Jamie Nielsen

“There’s only one kind of trap that works. It’s the five-for-a-dollar, old-fashioned kind with a spring on a piece of wood.”

My sister raises and trains horses in the mountains outside Reno, Nevada. She’s a single mom of three small humans, nine rescue dogs, two rescue cats, and up to thirty-something horses, depending on when you ask her. She traps mice in two barns full of hay and grain, dog chow, and sundry equine medications. Her days begin and end with the hard physical labor of feeding and watering. Doctoring, shoveling, scrubbing, hauling. Foals are born here in the earliest, blackest hours of the new day, slippery, fragile, and steaming in the cold. There is no room for gnawed electrical wires or contaminated feed. No question, given rodent-borne hantavirus and Lyme disease. There is no safe cover for a mouse under the slim profit margins of this life my sister has chosen.

“Use peanut butter and rub it under the curved part of the bait plate. It works every time.” She has an unrelenting sense of humor, but this is no-nonsense advice.

I thank her and tell her I love her. Press “end” and sit a moment longer in my car, parked in the garage that is now the territory of a mouse, utility shelving visible through the driver’s side window, stocked with non-perishables: corn, beans, apricot jam. The labels are shredded, cans and glass jars liberally anointed with sticky urine and tiny black feces like grains of rice.

The mouse didn’t glean any nourishment from the cans, however. It was the cabbage.

This is the part of the story I didn’t tell my sister when I called her: I left a cabbage in the garage overnight, thinking the cold would keep it fresh. It was dense and firm, bright white-green like a model of the moon: crust, mantle, core. The next morning the plastic wrapping was breached and a deep crater carved by tiny teeth. It must have been ecstasy—the pungent crispness, layer upon layer after months of winter scarcity.

My father’s mother’s people farmed the rich Miamian soils of Ohio. My grandmother was one of seven sisters with names like Beulah, Ida, and Elnora; they were Depression-era farm women who quilted and put up preserves. “They’re pests,” she says matter-of-factly, sitting here half-invisible at the kitchen table. She doesn’t look at me directly, but there’s no room for discussion, no space for questions. “There’s nothing else for it.”

So I disinfect cans while my husband baits and sets traps, the five-for-a-dollar, old-fashioned kind, and the next morning we find that one of the traps worked. The peanut butter worked, terribly.

My carelessness taught a small being to love the garage and come back, ending an entire story we only caught a glimpse of in the signs left after a single night of glorious exploration and cabbage feasting.

I’m not getting any work done. I can’t bring myself to go out and throw them into the garbage bin: the thin metal striker bar clutching the soft, white-bellied body, the delicate toes. I close my laptop. I’m considering a live trap if this ever happens again. This will require driving with a mouse and releasing it miles away in some wild place in the national forest. Maybe a grassy meadow with decent cover for a small mammal—a downed tree, a tangle of branches.

I text my sister:

Well the traps were effective but now I feel awful

Can’t blame him for wanting to be in a warm garage chewing on canned goods

And a cabbage

I left a cabbage out there

I’m just a careless cabbage person and that’s what lured him in

CCP – careless cabbage person

I hadn’t intended to confess about the cabbage, but it feels good to put it out there into the SMS ether where my sister will find it. My three-fold penance is already clear in my mind: purchase a live mouse trap from the hardware store, search out any garage entry points and seal them with caulk, and never leave produce out there, ever again. Amen.

She answers my text an hour later, probably taking a short break from chores to step inside and warm her roughened hands on a cup of coffee:

Yeah I’ve always thought of you that way, but I never wanted to say anything

Jamie Nielsen is an ecologist and returned US Peace Corps volunteer. She lives and writes in Flagstaff, Arizona with her husband, two children, and their rescue dog, Rainy. Jamie Nielsen’s essays appear in The Sunlight Press and the Arizona Authors’ Association Arizona Literary Magazine 2021.

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