Lodestar Quarterly

Lodestar Quarterly
Figure reaching for a star Issue 9 • Spring 2004 • Fiction

The Secret Lives of Mice

Joneil Adriano

Melissa is stalking around the bedroom, on her tip toes. By the door, she stops, stands still, statuesque. Her hands clutch her slippers, arms cocked and ready to fire. She's trying to be quiet. She carefully listens for their noises, but the only sounds being made are by Lucky, the golden chow mutt, who is sniffing merrily under the radiator.

Just then Melissa feels something brush by her right foot, heading straight for her bed. The slippers go flying in the air, first one and then the other, missing their target by several feet. Tossing things -- salads, old clothes, even lovers who've worn out their welcome -- has never been something she was particularly good at.

"Eeek! Get out of my house!" Melissa is jumping up and down now. "Get. Out. Right. Now!"

Lucky bounds over to the bed, tail fanning like a metronome gone berserk. His nails dig into the carpet, trying to will himself under the bed.

Kathryn shuffles in bed. "It doesn't understand you, Mel." It's almost four in the morning and she is in a wicked mood.


"The mouse. It doesn't understand what you're saying. You're talking to it as if you could somehow reason with it." And then a thought crosses Kat's mind: maybe Mel wasn't talking to the mouse at all?

"Ugh. Pathetic." Mel had bolted out of bed, driven to attention by almost inaudible squeaking. In the two months since they moved into the apartment, Melissa's ears had become expert at detecting the various sounds of mice.

They make scratchy sounds when they are climbing up and down, inside the walls. While squabbling, they make high-pitched squeals. When they are eating, it is a subtle pitter-patter, like rice grains falling on linoleum.

Melissa feels a slight sense of pride in knowing the ways of the mice, as if she were in a select, secret club. Of course, such discerning skills are necessary when battling the infestation, but it was also, as Kat has now come to understand, almost psychosis-inducing.

"Are you just going to lie there and do nothing?" Melissa is being intentionally grating. In Kat's subconscious, she hopes to ignite memories of torment at the hands of her high school teachers.

"Don't be ridiculous, Mel."

"You're like dead wood. You can barely be bothered to roll over in bed."

"It's four in the morning. This is insane! I need to be at work in a few hours."

"Do you think I enjoy this? Sheesh."

Mel peers at the foot of the bed. Lucky has almost disappeared beneath. Mel adjusts her shirt -- Kat's shirt, the one with a patch bearing her name, which hours earlier Kat had carelessly tossed by the side of the bed. Careless. As in: Kat didn't seem to care anymore. About anything.

There was a time when the sight of Melissa wearing those work shirts drove Kat wild. On Melissa's long, slender frame, the shirts stopped just short of her hips. As for Melissa -- she loved being in them. She was a trophy, a pretty girl with Kat's name emblazoned on her breast. Even now, she feels desirable.

"Will you do something? Please?" How could Kat resist her? "For me?"

Just then Lucky emerges from beneath the bed, a mouse tail hanging from the side of his mouth. Mel screams bloody murder, the kind of cry that Kat imagines could send waves of frightened mice jumping off the side of stairwells and onto certain deaths.

"Drop it!" Kat points.

Lucky dutifully drops the mouse at Mel's feet. Mel unleashes another scream, waking the mouse back into consciousness. It scurries past Mel and disappears through the opening between the door and the floor. Meanwhile, Lucky sits attentively, waiting for his reward.

"I'm going to kill that realtor, I swear!" Mel's face twitches with disdain. "I can't believe he willfully sold us this rat's nest."

"Just let it go." Kat collapses back on the bed. "You're going to wake the neighbors."

"Let it go? How can you expect me to just let it go? Don't you know much I paid for this place?"

Of course Kat does, but she bites her tongue, holding the words back.

"We deserve better, Kat. I don't understand how you can be so blasé about this. I mean, you live here, too."

Mel watches Lucky curl up next to Kat. The upstairs neighbor starts banging on their ceiling, clearly upset by all the early morning commotion. Mel looks up briefly, and then turns to Kat.

"Did you know that one mating pair can have dozens of offspring in just one year? And then their babies breed, and then those babies breed, and then the babies of those babies. Oh my God, can you imagine how many of them are in here now? Spreading their filth and disease? Squealing, multiplying, and shitting everywhere. Having babies, eating babies. How disgusting."

What a life it must be, Kat thinks to herself, to be able to eat anything, make a mess, and fuck left and right. Kat tries to remember the last time she felt any trace of hunger, desire, in Mel's touch -- and can't. "Are they monogamous?"

"Excuse me?"

"The mice. Do you suppose they're monogamous?"

"Why does that matter?" Mel rolls her eyes. "I hate it when you're so dismissive like that. My concerns are not trivial." Pounding on a wall, she screams, "Get the fuck out!"

