The oldest one is complaining about a mouse that he says lives in his bedroom.
“It scrabbles about under the floorboards,” he says. “It sounds big.”
“There will be more than one,” I say. I don’t know if this is true – it’s just something I’ve heard people say in similar circumstances, and I like the way it makes me seem: fatalistic.
“It starts as soon as I turn off the lights,” he says. “It’s impossible to sleep.”
“I can imagine,” I say, trying to sound sympathetic while simultaneously thinking: this is so not my problem.
The next day, he raises the subject again.
“I think it gets into that desk thing by the window,” he says, referring to a piece of furniture that used to be in our old kitchen. “That’s where I heard it last night.”
“The drawers are full of old seed packets,” I say. “So yeah, if I were a mouse I’d be like: jackpot.”
“He does seem excited,” the oldest one says.
In the afternoon, the oldest one throws away all the old seeds and hoovers the drawers, but the mouse returns at night.
“Then the dog comes in and follows it around above the floorboards,” he says. “I haven’t slept in a week.”
The youngest one walks into the kitchen.
“What are we talking about?” he says.
“The mouse,” the oldest one says.
“Mice,” I say.
“I heard it messing about in there yesterday,” says the youngest, pointing to the cupboard where the boiler is.
“In there?” I say.
“And also in the wall behind my computer,” he says. I think: wait, this is sort of my problem.
Sure enough, there are mouse droppings in the boiler cupboard, and in a hole cut for the radiator pipes that leads directly to the floorboards under the oldest one’s bed. I imagine a thriving mouse community going about its business behind the plaster, with an occasional member stopping to cock an ear. “I think I hear someone typing out there,” he says to a passing cousin. “There will be more than one,” his cousin says.
I buy a mousetrap for the boiler cupboard – a plastic box with a little door that’s meant to fall shut when the guillotine mechanism within is activated. There are instructions for dislodging the dead mouse, but I imagine most people throw the whole box away. That’s certainly my plan.
One morning, a week later, I am sitting in the kitchen with a cup of coffee when I sense motion at the edge of my vision. I look up to see a tiny mouse emerging from under the oven.
“Oh my,” I say, for reasons which are not clear. At the sound of my voice the mouse disappears back under the oven. I go in search of the cat, which I find curled in a ball on the sitting room sofa. Without moving, it opens one eye to look up at me.
“I was just wondering what time you start work,” I say. “Some of us are already hard at it.” The eye shuts.
At about 4am I am woken by the cat miaowing up the staircase. The cat does sometimes demand to be fed in the middle of the night, but this miaow is different – it’s more of a sustained yodel. I know from experience that this doesn’t mean “feed me”; it means “come and claim your free gift”. I pull the duvet over my head.
I forget about this until the next morning, when I find half a mouse on the kitchen floor – the back half. I suppose this is marginally preferable to the front half, staring up at me with that “How bad is it, Sarge?” look on its face.
“Did I need to see that?” my wife says, referring to the half-mouse laid out on kitchen paper that I’m holding under her nose.
“Just keeping you apprised,” I say. “Events are moving quickly now.”
At lunchtime I run across the oldest one in the kitchen.
“I met some of a friend of yours this morning,” I say.
“Mum told me,” he says.
“There will be more,” I say, although I keep hoping there won’t be, right up until 4am, when I hear the cat yodelling in the dark.