William Wall – The Trap

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It happened the day the Jesus-man called. I was alone in the house when I heard the knock. I opened the door and saw immediately what he was up to. I said, No thank you I don’t believe in God. You’re the very lady I want to talk to then, he said. I stood there exasperated while he explained to me that I could have a free bible and for a small sum of money, sufficient only to cover the cost of printing and binding, a free reader’s guide to the Good Book and he could call again and talk it over with me once I had read a little. The main thing I would discover in that there book was that Jesus loves everyone in the whole wide world.

Right, I said, come in and let’s see what your god can do about this.
I brought him into the kitchen and showed him the trap.
I saw immediately that he had seen the same thing as I had. The mouse had rushed into the trap and then become stuck in the glue. Its front paws were stretched forward and were glued down as far as the elbow-joint. It’s chin was glued down. It had attempted to scrabble backwards with its hind legs. It looked like someone kneeling on a prayer mat.
While we were watching the tail moved. The tiny jet eyes watched us. Its upper jaw moved a little.
How is it going to die, the Jesus man asked.
I tried to get one of the paws off, I said, using a blunt knife, but it’s stuck fast in the glue.
It’s going to starve to death isn’t it?
I can’t bear it, I said.
I didn’t tell the Jesus-man, but since I came downstairs this morning I have been sitting here in the kitchen watching the mouse. I had the radio on for a while but pop music does not go well with starving things. For the past hour or so I watched in silence. Every time he moved. And sometimes I could see his heart beating. Wondering how long it would take. It was a Professional Strength Victor Glue Trap. It worked.
You’re going to have to put it out of its misery, he said.
I looked at him. He was a small man, but very well-proportioned, with broad square shoulders and a fine narrow head, a small blunt nose and small mouth, curly hair. He had placed his little bag of bibles and readers on the table beside the saucer of milk that I was planning to offer the mouse until I noticed that his lower jaw was glued down too.
I never go out anymore, I said. I have anxiety. I worry about everything. I never sleep.
He was looking at the mouse.
Why did you buy a trap like that?
It’s more humane.
I only ever saw the ones with the spring.
They still die slowly.
He nodded his head. You’re probably right.
What I want to know is, how is your God going to save that mouse?
He leaned back against the sink and folded his arms. His shirt was as white as ice. There was a knife-edge crease to his trousers. Did he do his own ironing? Was there someone waiting at home to know how Jesus went down today? I saw that he was more comfortable now. He didn’t like looking at the mouse but he was happy enough looking at me and wondering what I’d have to say about Jesus. And what he could say back to me. He wanted to convert me.
The choice is yours, he said, God will not make it for you.
Why not?
God made the mouse and he made you.
God made the trap.
God does not make traps.
I said, Right come on.
I led him down the short corridor and into my bedroom. I showed him the bed with the sheets thrown back. I have no idea what I thought he’d see there or why I needed to show it to him.
Right, I said, I loved him. You understand that? I left my family for him. I came here for him. To this country.
I don’t know what you’re talking about.
What’s your name?
I pulled the wardrobe door open. The jackets were still hanging there. Four of them. Two tweed sportscoats, a Parka and a windcheater.
I’m sorry, I should have said. I’m Andrew.
He held his hand out. I took it and held it. After a bit he took it away again. He was embarrassed.
These jackets, I said.
He looked into the wardrobe.
What?
Want one? I’ll give you two for a fiver.
Are you serious?
I laughed. I took out the two tweed jackets. They were what he wore to work. Where did he go? Maybe he got run over by a bus. Or fell in front of a train. Maybe I should go to the police and file a report. But I didn’t want to go out. I ordered my groceries from Tesco. Every little helps. The truth was he got tired of me. I’m a wreck. I worry about everything.
I laid the jackets out on the bed.
I gave up my baby for him, I said. Now I don’t know where she is. I signed her away. He didn’t want his own baby. What kind of a man is that?
The Jesus-man didn’t say anything. I could hear his breathing.
Do you want the jackets or not?
He waved his hands. I recognise the signs of panic when I see them. He backed out the door. He backed down the corridor and, without turning his back on me he reached for the knob on the Yale lock.
Ok Ok, I said, tell me about God.
But he slipped out. He did not stop on the outside. He went down my three steps, down to the pavement. He looked less physical. For a time, in the bedroom, as he walked backwards, I was almost frightened of him although he was clearly frightened of me. These irrational responses. People say, Get a grip. Get over it.
