The sound awoke me from a sound sleep—first the pounce in dry grass, then the tiny squeal—eeeeek! My eyes sprung open, feeling the fear of the tiny thing held captive by my little tomcat Rocky. Still so sleepy, I closed my eyes and hoped I wouldn’t hear anymore. Hours later, I heard another tiny shriek. This time, Kevin closed the window and once again I slept, not too restfully. When I awoke, there was no sign of a cat or a mouse; all was quiet in the early morning backyard. Then, Rocky appeared, very engaged with something in the grass. I heard another tiny cry. Across the yard I went, and there it was, a tiny mouse still very much alive, frozen in fear. I know it was just a mouse (actually a tiny rat, but I like the sound of mouse better). Rats carry disease; cats kill them; we detest a rat in the house—or out. But, I’d heard it shriek and cry out, not once, not twice, but three times. I couldn’t let him kill it right there in the yard. I laid my red bucket on its side and tapped him with my little shovel and in he scampered, frightened beyond measure and very much alert and alive—even after hours of “play.” I set the bucket in the garage, remembering what my father did to a little mouse when I was a child. He caught it in a trap, just barely by the tip of its tail. I was elated that he hadn’t gotten his neck broken and thought we would free it. But my father set the bucket under the exhaust pipe of our Nash. I remember it trying to climb up the side of the slippery metal bucket and can still hear those little pattering feet, but pretty soon the little creature was lying upside down, pink feet curled in the air. I will never forget that as long as I live. It’s just a baby rat. People hate rats.
I looked in the bucket once more, he was sitting up, grateful to be alive, waiting. I drove him down to the river and laid the bucket on the riverbank. He remained frozen, afraid to venture forth—the cat would be close by. I tipped the bucket up and he slid toward the edge, where he sat momentarily until he leaped into the brown grass and down the bank. He paused halfway and seemed to look at me—then he was gone. I looked across the road at the most glorious field of sunflowers, brilliant yellow, waving in the early morning breeze, knowing it was my reward for hearing the cries of a tiny creature that most would have ignored. Perhaps he’ll get snatched up by a hawk down there by the river, but that seems more natural somehow.