The mouse issue has come to a head. I try my best to call a family meeting, which isn't easy with a six year old daughter and a ten year old son. In the end the children don't really take part. I let them run off and play their games. My son thinks the mice are cute – he wants to keep them as pets and my daughter, while finding them a little scary, isn't being kept up at night by them. It isn't really about them anyway. So it ends up just being me and my wife Suzanne. She stands in the kitchen, leaning against the worktop with her arm curled up, pressing a mug of tea against her chest.
“I don't want to put mouse traps down. We had a similar situation at university and it was horrible, having to deal with dead mice all over the place.”
“Yeah – I understand. I don't really like it either but I really need to get some sleep. You just have to bite the bullet with these things.”
“I don't have any kind of moral objection. I just don't like dealing with it. If you want to put mouse traps down then you can – but you're going to have to sort it all out. I don't want to have to deal with it okay.”
“Okay, well I can get a few and see how it goes. They probably wont even catch anything.”
In the afternoon I go down to the corner shop and buy some mouse traps. I place them around the kitchen, where the majority of the droppings are, as well as putting some in the bedroom where I keep on hearing the scratching and squealing.
That evening I lie down in bed next to Suzanne. I'm so nervous about the traps, I'm not really sure why. Perhaps the ones I'd put down in our bedroom were worrying me. Lying in the dark I keep expecting them to go off and shake me into an ever more awake state with a loud crack. It's too late to go back on my decision now though, there is no way of disarming them in the dark. I lie in bed, hot and sweaty. I feel a headache coming on and my mouth tastes of metal. Suzanne is fast asleep next to me – she has never had trouble with this sort of thing.
I lie down there for about an hour, very slowly drifting into a troubled half sleep. There is no rustling or shuffling that night but I still can't seem to get comfortable. Thoughts and images drift into my head, it feels like I'm rocking on light waves, lying on dry sand. I begin to dream, vividly:
I'm nine years old, standing in our old house's kitchen. My mother is cooking a meal. My dad has just come in, back home from work. His brown jacket is wet around the shoulders and his hair is limp and hanging down around his ears. He takes off his jacket and gives me a hug before turning and going back into the hall. He walks heavily up the stairs, going to get changed. Each step rocks the house and shakes water from his trousers over the carpet. The kitchen is beginning to get steamy, my mother does not want me bothering her while she cooks so she sends me away.
I know why she is fussing. Mr and Mrs Hodgson are coming around for a meal. This is not something that happens very often. They are very old and I do not like it when they come around. Mum says that they are lovely people but I do not like them. I find them scary. Mr Hodgson is bald with oddly coloured bumps growing on his head, around the whiskers of hair. His nose and ears are very large and he seems too happy, too calm-happy when he comes around. His hands also seem far too large, and bulbous. He reminds me of the monsters in my comic books. Dad says that he is a catholic but I'm not really sure what this is. It sounds like a building or a tomb or something. When he comes, he speaks to me and my brother about God. My brothers says he does not believe in God. I don't understand enough about God to make up my mind. What my dad says about God, what we learn about God in school and what Mr Hodgson tells us about God all seem very different. Mr Hodgson is always talking about things I don't understand and using words I have not learnt yet. When he speaks he puts his head right up in your face and you can see all the bumps and holes in his skin.
Mr Hodgson is not the worst. I am mainly scared of Mrs Hodgson. She is small and hunched, with only a little white hair left growing around in a crown. She has a small moustache and full, bug eyes which seem to bulge out of her face. Hey eyes always appear wet, they glisten like frog skin. When she comes around she doesn't ever speak, or change her expression. She glances around the room with those big empty eyes and eats the food my mum cooks for her. I am the most scared of her. My father says that she is not all there and that it is very sad.
When they arrive my brother comes down from his room where he has been reading comic books. He does this most of the day and tells me I am not allowed in. All of us sit around the dining room table. My father is dressed up smart - he and my brother are sitting either side of the Hodgsons. Mr Hodgson tries to speak to my brother but he does not reply, my brother does not talk very much at the moment, and he does not like the Hodgson either.
