Empowerment scrams in two shakes of a mouse's tail

WHAT A FINE, cheerful Sunday morning it had been before I spied the mouse.

A decade of feminist training disappeared along with my composure. One moment I'd been content with my Web browsing and my pajamas; then I swiveled my head to follow an unexpected bit of motion in the kitchen. (Such an audacious little fellow, dashing about in the full light of day.) Only the lack of a handy chair kept me from the classic shrieking-woman pose set down for posterity by endless New Yorker cartoons.

I slammed the bedroom door, immediately ceding the rest of the apartment to the mouse's dominion. This was no time for thoughtful action or empowering gestures. This was a time to freak out.

I should have expected this. A month prior, my flatmate had approached me just before I retired for the night. "I have something to tell you, but I don't know whether I should tell you now," was the jaunty conversation opener he chose.

Of course, now I had to know.

"I think there might be a mouse in the house," he said.

I informed him, for future reference, that just before I tried to sleep was not the time to tell me about infestations of vermin. I'm lucky I didn't have nightmares of Room 101 from Orwell's "1984."

Even though he later told me that he'd caught and killed the mouse (which IS the sort of thing to tell me before I go to bed), I should have known that wouldn't be the end of my furry troubles. Vermin come not as single spies, but in battalions, or at least in pairs. And they don't care that I'd just cleaned the kitchen.

I called my sister, who reassured and instructed me. I stuffed a towel in the crack under my bedroom door, as if waiting for a firefighter to rescue me before I succumbed to smoke inhalation. Then, when I felt ready, I scurried from one room to another, showered, dressed, and headed to the convenience store to buy mousetraps.

At my sister's suggestion, I made loud noises as I moved between rooms, hoping to scare off the mouse. My chosen phrase: "Booga booga booga!" The neighbors must have wondered what religious impulse led me to speak in tongues so early on a Sunday morning.

The convenience store owner recommended glue traps. Exceptionally strong adhesive that smells like food to mice is spread over one side of a piece of paperboard. I took them, because he said they required the least fuss, and set them up in the crevices of my kitchen.

A rule of thumb that I later discovered: The more humane a mousetrap is, the more fuss it requires. Glue traps trap the mouse and it starves, taking hours if not days to die. Poison pellets also dehydrate the mice, so they wander out of your house in search of water before dying in pain.

The classic sitcom mousetrap mercifully and instantly snaps the mouse's spine, but you have to touch the trap to dispose of the body. You could trap the mice live and release them miles from your house, which raises the level of inconvenience above "fuss" to somewhere near "quite a to-do."

The next week, my guard gradually went down. The mouse never appeared again. My flatmate and I kept catching our socks on the glue traps, which caught dust and a spider, and eventually discarded them. I've gotten more neurotic, if that's possible, about keeping windows and doors to the outside closed.

The incredibly artificial ecosystem that is my apartment has returned to normal — that is, it's resisted the intrusion of life from the profuse, vital outdoors just beyond its meager gates. I want my indoors sterile. The natives will stay outside the compound if they know what's good for them. And all will be fine and cheerful once more in my neck of the woods.

Write to Sumana Harihareswara at sumana@crummy.com.