Standing outside my house, he said, Can I have my books back please? I left them in your kitchen.
I got his books. I threw the bag at him. It was a Marks & Spencer’s Eco-Bag. Bibles and readers tipped onto the pavement.
Jesus loves you.
Fuck him.
I closed the door. Immediately I was sorry. I thought I should call him back, ask him to talk to me about being saved, about how to save myself. Could I be born again? This time as a different person? The corridor in front of me led directly to the trapped mouse. Now is the kind of time I would like to phone home but all that was closed to me. You burned your boats, my father said to me the last time. Just before hanging up. But he would know what to do. My father was a godly man in his way. He knew all the priests. He never hurt a creature but he hurt me. He was the kind of man you would call on to put an animal out of his misery. When our dog got cancer he took him away. I saw the shotgun under a rug in the boot of the car. I knew what was happening but I did not run after the car crying. I left him to his fate. He was lying on an old coat in the back seat. He was shivering, the way dogs shiver from pain. Even today I cannot say his name. But my father turned the key in the door against me. He shut me out.
I would not allow the mouse to starve to death in my sight. Even a mouse deserves a decent end. Even if I set the trap myself. That night when we were arguing, shouting at each other, telling each other lies for truths, I said to him: After all I’ve done for you. Immediately I knew they were my father’s words. I was ashamed. At that point all I wanted to say was: Go if you must but I’ll be here. Why didn’t I say it? Instead I repeated my old complaints. We go round in circles when we most need to see straight. We take the crooked way. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I saw the mouse. He skittered along beside the skirting board, then under the table, then past the leg of the kitchen chair and in behind the fridge. So I set the trap and we went to bed. And in the morning my man was gone. And today this poor bastard was glued to the floor.
So I tore a cornflakes carton and made a kind of shovel of it. I moved the trap onto the cardboard with my foot and I carried him out into the garden where nothing grew. The high grey walls of Shepherd’s Bush. I put him on the path. I found a large stone. I knelt and said, Goodbye little fellow, I’m sorry, I’d let you go if I could, but I can’t. I dropped the stone on him from high above my head. I saw that he was stunned but still moving, still awake even. I dropped it again and struck him only a glancing blow. Once more and I missed. Tears made me miss. And I was shaking. I found a bigger stone, a fragment of concrete from the top of the wall. It did not kill him. There was a loose slab at the end of the path. I prised it up and lifted it. It was extremely heavy. I raised it as high as I could and brought it down with force. When I lifted the slab away I saw that he was completely crushed. His brains were out, smeared on the glue and the cardboard, a little grey contrail from the jet of his head.
I went inside and found a shoebox. Yesterday I bought him Nike Air. He was so pleased. He appreciated small things but the restlessness always got to him in the end. I suppose I am one of those people whom it is impossible to love. A fearful, self-centred child, a hole in the heart, a solitary.
When I looked down at the little mouse I realised that even if I scraped him into the shoebox there would still be the smear of brains on the cornflakes carton. So instead I put the shoebox down over him. In time the creatures of the night and the soil would undo him. The glue would lose its power. Some day, in the not too distant future, the morning light would reveal a tiny beautiful skeleton at prayer.

Copyright by the Author

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William Wall is an Irish novelist, short fiction writer and poet. His work has been translated into several languages and he translates from Italian. His novel This Is The Country was longlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Young Mind Prize and the Irish Book Awards. His short fiction and poetry have won many prizes including The Virginia Faulkner Award 2011. His most recent book - Ghost Estate, a volume of poems - has been translated into Italian as Le Notizie Sono (MobyDick Editore). More information from his website: williamwall.net ‘Wall, who is also a poet, writes prose so charged—at once lyrical and syncopated—that it’s as if Cavafy had decided to write about a violent Irish household.’ The New Yorker ‘Wall's touch with characterisation is light and deft: many illustrate themselves plainly with just a few lines of dialogue.’ The Guardian ‘He is such a writer - lyrical and cruel and bold and with metaphors to die for.’ Kate Atkinson Photograph by Herry Moore