ledge of a building. That is to say, pressed flat, arms on the counter tops, feet always in contact with the wall.10 Upon reaching the cabinet, he looked at me. I gave him two thumbs up. Whereupon was he greatly reassured.11 He crouched down, back still against the counter, feeling blindly for the cupboard door. I held my breath as he swung the door open and reached his hand in. He pulled out a jar of tomato sauce. I shook my head. He replaced the jar of tomato sauce.
Clickety-clack. We froze. “He’s suffering,” I implored. “Hurry up!” He reached in again and pulled out a box of matzah. “That’s not even a jar!,” I shouted as I closed my eyes. “Right!” He put it back. Finally he pulled out a jar of peanut-butter and held it aloft. Angels (of death) started singing O Fortuna as I gave him two thumbs up. Whereupon did he slam shut the cupboard door and leap back to where I was standing in three great strides. They were the sort of strides where only your tippy-toes touch the ground because you’re afraid of anything that might be on the ground. The thing is, you have to remember that all this was before the Bin-Laden raid. So from where I was standing, it all seemed pretty heroic.12
“Set the trap,” I said as calmly as I could.13 He looked at me with eyes that said, Do you have any idea what I just went through to secure this peanut-butter? You set the godsdamned trap! “Ok,” I said. “Set the trap, and I’ll take care of everything when he’s dead.” I was hoping he didn’t have the stomach to deal with a dead mouse.
He shook his head in disapproval, as if to say, I thought you were better than this, but which, as a practical matter said, Fine, I’ll set the trap, but I don’t want any part of cleaning up dead-mouse. So he set the trap. And he laid the trap. He laid it right near to where The Mouse was cowering in agony. And I took one step backward, as if Fear herself had shoved me in the shoulder.14
SNAP! Oh, no. Gods, no. Not this. Please, not this.
Have you ever heard a mouse scream? I expect you haven’t. Look, I’ve never been to war. If you’re reading this, and you’ve served overseas, you have every right to seek me out and punch me right in my glass jaw. But me personally, I’ve never been to war. So this was pretty much the most horrific thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It was a pitiful wail. A screech. A cry of pain. Unmeasured horror. If there’s a level of pain where one is inclined to shout, ‘How could you do this to me?!,’ then this was well beyond that. This was a pain that doesn’t ask why. It doesn’t even ask for an end. It just screams.
And we had done this. We could have ended things before it ever came to this. A swift frying pan to the head would have done it. Or a 25lb. weight
falling accelerating at 9.8m/s2.15 But no. We didn’t have the sang-froid. So it had come to this. A botched execution. The criminal was writhing on the bed, strapped down, far beyond caring why the lethal injection hadn’t worked as advertised. The trap, you see, had closed upon its front right leg.
I proceed now, with all due haste, to the dénouement. In so doing, I shall skip several particulars, in part to spare the reader any further indignity of reading of my humiliation at the broken hands of a dying mouse, and in part because this tale has grown over-long.
This poor mouse’s final demise was achieved by pushing him with a broom handle onto still another trap. I’m fairly certain that my roommate was wearing a black executioner’s hood as he did this. I have no idea where he got such a hood, but it was all very dramatic. In any case, this final trap closed mercifully upon the poor mouse’s neck.
Only, even this was not entirely merciful enough. The trap flipped itself, and the now thrice-betrapped mouse, onto its side by the force of its own recoil. The mouse let out one last pitiful wail. Then its free arm twitched. Its tail straightened and twitched. And it was dead. Finally.
My roommate walked out of the kitchen, defeated in victory. I stood motionless for a long time. It must have been several hours, maybe even days. The sun rose and set again, and all the while I stood there unmoving, staring at the scene of the crime. I stood there so long that I grew a beard.16 At last, at long last, I came to grips with had happened. And I disposed of the dead mouse. Dammit, Chutzpah, I thought. Why did you make us do this? Then I did the only thing that was left to do. I sought out my roommate and we opened a bottle of scotch.
Tune in next week for the Conclusion of The Saga of Chutzpah the Mouse, wherein the reader is brought up to the present day and is discovered as to who really had the last laugh.
- A period I sometimes refer to as The Lost Summer of Aught-Eleven. My days were thus: Work 9-5; nap; shower; dinner; read Greek from around nine ‘til two or three ante-meridian; facilitate the foregoing by consuming stupid amounts of whiskey, tobacco and caffeine. I didn’t see my friends. I passed up free tickets to ballgames, including the one where Derek Jeter got his 3000th hit. I missed plenty of parties and any other kind of fun you could think of. Well, except the fun of reading some awesome Greek (I’m looking at you, Sophokles). But I also read some incredibly boring Greek (I’m looking at you Theokritos). In any event, it was a Lost Summer. But, if you’re curious, I killed the exam. And at the end of it all, one of my friends baked me a cake. [↩]
- And not of the Tappet Brothers variety. #CarTalk [↩]
- Or perhaps it was in mine own ears. [↩]
- I say “we,” but let the record show I’ve never actually shot dead a horse. [↩]
- A wicked and perverted Greek word, which the Greeks themselves never used. A combination of εὖ/eu – ‘well,’ or ‘kind’ and θάνατοϲ/thanatos – ‘death.’ The sort of euphemism meant to make one feel better about doing something that one ought not really feel good about doing. [↩]
- It’s been said that I don’t have a heart. #FullDisclosure [↩]
- I have pairs of 20 and 25 pound dumbbells, because once upon a time, I used to work out. In those days, I had the strength of ten men. I would routinely hurl boulders the size of small Volkswagens while simultaneously choking alligators with my legs. Construction companies used to tell me that they’d hire me to be a crane – not a crane operator, mind you, but the actual crane – if I was only a little bit taller. Well, thirty stories taller. But that was years ago. By this time, my dumbbells were holding down the base of a coat rack that didn’t quite stand up straight. [↩]
- ἀλλ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἀναΐξαϲ ἑτάροιϲ ἐπὶ χεῖραϲ ἴαλλε, / ϲὺν δὲ δύω μάρψαϲ ὥϲ τε ϲκύλακαϲ ποτὶ γαίῃ / κόπτ᾽: ἐκ δ᾽ ἐγκέφαλοϲ χαμάδιϲ ῥέε, δεῦε δὲ γαῖαν – “But he jumped up and reached out his hands to my companions, and grabbing two of them as if they were puppies, smashed them upon the ground; and their brains spilled upon the ground, drenching the earth.” Od.9.288-90. [↩]
- I say probably, but I don’t think there’s any attested occasion of a Kyklops eating a mouse. Still, it seems like the sort of thing they’d do. Or, at the very least, the sort of thing they’d not not do. #litotes [↩]
- At least, that’s how I remember it. [↩]
- Probably. [↩]
- I wonder if there were mice in Bin-Laden’s compound. If so, I have an even greater respect for our Navy SEALS. [↩]
- Which was not very. [↩]
- I’d have taken two steps backward, but Pride was standing behind me, blocking my retreat, saying, Where do you think you’re going, Nancy? (And that was Pride speaking. The author happens to think there’s nothing wrong with the name Nancy, or with people called Nancy for that matter). [↩]
- And thus reaching whatever velocity it would have attained starting from zero and a height of ca.4′. [↩]
- At least, I thought I had. Photographic evidence has since indicated that I had the beard before I ever had a mouse. In hindsight, it’s possible this period of several days was actually a matter of minutes. [↩]