Was that directed at the mice? Kat's uncertain again, so she gives Lucky a reassuring pat on the head. "Let's get a cat, then."

"Yeah, and after that I can get 'lipstick lesbian cliché' tattooed on my forehead."

"Now who's being dismissive?" Kat closes her eyes. "I'll get some traps tomorrow." Just before she falls asleep, Kat thinks that she would like to be reincarnated as a mouse in her next life.


The first words Kat ever spoke to Mel were: "Are you a model?"

Back then Mel was just another tall, pretty nameless blonde sitting alone at the bar. They were at Meow Mix, a dingy dive in the Lower East Side known for being a favorite haunt of A-list dykes like Ellen and Anne (before breakup and breakdown), Melissa and Julie (sans babies), and Joan (with just about anybody she wanted).

Kat knew the line was a stupid thing to say, but she said it anyway. The girl was totally out of her league. She was Uptown, Kat was bridge-and-tunnel. There was no way someone that sexy and classy would ever entertain the thought of being pursued by a grease monkey from Bayonne, New Jersey. Kat's line wasn't the determinative factor, she reasoned. Her chances were already shot by the time she had saddled up to the bar.

When Mel turned to look at her, she was even more beautiful than Kat had imagined from across the room. And then, Kat felt sick to her stomach.

Mel started talking. "As a matter of fact..."

Kat's mind drew a blank. She recognized this girl. She knew who she was. They had met before. What was her name? Had there been a drunken tryst? A one night stand?

"...I am."

Allure. Kat finally figured out where she had seen the woman before. She was on the cover of that month's Allure.

"Uh... umm..."

"I hope you don't use that line very often, because it's terrible."

"I'm sorry. I feel like such a heel." Kat cleared her throat. "I'll stop bothering you now. Bye."

"Wait, don't leave." Mel grabbed Kat's forearm with one hand, an empty tumbler in the other. "Aren't you going to buy me a drink?"

That was the first and only time that Kat was successful with that pickup line. It was also the last time she ever used it. Melissa was known as Missy then, a name Kat appropriated into Missy Mouse, and then plain old Mouse. Nowadays, Melissa is just Mel -- "mouse" having been abandoned, thankfully, as a nickname before the lovers moved into their nest. But before it was discarded, the nickname had lent itself well to their own crude, private joke.

"So what does a cat do to a mouse when she finds one?"

"She eats her."

Mice. Vermin. Dirty little bastards to be trapped and exterminated. Perhaps it was a temporary fit of insanity, perhaps it was blindness caused by new love, but when Melissa looks back at those days, she still wonders what ever made her agree to a nickname with such stomach-turning connotations.


Before heading home from the garage, Kat stops at the hardware store and picks up 10 boxes of glue traps. The sales girl doesn't even raise an eyebrow when Kat dumps the boxes by the cash register.

The doorman, on the other hand, scowls a little when Kat enters the apartment building, four bulky shopping bags in tow. Meanwhile a willowy black woman, her hair in taut corn braids, jams herself into one side of the elevator to make room for Kat. The woman presses the button bearing the number 6. She turns to Kat, smiles, and presses the 5 button.

"Thank you," Kat says.

"You must have a terrible problem." The woman looks at the glue traps, and then into Kat's eyes.

"Yes. I'm afraid the mice have practically taken over the apartment."

"So I heard."

The elevator starts climbing.

"I'm really sorry about that. My girlfriend, she kinda got out of hand, didn't she?"

"Don't worry. It's not the first time she's gotten me out of bed."

Kat laughs uneasily. "Do you see a lot of mice in your apartment too?"

The woman crinkles her nose. "Every now and then. But not nearly as often as you do, by the look of things. Mice clearly love you more than me."

"It's a curse." Kat chuckles. "I'm sure we're not the only ones with this problem. We need to do something about it."

"Yes, we should."

The elevator rings and the doors whiz open.

"Take care," the woman says.

"Talk to you later."

Lucky greets Kathryn with wet exuberance, all tails and tongues. After taking him out for a short walk, Kat sets about opening all the boxes and placing the traps strategically throughout the apartment. She had been putting down the last of the traps when the phone rings. Kat walks over to the phone and answers.

"Hello?" No response. "Hello!" A click, and then the dial tone.

Kat puts the phone down and starts retracing her steps, crushing the now empty boxes and stuffing them back in their plastic bags, which eventually end up in the trash. She picks up a magazine and joins Lucky, happily napping on the couch. The phone rings again.

"Hello?" More silence. "Listen, bitch, don't think I don't know who you are. Your stupid games are..." The line goes dead. Kat slams the phone down.

"Who was that?" Melissa is coming through the apartment door. Lucky spots her and springs off the couch.

"The stupid crank caller." Kat walks toward Mel, hugs her and gives her a kiss. "Hi."

