There are mice in the walls. You hear them every night scratching and running. You imagine them skittering up a sophisticated vertical maze they built, like a Rube Goldberg machine in reverse. Their feet can move faster than any part of you can move, even your thoughts. They have been there in the walls for years, especially in the winter. Sometimes they keep you awake. When you first heard them, they frightened you. You imagined them to be louder and bigger than mice, maybe a squirrel nesting in your drywall, or a demon crawling up and over your roof. If someone else had been there to hear them, they would have told you they were only mice. But there was no one else.
There are more mice than people out here. Once in a while the smoke from someone else’s chimney a ways off trickles in through an open window, like the neighbors stopping by for a visit. So it makes sense that the mice are there; they’re everywhere in these woods, even if you don’t know it, and a house is no exception. You knew solitude would be the price you paid to move out here. You were willing to pay it to live among trees and flowers and see the stars at night. And you like the quiet. You are quiet. Or could it be the other way round, that you craved somewhere that others were not?
The mice always come back to the same places: the wall at the head of your bed and the floor under the shower. They are with you at your most pensive, in the winter when it’s too cold and dark to go out walking and you stay in bed with the quilt spiraled round your curled-up body like a nest. On the other side of the wall are the same nests you imagine the mice have returned to every year, like rich retirees in Arizona, or the South of France. You imagine the nests are made of insulation and dry grass, mixed in with feathers and beetle shells and bits of candy wrapper.
Sometimes it feels like the mice are scratching at your head, burrowing into your brain and tearing up thoughts about groceries you’re out of and the voice of that one girl you worked with before they let you go and how you never put up a mailbox. Tearing them into tiny bits and weaving them into their nests with little pink mouse hands. There are some thoughts you hope they don’t get to: you know it’s bad to have mice in the walls. They eat the insulation and excrete toxins. But in all these years you have never called an exterminator—you have never set a single trap. And you won’t this winter either. In the winter you don’t get out of bed. Who would you even call for help? And besides, you would miss them, wouldn’t you? Just think how much quieter this house would be with them gone. You understand them: they are just curled in their nests, waiting for the sun to come back.