While I believe it true that sientient beings born without a moral conscience cannot imagine one, I believe also that those born with the capacity to imagine a moral conscience may chose to walk away from it.
Until the 29th, I had gone all of 2008 without bouncing a check. Every week without getting a note from the bank is a personal triumph for me, and since the time for my automatic loan withdrawal had passed (should have been taken out last week) I thought I had squeaked by on the black side of the ledger. I was wrong. When I visited the bank to deal with the unhappy news that came with the mail on the 30th, I learned there was a pending withdrawal for the loan payment, and I had all of 71 cents in my checking account. By the grace of God, I had some dollars in my home equity line of credit, and figuring it was better to pay interest on that line rather than a late payment, I transferred some dollars plus a stark minimum $25 for groceries and $10 cash for fuel. I hated to do it. I will need that line of credit when real estate taxes are due, and I could buy a fine new laptop computater with what I owe to CILCO, but that’s another story.
Of the $25, dog food would take $10, the least expensive large bag at Shon ‘n’ Save. I also bought Buddig sliced meat packets for my Ramen noodles nightly supperfest, iced tea mix, instant coffee (Folger’s of course) and for the first time in months, white bread. Every loaf of whole wheat was selling for at least $2 a loaf and my whole wheat of choice, Bunny Bread, and even my fallback Butternut Honey Wheat, were $2.49! Bunny White was on sale for $1.68. I’ll catch up with “eating right” when I can afford it.
It had been awhile since setting mouse traps in the kitchen, but with the low temps the night before and with fresh bread on hand, I figured it was time. As you may know, four out of five mice who have a preference, prefer Bunny White Bread over other leading brands. Less than 10 minutes after setting the traps with pinches of Bunny, I returned to the kitchen to discover the first of four mice I would bag in next three hours: three by traps and one by Whitman. These were what I call “thrifty kills.” These victims were stopped before eating the bread. The same pinches of Bun still decorate the traps as these words come togeher.
Late in the afternoon when I returned to the kitchen I discovered a brown spot on the kitchen floor where I had not seen a brown spot before. Tentative closer examination confirmed it was a mouse near a sprung trap. He wasn’t moving but I could swear I heard his heavy breathing. I slowly reached for a stainless steel bowl on my counter and threw it at him. I missed of course, and he ambled underneath my refrigerator. “Another time, my hairy adversary,” I said to him and returned to my office after replenishing mon java.
Later, transiting from kitchen to livingroom I encountered the same mouse in motion, just ahead of me racing for sanctuary under a chair. I stopped what I was doing long enough to place a trap just beyond the chair, but half an hour later I found it untouched, Bunny intact.
On a typical day, that would have been the end of the mouse action. Not Wednesday. I had to attend an election judges refresher course downtown, so as I changed into cleaner clothes, I noticed another brown spot over by the stereo speaker. I froze. It lay montionless.
I had to nail him! With what? I’m not about to put my foot down directly. He might escape, run up my leg, and eviscerate me mercilessly with his razor-sharp incisors . . . and I’d be late for the refresher course. The only thing heavy enough that I could risk damaging were books. The closest was a first edition of Howard L. Scamerhorn’s fine Balloons to Jets; 1856 to 1955, A Century of Aeronautics in Illinois. My goal as I threw the book at him from five feet away was to kill him with a mighty blow to the head. I missed, of course, and the book bounced off the carpet into the front room. The book wasn’t damaged. Neither was the mouse.
Incredibly, he didn’t move a muscle though he had to have felt the nearby impact of Balloons to Jets. Sloooowly . . . . I reached for my reading copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and stepped closer to the brown spot. In the dim light, I couldn’t swear it was a mouse, but the spot had not been there earlier and I had to eliminate the life from it if there was life to eliminate before removing it. This time, I hurled Whitman more vertically onto the spot and quickly stepped on the book with one foot.
Then I stepped on it with the other. I stayed there for what seemed a minute but was only about 10 human seconds. Then I stepped off the book and nudged it away from the brown spot. Yes, it was a mouse, and a dead one at that. There were no entrails forced out onto the carpet.
He’s still in the living room where he died yesterday about 5:30. I’ll remove him in few minutes with a spatula. I have a visitor coming by later, and uncivil as I may be, I know that dead mice lying around your living room carpet make a bad impression on folks you don’t know well.
Since killing him with Whitman, I’ve been thinking about him. Why didn’t he skeedaddle when the first book hit? I know most wild things “freeze” motionless when sensing danger in the hope that they won’t be seen if they don’t move. But the whole business of standing on him was too easy. Would I have the grace to die motionless when assaulted by dire circumstance? Figuratively spikkin’ am I just waiting for Fate to plaster me away with Whitman, and I’m too dumb to know it?
The incident reminds me too much of how I’m behaving during these days of imminent financial peril. I’m not quite lying motionless, but over the months it seems that way, hoping doom won’t find me and squash me like a creature that treads mindlessly over livingroom carpet and kitchen linoleum.
It’s true: as a human, I can banish my consience. Sometimes though, as I’ve discovered from yesterday, the conscience comes back to bite me.
Live long . . . . . and proper.