This meal is like the other times the Hodgson have come around and largely goes on in silence. Mr Hodgson makes conversation to my father but I don't really understand what is being said. Mrs Hodgson finishes her meal first. For some reason she begins to stare at me. I feel disgusted. I want to move and get away from the table but I don't want to be impolite. I look toward my mother but she is not noticing. I begin to hate Mrs Hodgson.
Finally the meal finishes and my parents show the Hodgsons to the door. My brother goes back upstairs to his room and I sit down in the kitchen. My mother goes over to do the dishes and my dad comes back into the kitchen. He sits down on one of the chairs and takes off his tie. He begins to make jokes about the Hodgsons, saying how crazy Mr Hodgson is. They are laughing at some of the things Mr Hodgson said about god and us – the children. My mother, standing over the sink and staring into the bubbles, laughs slightly at each line, her shoulders dropped. After a few jokes my mother turns around and smiles at my father. He smiles back, sighs, pours some more wine into his glass and leans back onto the table.
I am still disgusted with Mrs Hodgson. I don't understand why my parents would invite her round and let her stare at me. It makes me feel like I've done something wrong which I don't like.
“If you don't like the Hodgsons so much why do you even invite them round. I think they are horrible. Mrs Hodgson is a witch.”
My father turns and stares at me for a long time. I can see I've done something terrible, he is very angry. The sound of my mother doing the washing up stops. I think she is hoping my father will not go overboard.
“Go to your room,” he says.
“How dare you. If I hear you say anything bad about the Hodgsons ever again you will be in so much trouble. Go to your room now.”
I go to my room and cry, the tears in my eyes stain and mutate the room around me. The vision of Mrs Hodgson's face comes into my head. Her eyes shrink and go black like tiny empty beads. Her moustache grows out into whiskers and her white wispy hair folds and shapes into round leather ears. She is staring into me with those fish-egg eyes, staring at me like she did at the diner table and twitching her snout. She is so scared and it frightens me. She doesn't look human at all and I cannot get her out of my head.
This dream fades out and a new vision comes into my head:
I'm twelve years old now and I am sitting in the house of a boy called Michael. We are playing on the Nintendo and I am beating him. I am beating him at every game. I laugh harshly when I win and tell him he sucks. I don't want to be there. This is the third time I have been around this week. He is the son of one of my Dad's friends and he has recently moved into town. My dad says I should play with him because he doesn't know anyone yet but I don't like him as much as my other friends. I want to make this clear.
I am bored of playing the Nintendo but Michael does not know what other games to suggest we play. We played on the Nintendo the last two times I was around his house. His house is also too hot.
Michael's dad calls us in for dinner. It is chips and sausages and some vegetables. The chips are burnt and the broccoli is rubbery. I eat it all to be polite. Michael doesn't eat any of his broccoli – he says he doesn't like it. Which I tease him for. I tell him he is acting like a baby and I smile at Michael's dad who tells Michael to eat his greens. This food, and house, feel artificial.
We go back to playing the Nintendo. Michael puts in a new game, one he will “definitely win at”. He wins the first few games but soon I get the hang of it and begin to beat him again. Michael is red in the face, he is embarrassed at himself. I begin to laugh again. I ask if he is even trying. I tell him he is being pathetic. His face goes red again and his cheeks are hot but his eyes are cold. In a teasing way I push him to the ground and we begin to play fight. Luckily I am the stronger one because Michael is not laughing, he is silent and red and he is trying his hardest. I know something is badly wrong.
I turn him and manage to pin him on the floor. He is struggling, silent and caught; his cheeks so red and hot against his pale skin. His eyes are full of panic and rage.
This vision fades and I wake a little. I can hear the mice now. I can hear them jumping into the little bin in the corner of the room to see if they can find anything. I can't see them though, all I hear is their rustling against the bin bag.
If my half awake state I imagine Michael, a tiny Michael, crawling into the bin, poking around for my scraps and leftovers. He is so desperate that he does not notice the noise he is making. He is willing to crawl around with me in the room so desperate is he for my crumbs. I bet he can smell me. I bet my stench overpowers him. It makes him so nervous, so anxious but he is ready for the crushing jaws and the struggle.
