Wednesday was a strange and unexpectedly violent day at the Dillehay house.
I was doing a workout video with Norah nearby, and as I was getting down on my knees to do the floor exercises (prenatal Pilates with BodyFit by Amy on YouTube) I noticed something unusual.
There’s a sticky trap under my husband’s desk to catch bugs. It’s one of those with a cardboard roof, so that if you accidentally step on it you aren’t stuck to it forever and ever. I don’t like to look into these traps because I hate thinking about how the enormous spiders I see there used to be crawling around the floor where my daughter also likes to crawl. I generally avoid looking at them. But yesterday, my eye was quickly drawn to the one under the desk because there was something strange about it. It was darker than usual to my peripheral. I bent closer and found that I was looking at a small mouse, stuck to the trap.
Justin had told me several times he’d seen a mouse in different parts of the house, always at bedtime, always scampering from one corner to another. I’d been living in low-grade terror of stepping on it one night on my way to the bathroom.
Now here it was.
I moved backwards and paused, and then I carefully reached in and slid the whole thing out across the carpet. It was easy to pick the cardboard trap up from the outside, which I did. I set it up on top of my husband’s desk and pointed at it for the benefit of Norah, who had been next to me doing her own personal version of prenatal Pilates.
Norah looked at it, and that’s when I really looked at it too. Its body was stretched out full length on the sticky surface of the trap’s floor, but its little face was also stuck, by one cheek. It was a very small mouse. Then I saw it move. It struggled, and then it lay still again.
Norah started to cry.
“Mouse!” she pointed at it. “Mouse!”
I think she was scared of it. And at the same time that she began to break down, I suddenly burst into tears myself. It had occurred to me that this mouse might have been lying here struggling, slipping closer to death for days. All of a sudden I was seeing a sufferer and not a rodent pest.
When I started crying, Norah immediately upgraded her own wails.
“It’s okay, honey,” I said to her in a wobbly voice, lifting her up and carrying her to the kitchen. I knew that I couldn’t let that mouse struggle any longer, and I briefly considered letting it go into the yard, but realized this could also just be prolonging either its agony or its sojourn in my house. I started sobbing harder when I realized what I was going to have to do. With my hands shaking, I filled a bowl with some snacks for the whimpering Norah and set her on the kitchen floor.
I picked up the trap and set it in the yard just off the back porch. Then I went inside, sobbing, and picked up one of Justin’s 20-pound metal dumbbells. I carried it outside, held it two feet above the cardboard roof of the trap, and dropped it. The trap was flattened; cardboard roof now on one plane with the cardboard sticky floor.
I was actually crying hard now, like a small child, or perhaps like a pregnant adult woman.
I looked up and noticed that the neighbor’s side door was open and that if somebody found me like this I just really wouldn’t know what to say to them. So I picked up the trap from the outside, again without touching anything I would have cause to regret, and threw it all into exterior trash can. Weakly, I hefted the 20-pound dumbbell back inside.
Originally I wrote this story down just because it was bizarre and also felt oddly significant—like my first kill. It felt like an unlooked-for lesson in how natural it is to be softhearted towards the animal kingdom. I typed out a quote from C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra, and another from a book on the philosophy of sin… and I was fully intending to develop a brief thesis about animal cruelty.
Then I just dropped the whole thing. Because really, I don’t have a well-developed thesis on animal cruelty. It isn’t something I’ve thought much about. All I know is that I loved animals as a small girl, I grew to be mostly annoyed by them (and emotional pet owners) as a young adult, and now, apparently, I have come full circle and am capable of weeping openly whenever I even try to tell the story about killing the mouse.
The only brief lesson I’m attempting to take away from this anecdote: excessive bawling isn’t a mark of virtue, but on the whole, it seems to me that it would be better for a decent human (and certainly a Christian steward over creation) to hate doing violence to a mouse than to take pleasure in it.