The Mouse Rat

A mouse -- or maybe a small rat -- lives in the narrow strip of overgrown bushes that separates my sidewalk from my next-door neighbor's yard. I first glimpsed him as I was leaving for work one morning. He scurried up a camellia bush and perched on a forked branch, mostly hidden behind the waxy leaves. His bright, beady eyes locked with mine. He had small round ears, a pointed nose with pulsing whiskers, and tiny hand-like paws. I tried to grab my phone so I could photograph him and reap some internet points on Instagram, but he was too small, and I was too far away, and the light wasn't right. I walked toward my car and he scurried deeper into the brush.

"I saw a mouse in a tree outside my house!" I gushed to a friend.

"You mean a squirrel?"

"No, an actual mouse!"

"You mean it's a literal tree rat? That's like a squirrel."

The next day, I saw the mouse-rat scamper along the branch of a mulberry tree, which I guess, for a rodent, is like flying down a sniper-lined major highway at top speed in a motorcycle without a helmet and a big target strapped to your back. Any predator worth his talons would have seen him. He stopped at a perfectly ripened mulberry that was hanging just within. He stood up on his hind leg and stretched to clutch the berry. He hadn't even had one nibble when THWACK a sparrow clocked him on the head, fluttering his wings to hover over him and defend the dinner. If this scene had involved kids on a playground, the sparrow would been the bully who was whine-shouting "That's MINE! I saw it FIRST!" The mouse made a half-hearted attempt to recover the fruit, but he knew he was no match for the sharp beak and claws, no matter how proportional to his size they may be. He disappeared back into the trees.

That night, I tossed out some slightly old baby carrots. They're under the camellia bush, and I don't think anything has eaten them yet.

The next day I saw the mouse-rat sitting in the same crook of the camellia where I first spotted him. He was washing his face. If you have never seen a mouse -- or a rat -- wash its face, you are missing out on a categorical level of adorableness that is unmatched in the rest of the animal kingdom. They take their tiny little paws, dampen them with their tiny little tongues, and swab their whiskers, eyebrows, cheeks, and ears with them in a systematically circular motion that is almost trance-inducing.

I gazed out the window, captivated by the mouse-rat, gnawing on the bones of a chicken breast, pausing every now and then to pull off a strip of meat and feed it to my cats.

photo credit: Field mouse. via photopin (license)