Vladimir Putin, after giving a deranged speech about the rightful destiny of Russia, loosed its armies on Ukraine to prove once again that, like a cobra hypnotizing its prey before the fatal bite, abstraction is often the prelude to brutality.
It’s of little significance but the next morning I saw some mouse droppings afloat in the shallow water under the dish rack by the kitchen sink. They start out tiny but expand when they take on water, boldly bloating and mocking you when you’d think that holding it in in public places would give the mouse an advantage in terms of survival.
What else do mice have to do but eat, sleep, hide, and have babies. Prey for many animals, they survive by sheer numbers, and some wind up nesting within our walls. Where there is one, there is bound to be more than one. A single mouse I could tolerate. A single mouse I could grow fond of, put in my coat pocket and take for a bus ride
Naturally, my mouse had to be stopped from multiplying. I bought some simple mouse traps, baited one with a cashew and placed it near the dish rack. The next morning, with Russia terrorizing the men, women and children of Ukraine from air, sea and land, the nut was gone, the trap unsnapped and surrounded by stillness like a story before the plot is set in motion. It’s a plot with a wily protagonist with fictive footsteps, an undermouse suffering privation, a gentle, starving creature living by its wits in hideouts, loyal to its loved ones, snug in the nest in a world parallel to an antagonist like me, who has grown dull in plenty, idleness and isolation, and won’t spare a stinking grain of corn?
Now, you have to give it to your opponent when they make a smooth move to the hoop and, with a feathery touch, score. But it was also a death sentence since, having taken the bait once, it would do so again, no doubt. All I had to do was wedge the nut in tighter next time.
Einstein once said that “reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one,’ even mice, he could have added. Humans have made ‘reality’ conform to our poor ability to perceive it. Scientists accept this uncertainty but those who know things for certain, as Putin does, secure in ‘realities’ such as God or nation of destiny, also believe those views give them the right to murder people who don’t share them.
I set many mouse traps but none was touched. I tried switching baits and locations. I tried loading the traps with latex gloves on. I tried poisons, all uneaten. I tried sticky traps, all avoided. I tried plug-in, high-pitched sound transmitters that we can’t hear but mice are supposed to hate. I tried reasoning telepathically with the mice that there is no food only death for them here. Droppings still bloated under the dish rack. I even thought to arrange a sleepover for my son’s girlfriend’s cat.
Over this time, Ukraine put up remarkable resistance and may just win or survive. Fierce battles are being fought north, south, and east, in cities, towns and villages, on muddy roads and across frozen wastes, citizen soldiers darting between bombed out buildings, civilians spending the night out in the open or in subway stations, death dropping at any moment from no-longer-to-be-trusted gray skies; the other night a homeless, old woman on TV ran frantically, against a backdrop of devastation, her dog in her arms. I read about it all as I drink my morning coffee, hypnotized by the spectacle, shaking my safe head, full of sorrow.
I haven’t caught a single mouse and have stopped trying because somehow my mouse’s fate became intertwined with Ukraine’s fate, surviving against all odds. Perhaps Russia will be defeated just like I was. It’s crazy but the least I can do. So goes my little life as all hell breaks loose in the world.
Steven Schutzman has published his work in such places as The Pushcart Prize and Defenestration and everywhere in between. Steven is also a seven-time recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Grant Award.