Earth Day: A Guilty Green

My landlord rigged a trap for the mice in my garage. Into a five-gallon bucket, he poured a few inches of antifreeze. On a wire across the top, he threaded a Mountain Dew can smeared with peanut butter. Mice would go for the food, find the can spinning under them, and fall into the antifreeze. He nestled the trap in a corner, piling boxes and tools around it to discourage children and dogs.

A few times a year, I’d find a carcass floating in the green fluid. They all looked black while they were afloat, but once I’d fished them out with a gardening fork, they were mostly gray with a green tinge. I tossed them into the woods behind my house. Sometimes I found three mice at once, in absurd confirmation of the nursery rhyme.

One time I fished a mouse out of the green and put it in a little plastic tub and carried it to the woods as usual, then tried to toss it far into the box elders. The mouse described a circle, its gray-green body coming to rest on the back of my hand. It was cold, and a few droplets of antifreeze speckled my hand. I saw myself twitch and the mouse sailed into the woods and bounced off a tangle of twigs and came flying back at me. Surely those childish squeals weren't coming from me?

Two hand-washings couldn't remove the green imprint I felt on my hand. I'm not usually a clean freak, but the mouse gave me the creeps.

Aside from that slapstick episode, I hardly thought about the trap. But one summer day my sons came in to tell me about its latest catch.

Eight-year-old Beckett, enthusiastic: “Dad, there’s a bird in the mousetrap.”

Me, incredulous: “A bird?”

Twelve-year-old Parker, logical: “It has a beak.”

When I looked into the trap, I saw the beak submerged in the green, but I also saw that a limb closer to the surface was furred. I tried to see the texture of feathers there, but, no—it was fur. The animal took up the whole width of the bucket. It floated, a black abstraction in a green surface dotted with dead flies and dust. I felt as if I were looking at one of those optical illusion drawings. It was on the verge of making sense.

I worked the tines of the gardening fork under it gently. I could feel the rigor mortis instantly, and it occurred to me that the mice had always been limp as banana skins. As I carefully levered it to the surface, trying not to touch the dead thing or knock it against the peanut butter, its shape emerged. It was a rabbit.

What had seemed a beak was the sharp angle of hind foot with leg. I held the thing over the bucket to let it shed its moisture. On this larger carcass, the green highlights seemed almost phosphorescent. I laid it in the plastic tub. The fluid in the trap sloshed a bit. Its level was noticeably lower, as if the rabbit had soaked up, or swallowed, a fair amount of it. Dead flies came swirling back up from the depths.

In the tub the rabbit lay stiff, its eyes clenched. The fur remained black. When I poked at its foot, the whole thing slid. Something about it seemed gruesomely wrong; it had the quality of a human fetus. It was the proportions, I decided. The sticky fluid had flattened its hair so that this normal-sized cottontail looked stunted, deformed.

I took it to the woods. My children would want to look at it, so I would leave it uncovered. I carried the tub at arm's length, as if typhus germs were even now trying to leap onto me. The disproportion of it and the incongruity of its presence in the garage gave me a much stronger sense of contamination than the mice had. How long had the body been afloat? Rigor mortis lasts less than two days in a human. And how had it managed to get where it got?

Things seemed to clear up for me then. I'd felt guilty all along, having a toxic trap in my garage. I didn't mind killing mice, but I did mind polluting. It was a hypocritical objection, since I've never found a way to make a living without a car. This dirty antifreeze had already served its turn in a vehicle. I could say I was recycling. But you read horror stories about kids drinking antifreeze. Of course I warned my sons away from it, but the stories lingered. The little tub I was carrying the rabbit in? It was a freebie we got from the hospital when our third son was born.

I recalled the pied rabbit I’d kept when I was a child. Its wicked bites made it unsuitable for human affection, and all I could really enjoy about it was watching its mouth and nose work as it devoured the weeds I proffered. Its droppings accumulated like mounds of marbles beneath its cage, and it was my obligation to shovel them onto the garden. But that was a long time ago.

I left the carcass gleaming green in the woods.

Photo by Parker Grice

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