I drift off again. This time the dream is very quiet and muffled. I do not hear everything.
I'm in Spain, on holiday with my family. I am fifteen now. It is the early evening and a group of us – teenagers on the same holiday – are walking into town. We're walking along the beach and the sand is beginning to get cold. I'm talking to a boy, a year younger than me, who has befriended me. My brother is walking ahead with a tall girl who is his age. She is not very attractive. Behind us are the rest of the group.
The plan is to go to the local supermarket and buy some cheap wine, this is why we need my brother and the other girl. They are old enough to get it for us. I didn't have anything to do with this plan myself but I am happy to go along with it. To be honest it was mainly the younger boy who mentioned it.
The supermarket looms over the trees lining the beach. It seems isolated and out of place; too large for the tiny tourist town it is serving. We go inside and it is almost empty, the air conditioning is still on full blast and it feels very cold. I begin to shiver. We wander down the aisles. It seems our presence echoes around the building. My brother turns around and tells me to shut up, he thinks I'm talking too loud. He tells me I'm being an idiot and that we don't want to get chucked out.
We find the alcohol aisle and some money switches hands. The rest of us file out so that my brother and the other girl can guy the alcohol.
Back at the hotel it is now late in the evening. People are sitting on the grass around the volleyball courts. Some other of the boys and the attractive girls of the group are standing in a circle talking and passing the wine around. My brother is standing with them laughing in his moderate, reserved laugh. I walk over and join the group, standing next to my brother. He does not acknowledge my presence and he does not pass the wine to me. He passes it past me to another boy who passes it back to me thinking it is my brother's mistake.
The wine tastes bitter, like unripe blackberries. I'm not used to the taste and I pass it along quickly. Some of the other boys are smoking. I join in the conversation with the others. Soon my brother walks away.
I know what this is about. Yesterday my mother came and gave me a talk. She told me that I was winding up my brother and that I should let him have his own space. I told her that was stupid and I wasn't doing anything. I told her I am my own person and I can do what I want. I was annoyed at her too, with cold eyes and red cheeks.
I begin playing some volleyball with some of the other guys. My brother is standing at the other side of the court in the wine circle again. I dive for the ball and get some saves but we lose the game anyway. On one of the dives I fall oddly and hurt my chest. My brother said I look like an idiot when I dive, with my long hair flying all over the place. He said I look like a girl. My brother has been watching me playing this game. Out of the corner of my eye I'd seen him looking and building up his justice inside.
My friend who is a year younger is also standing with my brother and the wine group. He has had a fair amount of the wine. He waves at me and I walk over. I begin chatting a bit. My brother turns around and walks over to a different group with the attractive girls in. I step out of the circle and follow him around the volleyball court.
Suddenly he stops and turns around to face me. He is shaking. Everyone is watching.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
I tell him I'm not doing anything.
“No seriously. What the fuck are you doing?”
I can see in his eyes he is out of control, and he is tense – very tense. I tell him I'm not doing anything. His fists are clenched down by his side. The line of trees behind him sway in the evening breeze.
“Fuck off you little shit. Stop following me around.”
I scowl and give him a look like he is always acting like an idiot. I snap back at him.
“Oh shut up and fuck off.”
Now I can see it. I know what is going to happen. I stop scowling, I am limp.
My face begs but I know he cannot give me grace. Grace does not compute in my brother's head. Grace would break him, it would pull out cogs, he would collapse and everything he has built would crumble. He cannot give me grace because I do not deserve it. This is why he is shaking with anger.
I can also see he is deathly scared. Shivering, clenched. I know why this is too. I am his brother and he cannot show me grace. This is why he is almost in tears. He pulls back his fist and strikes me across the face.
I wake with a start. I am sweating and breathing heavily. I look down and Suzanne is still next to me, calm in her sleep, untroubled. The room is pitch black, it feels very claustrophobic. The crack of a mouse trap cuts through the air.