What makes one furry rodent more lovable than the next? It’s a question I’ve had cause to ponder this week, ever since Emily died.
I’m just colour coding Eldest's GCSE exam timetable at my desk in the office (I’ll come to that in a minute), when Middle One bursts in to tell me. He is distraught. You see, Emily is his gerbil, or rather, she was his gerbil.
And I am expecting Middle One to be upset about Emily's death, when it happens, because on Saturday night when we were playing Scrabble with friends (it’s a crazy life we lead), he came into the kitchen with a panicked look in his eyes and a catch in his voice to say Emily wasn't moving. We rushed upstairs to see and it was true: she wasn't. But it was a false alarm. She was asleep. Just very asleep. She didn't look good when she woke up, though. Her eyes closed, her fur ragged, and she shook as she moved. A bit like me on a Sunday morning after one too many.
So, I ring the vet first thing on Monday, as I promise I will, to order more expensive gerbil antibiotics (£25 last time for taking a tiny scrap of a thing to the vet) but by the time he calls back next day to say the order is ready… Well, let's just say Emily has no need for the antibiotics by then.
But that's later, back to Monday evening, after I've rung the vet and while I’m colour coding Eldest’s exam timetable. His GCSEs start next week and I’ve tried in vain to encourage him to do it himself but he says there’s no point because the school has given him a printed sheet and I say writing them down in your own colour coded list and putting them up on the wall with Blu Tac and then ticking them off as you do them, it’s all an important part of the process, and then I think: who for? whose process? and I realise that's my way, not necessarily his way. So I just do it myself. Which makes me feel heaps better.
And that's the moment Middle One comes in, upset, to say he found Emily lying in the corner of her cage and when we go to look she clearly is dead this time. Stone dead. So we tell him (except we say it more kindly than that). And he doubles over on his bed, his head in his hands, rocking back and forth emitting this terrible heartbreaking wail, all hoarse and cracking because his voice is breaking, because he’s thirteen. Which makes it even sadder somehow.
I am expecting him to be upset but I am not expecting him to be as upset as all that. So it does seem a little unfair, you might even say insensitive, that this very same night - the night his precious rodent has just died - he is kept awake by other rodents living in his wardrobe. Whoever came up with the expression as quiet as a mouse has clearly never heard one.
They are not pet mice, they are pests who have recently moved upstairs from the kitchen. We’ve been leaving traps for them in Middle One’s room because we have something of a mouse infestation, as regular readers will know, which we thought was resolved with the recent purchase of an ultrasonic device that drives them away, but turns out merely drives them upstairs to the comfort of Middle One’s wardrobe, where they've made nests using Emily's bedding inside some old trainers. You have to admire their resourcefulness. And of course we couldn’t put another one of those ultrasonic thingies in that room for fear of upsetting Emily - but I guess we don’t have to worry about that now…