‘So what’s the problem?’ said the man, without looking up.

Miles stirred the tea bag around in the mug, then pushed it to one side with the spoon to squeeze out the tea. ‘Well, let me think,’ he said, pausing in an effort to gain leverage in the conversation. His previous work in public relations had taught him the need to construct space in dialogue in which to invite people to step in, even if they had nothing to say. The tea was still too hot to drink but he sipped it anyway. The man didn’t look up.

‘Well,’ he repeated, ‘we’ve been hearing noises for a while, in the wall cavities, in the ceiling. It’s an old house, of course, and makes all kinds of noises but this was a real scuffling, ferreting sound. Then we went away for a few days and when we got back the fridge wasn’t working and all the food had gone off. I had a look round the back and something had chewed through the cable. I re-wired the fridge but kept the old cable. It’s round here somewhere.’

As Miles started to look for the cable a child’s voice rattled around the house. The man looked in the direction of the voice and, as though to provide commentary, Miles said: ‘That’s my daughter, Esme. I’m tending to look after her at the moment. That’s partly why we’d like this sorted to be honest. I don’t like the thought of… visitors… while there’s a little one in the house’.

The man pulled some forms out of a bag and began ticking boxes. ‘No obvious signs of droppings but you need to keep food off all surfaces,’ he said.

Miles, feeling chastened, noticed he had ticked the box for rats, rather than mice.

‘I’m going to put some poison down and you’ll need to take note of where it’s left. I won’t leave out any that she can get.’ The man motioned towards a toddler, who had appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, dragging a doll behind her by one leg. ‘But you need to remember and sign this form. This here tells you what it is and what the antidote is, if there is any problem. Is this the door to the cellar?’

‘Yes,’ Miles said, ‘yes, that’s it. The light’s on your right as you go down. I’ll follow you.’ Miles knelt down beside his daughter. ‘Sweetie, you go into the front room and watch Balamory. Daddy and the mouse man are popping down to the cellar.’ Miles turned to follow down the cold, stone steps, closing the door behind him.

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One Response to “Control”

  1. October 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm, Pauline said:

    Loved it – perfect description, nothing superfluous and I moved with it right to the end. Felt helpless on the father’s behalf. Entirely plausible.
    What happened?


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