The mouse and the potato.

My first apartment was exactly what a first apartment is supposed to be, in ways both good and bad.

James, the boyfriend, and I had been dating for just over a year when we decided it was time for us to move in together. This was largely because I can’t stay up past 10pm to save my life and on our late-night dates I kept either falling asleep at his place and getting locked out of my own, or the few times I somehow, miraculously managed to stay awake I would ride my little scooter (a red Honda metro, fondly named Ruby) home, but the combined weight of both me and the scooter wasn’t enough to trip the sensors and make the stoplights change, so I’d end up sitting at an entirely vacant red light at 3am trying to decide if the ticket for getting caught on camera running the light was ultimately worth it.

I was nineteen and we were poor, but in that blissful sort of unaware way where neither of us understood what we might be missing (a living room, outlets that don’t spark when you put plugs in them, air conditioning) just yet. We had no idea what to look for in an apartment and couldn’t afford anything halfway decent anyways, but we wanted to live downtown, feeling the pull of coffee shops, used bookstores, and tall buildings with busy sidewalks.

Eventually, we (I say “we,” but really it was just me calling James one day after spamming his phone with a dozen pictures going LOOK WHAT I FOUND and telling him I’d picked out our new apartment) came across an ad for a tiny little loft right in the heart of downtown and I was sold. Head over heels, y’all.

It was everything I wanted (and nothing I needed) with its hardwood floors, wide, arched doorways, old-fashioned windows that you literally had to crank open, ancient wrought-iron fire escape that would provide absolutely no means of escape, but which I ended up using for my potted herb garden (until they all fell to their death during a bad windstorm– I was devastated), and my very first kitchen to call my own.

We loved it there. Except when we hated it– like when the bells from the magnificent, towering cathedral across the street (literally, no more than twenty yards away) would chime super early on Sunday mornings, or when we were woken up in the middle of the night by a not-so-casual drugs bust happening down the hall, or, somehow even more worrisome, when we discovered that we had an unwelcome guest living in our midst: namely, a mouse. And it was entirely because of the kitchen, my beautiful, charming, yellow-tiled, sunlight-filled kitchen, that we had the mouse at all.

Our apartment was on the top floor of a building dating back to somewhere in the early 1900’s, before there was, you know, comfort, or widespread use of modern appliances– meaning most people didn’t have refrigerators or the ones they did have were much shorter and smaller. Because of this, the standard size refrigerator the place came with barely fit at the far end of my kitchen. There was a little nook, clearly designed for something half its size, into which someone had shoved the refrigerator, making it impossible to open half the cabinets, or the freezer door, or have more than two people in the kitchen at any given time. It also meant that the oven/stove couldn’t be upgraded from the very small, very ancient retro one because there was simply nowhere to fit a normal sized appliance (I hear some of you wondering where the dishwasher fit– don’t make me laugh).

So, my darling kitchen was equipped with an oven barely wider than a casserole dish and a stovetop featuring roughly one and half burners (on a good day), no pantry whatsoever (though there was an odd door in the wall that opened up to a half-sized ironing board that would occasionally spring open of its own volition and scare the shit out of us) and now– a mouse.

The mouse got in through the oven. Well, I say “through,” but really it was behind.

Your girl here likes to cook, not that I’ve ever been any good at it. And when we moved into this apartment I was going through a serious Julia Child phase. It was French food all day, every day: soufflés, roast chicken with cream sauces, pan-fried fish with herbs, mushrooms done every way you can imagine, potatoes dripping in butter– I was possessed. And in my enthusiasm, I may have pushed our little oven, bless its heart, just a bit too far. So far, in fact, that I actually warped the whole thing, leaving the door unable to close entirely, leaking hot air into the kitchen, and a gap of several inches between the back of the oven and the wall– which was when we discovered the hole: a hole the size of a tennis ball with a couple of dangling wires and quite a lot of teeth marks surrounding it. And that very night was when we first heard the mouse.

