Noe Valley Voice December-January 1997-98

The 'Mouse' in the Yard

By Tricia Goldberg

I WENT DOWNSTAIRS TO water the garden, and out of the corner of my eye I saw something that made me jump: a dead rat, next to our tightly closed composter. There were only two or three flies, but I could tell the rat was dead. I hoped it might be a mouse, but it was too big.

I thought about all the things I could do, and at the same time I wondered why it bothered me so much to find a dead rat for only the second time in six years. I wasn't worried at all about finding a live rat or being infested (a creepy word) with them. Well, I wouldn't have been thrilled to find a live rat darting through the yard.

The Other Time

The other time I found a rat was a rare weekend when my husband was away. It was next to the tightly covered garbage can in front of our building. I made the horrid discovery on Sunday night, and Monday morning is our garbage day. I had to carry the garbage can to the sidewalk. But I couldn't move the can and ignore the rat. And I couldn't leave it there for an entire week until the next garbage day. If I did, I would think about it every time I came home or went out. It would start to decay. Other bugs besides flies would come.

I carefully planned what I would do. I would wait until my two daughters were sound asleep, and then I would do it -- get rid of the body. Maybe that's how the bad guys feel when they have to dispose of their victim. They've killed someone, but then what?

I found an old broom and, without looking, swept the rat into our only dust-

pan (I would wash it later). Then, again without looking, I dropped it in a double Bell Market plastic bag and tied it. After taking the garbage can downstairs, I lifted the lid and looked away while I delicately placed the bag inside. I didn't want to hear it move, and I didn't want to see the shape the rat might make.

I sat at the kitchen table, relieved after my ordeal, and sipped a glass of wine.

I didn't think about it again until the children and I were leaving the next morning and I noticed the can at the curb. The garbage collectors had put the lid inside the can. I carefully lifted the lid out, and even though I didn't want to, I looked in.

It was empty.

With great relief and satisfaction, I carried the can upstairs as though nothing had happened.

That evening I told my husband about it. He seemed blasé. I wondered if most men -- or maybe most people -- were so casual about things like dead rats. I don't usually worry about acting "like a girl," but I started to give this some serious thought. Twenty years ago I had a roommate who would search in tunnels at night for dead animals to use in his art projects. I didn't like to think about that either. But he was unusual, and I thought I was fairly normal.

That rat story was years ago.

This Time

This time around, I was sure I could throw the rat away. I'd done it before. On the other hand, knowing my husband wouldn't be bothered a bit (although he'd wonder why I hadn't just done it myself), I decided to ask him to throw it away.

The only problem was what to do about the kids. We'd spent the afternoon reading in the hammock, and luckily we were going to a dance class later, so it would probably be easy to shield them until their dad got home.

But when I casually sent my 8-year-old, Renée, to pick rosemary and thyme for dinner, I forgot that the errand would take her very close to the...the composter.

Another lucky break: she came back with the herbs, and she hadn't seen it.

After dance class we were hurrying to get dinner on the table, when I blurted out to my husband -- I should say "Dan," because each time I say "husband," I feel like the "wife," incapable of throwing away a dead rat -- that I needed him to do something before dark, in the yard.

Of course, both my daughters perked up.

"What is it?" they asked.

"There's a dead rat by the composter," I said.

The children were delighted. They

went out with Dan to see the rat. Feeling safety in numbers, I went too.

The girls chirped in unison, "He's cute. He's a cute mouse."

Then Renée said her friend Anna's rat, Peekaboo, had died recently. Last year in second grade the children studied animals, and they brought their pets to school. I remembered Anna's rat. I had petted Anna's rat. But that was Anna's pet rat.

Now Renée and my younger daughter Marie again asked in unison, "What are you going to do with it?"

Dan had just gotten home from work, and nobody had eaten dinner yet. So he said he was going to throw it away.

"Where?" they asked.

"In the garbage," he answered calmly.

"No! You can't do that," the kids cried. "Bury it. Please bury it. You have to bury it." Renée added, "I want to put a gravestone on it."

After more pleading, Dan agreed. While he dug a hole in the back corner of the yard, Renée found a perfect sand dollar in her collection. Marie went into the house for magic markers. Renée decorated the sand dollar and at the top wrote, "Mouse." After the burial, she carefully placed it on the freshly filled grave.

Later I apologized to Dan for not waiting until the children were in bed and for making extra work for him. He sweetly said he wouldn't have missed the experience for anything.

"And," he added, "it was easier than throwing it away."

Next time, I'll bury it. Maybe.


Tricia Goldberg is an 18-year Noe Valley resident. When not on the lookout for rodents, she operates a small import business and also weaves large pictorial tapestries. Tricia currently lives on 24th Street with her husband Dan, and their two daughters, 8-year-old Renée and 4-year-old Marie.