Just before my beloved dog Buster died I found out we had mice.
Late in the evening, I was keeping vigil over Buster when I heard a scuttling sound in kitchen. When I looked up a brown mouse shot across the kitchen floor and dove underneath the stove. Just great. Buster had very few teeth left and when he ate lots of his kibble ended up on the floor. The mice were probably having a feast every night. Because I had so much on my emotional plate I decided not to tell my wife. I knew she’d freak. One crisis at a time.
After I put Buster to sleep I was a mess for a couple of weeks. The worst part was coming home after work and not having him amble to the door to greet me. His scent still lingered in the house and I swore I could still hear his nails clattering on the floor. One night I woke up to the sound of him barking. As was my routine those last months, I swung myself out of bed to give him a pain pill and pet him until he went to sleep. But as soon as my feet hit the floor I realized he was gone. Now he’s just some ashes in a wooden box on my china closet. After sixteen years I had become so habituated to Buster’s presence that his absence left a profound silence. His brother dog Felix is still a bit bewildered and my daughter says she misses him. Me too, honey.
When the worst of the emotional storm passed I told my wife about the mice. As I figured, she immediately pulled out the fridge and looked under the stove and found mice droppings. “We have to do something about this,” she said. “This is bad.”
I sighed. I hate killing things. Sure, I like hamburger and don’t usually think about the cow, but I’ve never been keen on snuffing things out. I tell my daughter not to squash bugs. I avoid ants on the ground. If I find a fly in the house I perform catch and release. And I had just put my dog to sleep. I knew it was an act of mercy but I found it very unnatural to walk into the vet’s office with a live, albeit very sick dog, and then leave without him. I just couldn’t bring myself to kill some mice.
But I have a kid and mice can bring all sorts of nasty things into your home. So I went down to the hardware store and bought some old fashioned mouse traps. “Just put peanut butter on them and that’ll get ‘em,” I said to my wife.
“What about those other traps?” she said, looking askance that the devices. “The glue strips? Or poison?”
“A mouse trap will kill them quicker,” I said dispassionately. “If their spine or neck isn’t broken instantly they’ll die from the trauma within a minute.” When Buster died he went peacefully and without distress – but that was in a controlled environment. If I had to kill something I wanted it to be quick.
The next day I found a field mouse dead in the trap. It looked like it died instantly but then again, I could have been kidding myself. Since my five year old girl thinks mice are Cinderella’s friends, I made sure she was out of sight when I fished its corpse from behind the fridge and walked to the garbage cans on the side of my house.
Looking at the dead mouse I remembered a line from the Gospel. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”
“I’m sorry,” I said to the dead mouse. “I’m very sorry.” Then I tossed him, trap and all, into the garbage.
Back in the house my daughter was playing with her toys, unaware of the tiny tragedy that had just occurred. I remembered the first thing Natalie asked me after I told her Buster died. “Is he alone? Does he have food to eat?” I know children her age are very concrete about death, but the question pained me because I didn’t have an answer. When a friend of mine’s brother died young he told me, “I find myself hoping Larry’s all right. That he’s not alone.” Where is Buster now, other than in a box on my china closet? How does it end for all creatures great and small?
I’m a bit of an amateur theologian. I think life, death and what might come after is bound up in the question of what time truly is. But the day I killed the mouse all I wanted was my dog back and all my highfaluting musings suddenly seemed hollow and empty. I don’t know a goddamn thing.
Later that night, after everyone was asleep, I went drink in hand to that box on the china closet and looked at it. Eventually I’ll do something with Buster’s remains. My wife says she’ll buy a little shelf and place him on it with his picture. Maybe I’ll bury him in the backyard he liked to sun himself in – underneath a bed of flowers with a little marker with his name on it. But until I figure it out, he’ll be on the china closet.
“You were a very good dog, Buster,” I said, toasting the box with my bourbon. “A very good dog.”
I downed my drink and went to bed, hoping Buster was in his Father’s care.