A Bittersweet Victory

It was a bittersweet victory.

All that striving, all that stress, all of that cunning and determination and in the end, sorrow.

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The feud began when Elby scurried out from beneath the sofa one evening and was startled to find me still sitting in my chair. I wasn’t so much startled as horrified, but had I not gasped like a Victorian lady in need of her smelling salts, I don’t think he would have paid me any mind.

As it was, he had no problem waiting under the sofa for me to calm down before he tried again. Fortunately for him, I had nothing to throw and he was a fast little beggar (L. B. — Elby) but both of us were as obstinate as the other. Both of us believed it was our turf.

At this point, I should perhaps provide a little background.

I really like animals — to the point where I struggle not to stop and make a fuss of any cat I see in the street and any cow I meet in the hedgerow. I couldn’t tell you what it is about them, but I’m always distracted, and usually pretty taken with animals. At the same time, I’m not particularly sentimental about them. I have no problem butter-basting the chicken I just met, and I would never lose sleep over the fact that my pets will not be joining me in heaven. In essence, I enjoy their company and affection when they’re alive and their succulence and roasted aroma when they’re not.

There are two exceptions to my favour:

Snakes and rats.

Mine is not an irrational hatred. Snakes are dangerous and temperamental (the dislike probably goes back to the Garden to be honest), and rats are disease-ridden, destructive, conniving, and can maul small children.

Elby was the latter.

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No matter what doubts anyone else had about my eyesight, Elby was not a mouse and he certainly wasn’t welcome, no matter how at home he made himself.

That first night, I didn’t catch him. At one point, I did accidentally trap him in the living room overnight and he chewed up a corner of the carpet, broke a jar, and gnawed the bottom of two of the doors.

I couldn’t leave the dishes overnight but he would lick them clean, I couldn’t even leave food in the pan while I ate and box it up later.

Elby was a free-loader and soon graduated to become my nemesis. It was like something out of the movie Mousehunt. I tried a couple of traps, but he sprung them, nabbed the food, and scarpered. I’ve never known a rodent so brazen. I had read that rats are extremely wary of anything new, but is was me, not Elby who was paranoid about entering the kitchen and squirming at every sound that might possibly have been the hairy squatter.

In the end — I say in the end, but it was less than a month later — in the end I bought a standard rat trap, a Victor snap trap. Most people I spoke to recommended poison, but rat carcasses stink, and if they crawl into your wall or under the floor to die, then you’re stuck. In Edinburgh in particular, I was told, rats are used to the regular traps now and know to avoid peanut butter, but I was sick of Elby and determined to finish things once and for all.

So I took the trap and baited it with a bit of lemon turkish delight (I don’t think lemon is the real deal, I prefer rose or pomegranate, so it was no great loss), and set the trap to the lowest sensitivity, having given myself a heart attack and bruised my thumb trying to set it otherwise.

The next morning, full of trepidation, I checked it to find the turkish delight removed and the trap unsprung.

To this day, I will never know whether Elby was a genius or whether he was profoundly lucky in his idiocy.

In truth, all of the traps that didn’t catch him (turns out some were too small) probably worked in my favour — if you don’t count the raised blood pressure and mounting despair. How could it work out well for me? Because the second time I set the trap, he didn’t think twice.

This time, I borrowed a jar of peanut butter from church. I baited the trap that didn’t normally work on Edinburgh rats with the peanut butter they were known to avoid, and waited to find out just how jammy the little rat actually was.

It turns out he wasn’t that little.

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Three things struck me at the first sight of the body:

  • How far across the floor the trap had jumped.
  • How big Elby actually was ( I had to turn him diagonal to fit him in the cereal box to dispose of him).
  • He had a surprisingly nice face.

These things flashed all at once through my mind in the split second I walked in on the scene. But as I sighed loose the breath that had caught in my throat, another thought followed, sorrowful and yearning.

We’re so far from Eden.

Eden, where death was a stranger to us and we were at enmity with neither the creature nor the clay, where God looked upon the works of his hands and declared them good.

As I looked at the dead rodent on my kitchen floor, I didn’t feel pride or elation or even relief. I felt sad.

I have no regrets about Elby. If he wouldn’t leave, he had to go, you understand why. The grief was not for my nemesis — he has no soul and will return to the dust — that sickness in the pit of my stomach was the blatant reminder that this isn’t right. We were never meant to fight creation or end up locked in a battle of wit and will with the creatures in it.

Dominion is natural, but death is not.

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We’re very in the moment these days and don’t think much on what was or what will be, but sometimes we get these striking reminders that now all is not as it should be. We’ll never go back to Eden, it only fades ever-distant into the past. We have something better to look forward to though, a new heavens and new earth where we will no longer find ourselves fighting and railing against sin and death, no longer struggling between mercy and dominion.

I’m relieved Elby is gone. If nothing else, I feel able to invite guests over once again. But I’m sorry that getting rid of him meant having to take his life It only serves to remind me how very far we’ve strayed from the Garden, and how we long for the Kingdom to come at last and make all things new.

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I won.

Elby is gone.

But it was a bittersweet victory to send him down once more to the dust.

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