Updated: Jul 17
From the archives. Published in the University of Alaska Anchorage Understory anthology, 2019.
In addition to food and water, one needs money to survive. Such inescapable circumstances prompted me to acquire a waitress position, where the pay was minimal and the hours long, but at least I got a free meal at the end of the night.
In the darkness of winter the days and hours blend together. I would get to work after sunset, and always proceeded to first make a new pot of coffee. On one particularly cold night, as I threw away the old coffee grounds, the dishwasher said to me:
“Did you see what was in there?”
“What?” I asked.
He gestured to the trash with a nod of his head. I peered in. There, laying on top on the garbage, was a mousetrap. It wasn’t an old-fashioned wood spring trap, but a sticky pad that traps its victims like flies in a spider web. There was a mouse stuck to it. It was still alive. Its little brown body twitched to the rhythm of its heartbeat, and its beady black eyes darted around rapidly. It lurched left and right in a desperate attempt to break free, but to no avail.
“We should kill it.” I said.
The dishwasher shrugged. “It’s just a mouse.”
Just a mouse. A mouse in a place where food was served –certainly a place no mouse should be. Except this one was not out of sight. It kept looking at me and wriggling about. This mouse was not out of mind. I got a paper towel and draped it over it. Just a mouse.
But I kept forgetting what people ordered. I messed up two drinks and sent a beef burrito when they had ordered chicken. I couldn’t stop thinking about that mouse getting buried alive underneath all those half-eaten meals that we were throwing away. Chicken, they’d said. Not beef. Not mouse.
I wanted to kill it, but I didn’t want to have to be the one to do it. The thought made me anxious. I was having difficulty smiling at the customers, and my tips were suffering. I could just forget about the mouse, let it be buried in the trash and put in the dumpster, where it would either freeze or starve in a couple of hours. Or maybe days. I could leave it to die, or I could kill it. I could assume responsibility, or ignore it.
As the night wore on, the bus boy went to change the trash. I watched him bag it up and take it outside. I tried to swallow, but couldn’t. My throat felt tight, like that feeling you when you’re about the cry. My heart rate increased, making my face flush. I looked around. There was nobody else in the kitchen. I jumped away from what I was doing and hurried into the dishwashing station. I grabbed a plastic glove and slipped it on. As I opened the back door, a breeze of piercingly cold air took my breath away.
The trash bag was next to the dumpster. I dug through it with numb fingers. I held my breath, trying not to think about what I was doing. My fingers touched something sticky. I pulled the trap out as it hung from the glove, and set it on the ground amidst the cigarette butts that littered the sparkling snow. The mouse was squeaking. I stared at it, my heart racing, trying to comprehend what I was doing. I felt like I owed something to the mouse. I felt like, after having spent the entirety of the existence scurrying about for food and water, that this is how it would die.
I brought my foot down on top of it. There was a sickening crunch, and the squeaking stopped. I tried to conjure up some profound emotion at what I had done, but all I felt was relief. I picked it up, dropped it back in the trash, and hurried inside where it was warm.