My husband declares there’s a mouse in the house. At least, he is convinced he can hear one making little scratching noises in the corner of our bedroom, under the treadmill. It’s late at night, prime mouse activity time. He’s probably right. I dig out our humane trap from the laundry cupboard and bait the end with peanut butter – otherwise known as mouse crack. We set the trap next to the treadmill and head to bed.
“I don’t want a mouse in our fucking bedroom,” I complain. “The kitchen or the end room or somewhere else is one thing, but not in our room.” I don’t have a fear of rodents at all. In fact, I had pet mice as a child and pet rats as a teenager. The rats disgusted my mother, and in my teenage moodiness that didn’t detract from their appeal. Rats are surprisingly friendly; spend enough time with them and they become very tame little companions. But still. My affection for little creatures aside, I don’t want a wild mouse problem in our house.
My husband’s not as bothered, and neither of us can hear the mouse anymore. He pulls me across the bed so he can cocoon me with his arms and legs, then falls easily into sleep. I listen to his steady breathing behind my ear. And I also listen for the mouse. I don’t know why this is bothering me so much. I think about where in the room the mouse might be now. Still behind the treadmill? Under the bed now? Or perhaps it has skittered out of the door and into another part of the house.
A mouse is going to eat your toes. This idea diverts my other thoughts. I know straight away that it is wrong and illogical. It would almost be comical, if I didn’t recognise it as a warning sign for an onset of hallucinations. I try to dismiss it. I focus on what I can feel: the warmth of my husband’s body intertwined with mine, his soft exhale on my skin, my own body nestled under blankets and between cool sheets.
The idea circles around and makes another pass.
A mouse is going to chew your toes off. I picture this and cringe. Now the thought is more insistent and repetitive. I wriggle my body free and find my storage basket of pills in the dark. There’s only one little round bottle in there and my fingers find it easily. This one’s the diazepam, that I take as soon as possible when my thoughts start going ‘wonky’. When I know I’m having thoughts that don’t make sense. It doesn’t stop the dominoes falling in their predictable thoughts-voices-visions trajectory, but it slows the momentum.
Back in bed, I hear the first voice.
“A mouse is going to eat your toes,” it whispers. Quiet, but confident, as if it’s sharing an imminent truth. “Don’t go to sleep. If you go to sleep you’ll wake up with stumps for toes.”
Then the second voice chimes in. “What’s worse?” It muses slyly. “To have a mouse eat your toes, or to cut them off first?” A picture of our knife block appears in my mind, and right on cue, the second voice adds, “The big silver chef’s knife. That one. You could do it now. Cut your toes off, it’s better than having them chewed to stubs.”
“No,” the first voice disagrees, “Just wait and let the mouse come. Can you feel your toes? Soon you won’t have any. But let the mouse do it.”
One voice comes from the empty space near my dresser, the other from the darkness across the room. I know in this moment, that neither is real. But knowing this doesn’t stop me hearing them bicker back and forth about the merits of chewing versus cutting. I squeeze my eyes shut and hope for sleep. It doesn’t come. Sometimes the teachers at my son’s kindergarten ask how I’m sleeping; I’ve mentioned a few times that I often have bad nights. “Is it your thoughts that keep you awake at night?” they ask.
After an hour lying awake listening to the voices, I’m frustrated and tired of thinking about the demise of my toes. Creeping out into the living room, I switch out the moonlight for ceiling lights and am immediately drawn to the knife block. What the hell am I doing? I am both horrified and inexplicably enticed. The silver knife glints in the artificial light, and though it is half plunged into the wood I can see the sharp edge of the blade. I move closer, then away again.
“Cut them off!” screams the voice suddenly. “It’s the better option, do it now before the mice get you.”
I feel giddy, anxious but excited. Should I do it? I’m not a self harmer, not unless you count the ferocious anorexia of my late teens. But never with a knife. Then I take a hard look at my toes, and all of a sudden the enormity and stupidity of doing something like this hits. I can’t breathe, I can barely think. The feet I thought of maiming carry me back into the bedroom, fast, and I take all the PRN drugs I am allowed to take in one go.
They force a heavy and clouded sleep.
When I wake in the morning, foggy and tired, the knife is on the kitchen bench. I cannot even remember holding it in my hands.