"Hello, Sweetie." Mel bends down to greet Lucky, and spies the traps in neat intervals down the hallway. "What are those?"


"Rat poison? I don't want Lucky to get sick."

"They're glue traps."

"Glue kills mice?"

"You're so cute," Kat says. "The mice get stuck on the glue. They either die from exhaustion trying to get free, or we have to kill them ourselves."

"Eww. That'll be your job."

The phone rings.

"She never gives up, does she?" Kat walks over to the phone and picks it up. "Hello?" No answer. "Don't you have anything better to do?" Once again, the line goes dead.

"This girl has got problems. That's like the third time she's called today."

"You know who it is?"

"No. But when I figure that out, I swear I'm going to..."

"Then how do you know it's a girl?"

"Just a hunch."

"Hmmm. Maybe we should get caller ID." Mel reaches for Lucky's leash.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm going to take Lucky out for a walk."

"I walked him earlier."

"Oh. Well, another walk won't hurt."

"But you just got home."

"It won't take long. I'll pick up dinner along the way."

"Will you get some Thai food?"

"Sure." Just before Mel and Lucky disappear behind the door, Mel says, "Bye, love."

Mel summons the elevator. She steps inside with Lucky, then presses 6.


With Mel and Lucky gone, the apartment feels empty. Kat returns to her magazine, but in no time, the phone is ringing again. "Hello?" She is greeted by the same familiar silence. This time, instead of losing her cool, Kat decides to play chicken with the caller. She tries to divine the caller's thoughts through the phone line, hoping that the clues will easily pass through. Kat knows the caller is a woman, because men would never do anything so needy and clingy. Well, gay men might -- but they don't really count. Suddenly, through the quiet, Kat catches what she thinks is the sound of someone knocking on a door, and then the line goes dead.


"Three times?"

"I couldn't help it. I just wanted to see you so badly."

"Yes, but did you have to call three times?"

"I missed you terribly. I'm not myself when you're not around." The woman is holding Mel tight against her breast, using her fingers to trace the outline of Mel's lips.


Kat nibbles on a platter of cheese cubes, curled up in an armchair and wrapped in an old, ratty blanket. Reading her magazine, she suddenly gets the craving for some Italian food. She tries to reach Mel on her cell phone, but she doesn't pick up.


"I love you, baby. I love you so much." The woman is fumbling with the buttons on Mel's blouse.

Mel tries to slide her fingers into her panties. Her lover's skin glows like creamy coffee. A phone rings. Mel is thinking of Kat. Her breathing turns short, irregular, heavy. At first she believes she hears Lucky panting, but then realizes she is the one out of breath.

"Do you love me, Mel?" The woman's lips burn a line of kisses into Mel's neck.

"Just shut up and fuck me already."


Not more than 10 minutes after Mel left with Lucky, the first mouse is caught. It squeals repeatedly -- a distress signal? Kat walks over to it, looks into its diminutive, brown eyes. Little humps spasm through the mouse's gray body, in a losing attempt to force the glue to give way.

"Well, well, well. What lovely thing do we have here?"

The mouse twitches its nose and waves its whiskers defiantly at Kat.


The woman penetrates Mel with her fingers. Mel feels a warm wave surge within. Up and down her body, Mel's muscles contract reflexively. She feels as if she were about to split and flay open. All memory evaporates. Mel is on the edge of consciousness, teetering over delirium, her thoughts like threads unraveling.

Who am I? Who is she? What is she doing? What am I doing here?

"I love you, Mel."

Mel tries to scurry away, but she is pinned. The woman is talking. I don't understand. What are you saying? Don't. Please don't. I'm not supposed to be here.


Kat picks up the glue trap and places it inside a clear plastic bag. She ties the opening closed and then lays the bag down on the floor. Inside the bag, the mouse struggles and squeals. Kat hovers over it, studying its shape. It's cuter than she expected it to be, like a gray cotton ball. She feels regret cutting little nicks into her chest.

"You're an adorable little thing." She wonders whether it was the same mouse that had caused such an uproar that morning. "Oh, Mel."

Kat's boot goes flying through the air, smashing into the bag. It gives way against her foot like jelly. For good measure, Kat drives her foot into the floor. She is surprised by her sensations -- the thrill, the sheer pleasure of it all. It makes her feel powerful.

Her boot goes flying again and again. The bag shows no resistance. With each thrust, loud booms rumble and echo through the apartment. Kat is overcome by exhilaration as she pummels, beats, crushes the lifeless bag into bloody bits under her heel.

Joneil Adriano is a New York-based writer and journalist. Born in the Philippines and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, he holds a Bachelor's degree in Women's and Gender Studies from Columbia University. His fiction previously appeared in Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America, published by the Asian American Writers Workshop.

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