Today I killed an animal, myself, for the first time in my life. I’m not counting insects, those weird clockwork and shellac creatures that die so easily. And although I’ve always tried my hardest not to do anything to craneflies or spiders, I hate wasps with the passion of one once stung on the eyelid, and am generally a crack shot with a newspaper. I suppose by animal I mean not so much the not-vegetable/not-mineral, as the complex and vertebrate. The fluffy. The adorable.
Looking out of the kitchen patio doors this morning I saw a house mouse that at first I thought was long gone, its body curled in the sad, pathetically protective crescent of the small creature in death. But after a while it began to twitch, and then started crawling round in a limping circle, its eye still closed. I thought, it must be nearly dead; but almost an hour later it was still occasionally making movements, one side of its body clearly in trouble. I conferred with K, and accepted that something had to be done.
I don’t know how something could cling so tenaciously to live and then die so easily. As I lifted up its body on the hoe that I had just merely patted it with, intending now to carry it to the depths of our garden and drop it far out of sight and reach, I saw claw marks on the side of its body that it had kept closest to the ground.
It had behaved as though the wounds were an embarrassed secret, rather than something inflicted almost certainly by one of the local cats that we usually find so cute. One of them must have toyed with it briefly, but before delivering the final blow had been scared off: maybe merely by us opening the curtains that morning.
I’ve spent much of the weekend struggling with and tearing away at the bamboo that our embittered, witless landlady had planted, in order to simultaneously dessicate the garden and (growing with the speed of leylandii) complicate our relationships with our neighbours in her poisonous absence. At the end of each day I’ve been covered in tiny raised weals, and an intermittent rash from the sap of the ivy that binds the whole living trellis together. My arms have ached and I half-twisted my elbow twice. But none of that physical effort was as difficult as raising a hand to the mouse. It’s hard, being city-bred, continuing to find the tooth and the claw just as powerfully lovable as the whisker and the tiny, scrabbling hands.