of mice and maturing
1985 (Assume poetic licence with the precision of dates and details. The story has changed with fermentation in memory. The gist of the story is consistent with the orginal experience.)
I rented a room near ‘The Mermaid’ in a small Sparkhill red-brick terraced house shared with four girls. Bambi rented a room in a Handsworth red brick terraced house shared with four boys. Two bus rides, an hour, apart. Neither house had a telephone. We were poor. We were young.
Bambi’s house smelt of rotting mice. It was infested. The neighbours houses were infested. The whole area was infested. Everyone lived with the mice. Mice would dash for cover when you entered a room, switched on a light, moved suddenly. The boys would play at trying to jump on, squash, mice before they reached cover. Several squashed mice decorated the floor in the front room. The floor was also decorated with chair-side piles of empty beer cans and chris-crossed with glittering slug trails. A milk bottle containing a dead mouse sat on the fireplace mantle; gently warmed by the gas fire on colder days. The mouse had climbed in voluntarily when the bottle lay on the floor then, unable to climb out, starved to death. The boys treated the bottled mouse as a trophy. Some mice died more peacefully of old age under the floor boards. Then rotted. I’ll never forget the overwhelming stench of rotting mouse. It’s integrally bound with first love. It filled your lungs and scented your sweat during the deep breaths of love making. It seems appropriate that I read Ian McEwan’s “First Love, Last Rites” in this house.
Early on a brightly lit summer evening I turned-up to meet Bambi. He wasn’t in. In other homes I would make myself at home with a cup of Tea. Not here. Concerns about household hygiene. The mice-droppings on the kitchen work surfaces and stench were an effective deterrent to eating or drinking. I picked a book from Bambi’s collection and opened a window in a futile attempt to release the seemingly endless odour. With my head by the open window I started to read ‘the catcher in the rye‘. My first American novel. The sun gradually set. Sodium pink, then yellow, street lights lit the pages. The mice scuttled over the silence. Lost in the story I forgot about the planned evening with Bambi. Despite knowing very little about the places, symbols, or lifestyle outlined in the book it felt powerfully relevant to the loneliness of that night, madness of youth, and pains of new found adulthood.
I finished the novel as Bambi arrived.