I am woken by unusual sounds in the bedroom. I switch my phone on. 3.45am. I use the light of the phone to ascertain that we are not being burgled, again. Maybe I was dreaming. I try to doze off. Rustle. Bang. Creak. Phone light again to see what the other two in the bed with me are up to. They are completely still. My heart is thudding, my eyes on stalks. Creak, creak, creak. A-ha. Marque 1 has a French test in the morning. He must be worried about it. Pacing the landing. Creaking the boards. I am surprised and a little relieved. He has shown no such nerves to date. No harm in it, taking the occasional test seriously. Doze. Gnaw, gnaw, gnaw. Right in the corner beside my locker something is making a rip roaring racket. I believe I am about to snuff it. The heart couldn’t possibly keep this beat up. I look at my sleeping duo and bail straight out of the room.

I have no idea what to do next. Some creature is in our bedroom. There is an adult and our darling marque 5 asleep with the creature roaming. Should I wake them and have the whole house up? With school and work in a few hours. He has an important meeting. We went to bed at 1.00. Almost three hours sleep. Not enough. I listen outside the door. He is snoring gloriously loudly. That should be enough to scare whatever it is away. Marque 5 is cuddled into him. Safe enough.

Sounds under the bed

I find myself in the kitchen making a pot of tea while googling what it is likely to be and then how the hell to get rid of it. I am showered with the sandwiches made by 4.30 am. The rest of the time is spent trawling the internet arming myself with solutions. I am feeling queasy with tiredness and shock.

At 7.00 I karate kick the bedroom door open, Miss Piggy style HI-YA, and expect to be leapt on by a giant wild rat or cat or god knows what. I grunt whisper my nocturnal findings to himself, sure he will’ve been oblivious. ‘I know’ he says nonchalantly.’I saw it’.

‘What the hell is it?’ ‘It’s a mouse’. ‘A mouse, are you sure, it sounded enormous…’ ‘I’m sure, it was this size’ and he shows with his fingers stretched wide. ‘That’s a bloody rat’ I say. ‘That’s the length with the tail’ he says. ‘It’s a mouse for sure’. ‘Here’ I say thrusting a Pyrex dish at him. ‘Catch it’. He laughs. ‘Have you seen how fast they run?’ No, thankfully, I’ve never had the opportunity. We’ve led a rodent free existence to date. ‘What the hell is it doing in our bedroom? Aren’t they supposed to inhabit kitchens where there’s food to chew on? What’s it doing upstairs? And there’s been no warning. Not a dropping in sight. Aren’t they supposed to leave signs?’ ‘I’ll have a word’ he says and laughs again.

‘You didn’t give me my cuddle yet ‘ marque 5 hollers from the bed. We’ve been over doing the attachment parenting on this, our fifth and final child. Co-sleeping with no alternative bed or space yet sourced for his bolt for independence. Some day, some day. ‘Come downstairs for your cuddle’ I shout back through the crack in the door. I might never be entering that room again.

I’ve made an appointment to see the principal of marque 1’s secondary school. It’s at 9.30. My legs are jelly wobbly and my eyes squinting in pain with being open at all after 3 hours sleep. ‘I can’t do it, not today, sure I won’t be able to speak, let alone get our concerns lucidly across’. ‘You look wrecked which is a good thing’ he tells me assuredly. ‘You look even more worried and stressed than you actually are’. Cheers.

I waddle my way to the meeting and manage to hit a few key points while words such as ‘colonies’ and ‘infestations’ dance across my mind. I leave buoyed up by the principal’s reassurances, my concerns paired back to an actionable plan.

Now for some more pressing action. I go directly to the hardware shop. We’ve discussed the handling and been advised. I think traps but our advisors say poison is your only man. Simple. Clear. No nonsense. No mess. They eat it, get thirsty and scurry out of your house to find water but end up dead instead. In the doorway of the DIY store I bump straight into my next door neighbour. She’s all smiles pushing a cart full of lovely flowery things for her garden. I think I might’ve seemed a little rude as I declined to stop and chat. I might’ve blushed a little too. Oh well.

Night 2: I decamp to the sitting room and listen. Tap, tap, tap. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. Munch, munch, munch. Ha. How easy is that? How foolish is he? Poison taken, I doze on my new couch bed.

Night 3: No discernible sounds from my new bed. Sweet poison success. The children begin to quiz about my decamping. I distract and fluff and bluff.

Night 4: Growing accustomed to my new bed. I can read while the rest of them sleep. I can potter without waking anyone. I can’t sleep, but hey… Tap, tap, tap. It lives.

Night 5: Rampaging sounds above my head. Half poisoned furious tapping. Heart thudding. Eyes on stalks. Adult movement, bang, crash… He is doing battle. For me and his brood. Ah god.

Day 6: ‘The only way I could get it to stop was to play wild cat noises on my phone…but every 5 minutes I had to re-set it. That’s the only sleep I got. It was burrowing behind the back of the bed, right beneath my head’. Now that’s true torture. I discover that he has blocked off the gap in the floor boards, where the thing emerges from, with a paint can. ‘You’re meant to block the holes’ he informs me. ‘Not after they’ve come through them. It had to dig another hole to get back out’ I say expertly. ‘You block the gaps and holes to stop them coming in in the first place. Once they’re in you’ve got to FIGHT them’ I say, and he’s too knackered to point out that he’s the only one who seems to be doing anything at all. Gotta admire the wild cat noise temporary solution too. How the hell did he come up with that? ‘Traps’ we mutter in delirious unison.

