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The Roommate

It was love at first sight. I was twenty-four, fresh from Toronto, and utterly impressed with my new apartment. It all felt so foreign, so French. The outdoor staircase. The hardwood floors and interior brick walls. The spacious iron balcony. After years bouncing around dingy basements, this old terraced house near Mont-Royal station felt like a blessing. And how big! To live here, with only one roommate, for $595 a month? It felt like I was cheating the system.

One thing struck me as curious, though. In all the kitchen corners, near the stove, and by the balcony door, there were cut-up segments of egg cartons. Each was filled with bright-green pellets, like fluorescent Rice Krispies. “Oh,” my new roommate said, “those are for the mouse.

I don’t like mice. As a kid, tasked with bringing the garbage out, I’d bang on the garage door and flash the lights before entering, hoping my warnings would give any rodents time to run and hide. They never did, and I’d be met by movement in my peripheral vision, or the rustling of paper and plastic. It would give me prickles on the back of my neck, and I’d freeze until I was sure it was safe to continue. My father had a saying: if you see one mouse, you have ten. He’d lay out glue traps every few years, and I’d hate seeing him proved right.

Now, at my new apartment, the phrase came back to mind. But my roommate had said mouse, singular. I could deal with one mouse. In fact, I felt sorry for the little guy—given the banquet of poison spread all around, he’d be dead any day now.

Over the next week, I’d wake up and check the egg cartons. Every so often, I’d notice a mouse bowl tipped over, half-eaten pellets strewn about. It was done, I figured. Rest in peace.

But, over the following weeks, the pellets kept disappearing. Egg cartons would empty out, and I’d fill them with more green pellets. Soon, I could no longer convince myself that the poison was slow to activate. By the end of the month, it became clear that my father had been right. They were everywhere.

Once I started seeing the evidence, I couldn’t unsee it. First, it was the droppings. I started sweeping shit out of the corners, from underneath our storage island. I even found some in a mixing bowl. I stopped cooking. I began living off of takeaway chicken from Romados and trusting only food kept in the safety of the fridge. The piles of poison multiplied.

I was under siege. Every time I entered a room or searched through my closet, I expected the worst. I began examining the cracks in the mortar of those perfect brick walls. I’d read that mice can slip through a gap the size of a dime. I kept replacing the poison, but it felt Sisyphean. I gave up on eradication and prayed for things to just not get any worse. This is just what $595 gets you. Cheap apartments are cheap for a reason. I would learn to live with it.

And live with it I did, until a year later, when I’d woken up thirsty. I walked into the kitchen and shuffled over to the sink. Then, in the glare of the streetlight, I saw it. A shadow moving near one of the poison piles. The creature must have heard me, because it bolted—and ran straight into my foot.

Years later, I can still feel that little thud. We both stood there, no idea what to do next. I saw the mouse, and in it, I saw all the other mice who lived in this home, the unknown dozens who must be hidden all around me. What did the mouse see in me? The god who brings the pellets? Did it connect me to the deaths of its parents, its siblings, its lovers? Did it see me as the source of those terrible green gifts working away inside it, causing its body to slowly bleed out internally? Did it wonder why?

The spell broke; the mouse ran off. I stood there, fully awake. I felt unnerved. The worst had happened, and I was still here. I felt bad—after all, it was just a little mouse. I briefly wondered if I should go back to being a vegetarian.  Deep down, I knew I was kidding myself. I still wanted it to die. Cheap rent or not, it was time to move. ⁂

Daniel Viola is a senior editor at the Walrus. He was previously an editor-in-chief of Maisonneuve.