It took me, someone who had a pet mouse as a girl (well two, actually, but the second one bit us so my brother and I “set it free” at the local cemetery– why there, I don’t know) a surprisingly long time to figure out what the skitter-scatter noises, which sounded sort of like very specifically focused hailstones, or possibly rice being thrown onto the floor, actually were: tiny mouse feet running from one end of our apartment to the other in the middle of the night. But finally, one morning, I SAW HIM.

I was sitting on my bed (no couches, only adults have real furniture) when I heard it again, that weird clattering noise. Is the floor crumbling away from below? Is my downstairs neighbor trying to morse-code it up with me? What is it? And just then, I turned my head and there he was– sitting, cool as can be, right smack in the middle of my kitchen floor, brown and fluffy, and looking quite pleased with himself.

Moments like these are a mark of how much we humans have yet to evolve. I threw my pen at him. Why? I don’t know. I followed it with my notebook, for reasons passing understanding. And let me just say– if mice could laugh, this one would have been hamming it up as he watched my pen go flying by (no hand-eye coordination lives in this body, none) and my notebook smack into a chair nowhere near him, before he scampered off, underneath the oven, back up into the wall, and away to tell his friends about the stupid-human-girl that he scared.

When James returned home I told him what had gone down. The apartment wasn’t haunted (as he’d hopefully believed), but rather we had a third tenant who was not paying his fair share of the rent. We decided the best solution was to duct-tape the hole in the wall closed and prevent the mouse from entering in the first place. Sticky-traps (what a terrible way to die) and snap-traps (mouse guts on the floor? hard pass) were neither of them an option, so we wedged our way behind the oven and plastered duct-tape over every crack and crevice we could find.

That night, all was silent.

The next morning, feeling pretty adultish and rather impressed with ourselves, we went to check the hole.

It had been chewed through.

Remnants of tape littered the floor; little Mr. Brown had made extremely quick work of it in the night, much to our frustration. We taped it up again, because what else was there to do, and talked about calling the landlord.

The following morning I woke up after James had already left for work. This time, the tape covering the hole in the wall had been, almost lazily, pushed aside. As if the mouse had decided it really just wasn’t worth his time to put any real effort into showing us silly humans how truly out of our depth we were. However, oddly enough, there was a bowl on the ground with a potato underneath it. The rest of the potatoes were still in their bag up on the nearby counter (no pantry, remember), along with the clean dishes on the drying rack. Only this particular potato and bowl seemed to have migrated during the night, for some unknown reason.

Too busy worrying about the mouse to really pay much attention to this strange discovery, I picked up the bowl and called James to update him.

He answered and moments into my tirade on the ineffectiveness of duct-tape he suddenly goes “I forgot to tell you! I caught the mouse last night!”

“What? You caught it? How?!”

“It was on the floor! In the kitchen! I trapped it under a bowl! Is he still there?!”

I glanced down at the potato, still on the tile. “…you trapped it under a bowl?”

“Yeah, he was right by the oven and I grabbed the bowl and trapped him underneath it!” he tells me, sounding very proud.

“You mean…this potato?” I asked him.

“Potato? What potato?”

“The one I just found sitting under this bowl on the floor?”

“What?” he says. “No, it was the mouse.”

“Nuh uh. This is definitely a potato.”

“Why would there be a potato on the floor?”

“I think it may have rolled off the counter.”

“You mean–”

“Yeah. You trapped a potato.”

Apparently, in the middle of the night James had gone to the kitchen for a drink and spotted, in the darkness, a mouse-shaped lump on the floor and thought, mostly asleep as he was, that he could catch it. After slamming the bowl over the mouse/potato he simply went back to bed and, being dead to the world before 10am, completely forgot about it the next morning until I called. I, who can sleep through literally anything, heard none of the mouse/potato commotion and woke to find the results.

That night we drew whiskers, ears, and a tail on the potato, commemorating its honorary status as both rodent and vegetable, and put it back up on the ledge next to the oven. Apparently mice are afraid of potatoes because we never saw Mr. Brown, slayer of duct-tape and conquerer of apartments, ever again.

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