Since it all began 5 long days and nights ago, I am assaulted by cute mice staring at me from the kids’ story books. Every single book cover seems to feature a mouse or two. We even have a finger puppet mouse coming out of the front of one of the books. There’s an uncomfortable disjuncture between how murderous I’m feeling towards the one reeking havoc in our bedroom and these cutesy images. This afternoon as both parents are pooped we are having a lazy duvet slouch in the sitting room. All seven of us huddle around. We flick on BBC Two to the delightful Billy Connolly reading Seamus Heaney’s poem based on Aesop’s fables – Two Mice.

Heaney and Connelly Heaney’s wise twinkly face is delighting in Billy’s assonances. The lovely Scottish lilt is delivering this tale of the cousin-mice, separated, one living a hard country life, the other basking in the fine comforts of the city. The animation is supreme. We are all there rooting for the country mouse, who has joined her cousin to sample the finery, to escape the perils of the city and return to her hard but beautifully simple life. I glance around at the intrigued faces of my brood absorbing this perfectly seductive mix of Heaney, Connolly and the animation. I resolve never to tell them the tale of two parents demented with efforts to overcome a singular poor mouse.

Night 6: We agree that marque 5 will decamp with me for the entrapment. To hell with it, we’ll all decamp and survey the situation in the morning.
There’s a cacophony of whys? Why are you three sleeping down on the couch? It’s getting trickier to fluff and bluff as exhaustion has the better of me.
‘We put some stuff on our mattress and now we can’t sleep in there’. Ingenious given the limitations.
Inquisitive marque 2 doesn’t quite buy it.
‘What stuff? Are you going to get a new mattress?’
‘Oh god, just stuff, can you PLEASE stop QUIZZING me now?’
‘Can we sleep downstairs too?’
‘No you cannot. Now please…just…leave…me…ALONE’. I know as I say it that I’m not supposed to. I am an insomniac now and I don’t seem to care much about the rules or the potential damage.
‘Can we put some of that stuff on our mattresses too?’
Aaaahhh…. A wild shriek escapes. I care not a jot.
He plasters peanut butter masterfully on three exceptionally well placed traps.
‘And under no circumstances are you to enter our bedroom’.
‘WHY, why, why, why, why?????’
‘Jesus, just do as you’re bloody well told’.
The mouse has got the better of me. I am a fractious delirious insomniac with persistent parenting doubts, tap, tap, tapping and gnawing away at me, corrupting my fibre.
‘Hurray, I’m sleeping downstairs with mum and dad. This is the best night ever. Can we sleep down here tomorrow night, and the next, and the next?’. Sunny marque 5 almost lifts my spirits. Almost.
‘Maybe we should just tell them’ I say, defeated.
Then nobody will sleep, I am told assuredly. A house full of insomniacs has little appeal. No. We will fight this creature and reclaim our lives.
The three seater and two seater couch don’t seem to be made for sleeping all of us. We toss and turn and watch marque 5 toss and turn. We listen, listen, listen. Tap, tap, tap. We smile. We are trapped downstairs while it takes over our bedroom. We don’t mind. It will succumb. I think I might even get some sleep. Until he goes up to check and comes back down shaking his head.
‘Noooo’ I sob. I can’t do this any more. I can’t do another night of no sleep. We’ll have to call the exterminators’ I conclude.
‘Ok’ he says and dozes off. Out like a light. I watch him jealously and wonder how he does that, from mouse trap to deep sleep as if it’s all perfectly normal.

Mouse A delicious unidentifiable noise pings above my head. Like two or three little bangs. That must be it. Please god, let that be it. I restrain myself from waking him to check it out. He has work in a few hours. I manage to half doze for an hour. When day light begins to break curiosity gets the better of me and I karate kick our bedroom door open. Silence. I spot one, then two expertly placed empty traps. My heart sinks. I don’t know where he has put the third. But if it didn’t get caught in those two, so close to where it comes in from, then I resign myself to failure. It’s time to phone for help. I’m leaving the room when I spot it. Hidden behind his bedside locker. Trapped. As if sleeping. Eyes closed. No gore. A tiny pang of something regrettable courses through me at the sight of our small dead fiendish foe. This is quickly replaced by exhilaration. It is over. I will sleep again. He high fives me when I break the news. I smile like a Cheshire Cat all day long. On the way home from school marque 3 asks how the Febreeze worked out on our mattress. The what? Oh yes. Great, I tell him. It worked out just great. ‘Can we put Febreeze on our mattresses too and all sleep downstairs tonight?’ marque 4 enquires, chiming in with my exuberant mood. ‘Yes’ I say and I’m eyeballed quizzically sideways by my front seat marque 2 passenger. ‘Yes’ I say again. ‘Tonight you can do whatever you please’.

Ellen Kelly

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