I Own a House

“I’m not interested.” Iona disconnected the call with a few efficient taps and put her phone away. There was no reason to let foreign pleas shake her from the rituals of everyday life. Or, if such a reason did exist, she couldn’t find it in the cheese aisle, nor did she know where else to look. “I’m…” Giving a small shake of the head, Iona gripped her shopping cart and steered towards the deli. She didn’t push or shove as she proceeded through the heavy crowd of shoppers, but you wouldn’t have detected any trace of leisure in her steps either.

Having become aware of her lot in life as Market Basket daily shopper #119, Iona took her place near the edge of the crowd and waited for her turn. It didn’t necessarily bother her that other people were clamoring for lunch meats and pasta salad, but as she felt their needs burrow into her own she began to sense a franticness rising in her chest. Would there be enough of what she wanted, enough of what she needed, and furthermore, did she know the difference? Better to stand closer to the counter, perhaps.

“Do you have Iberian ham? I’d like half a pound.” A nod from the deli worker signaled that she had gotten her point across. The deli slicers operated with a flagrant discard for their own personal safety that shocked Iona. This employee allowed his thumb to rest millimeters from the rotating blade, all in the name of cold cuts. The stakes were such that she could not see herself enjoining him to be more careful; much as a queen dares not interfere in the lives of her servants, Iona dared not disturb the man tasked with cutting up her God-given slab of meat. Still, had she ever seen the deli workers so much as make idle conversation with a customer? Was there really something to be lost here, or could she perhaps benefit from the image that would be produced by their interaction?

“I’m Iona Proctor. It’s nice to meet you,” she called to the deli worker whose back was turned to the counter. “Maybe you’ve heard of me.” This struck her as a bizarre thing to have said, but Iona rarely forsook a conversational tactic once it had been deployed. “What’s your name?”

“Victor.” The deli worker did not budge from his station. Undeterred by the looks of confusion on her fellow shoppers’ faces, Iona felt encouraged in equal measure by Victor’s inability to formulate negative feedback.

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Victor. I don’t come here very often, so that’s probably why you don’t know who I am. I like getting to know people. I consider myself a people person.”

“Do you need anything else?” Victor had already returned with the ham.

“No, I’m all set for now. Are you new in town, Victor?”

“Next person, please!” Not once during this ordeal had Victor’s eyes met Iona’s, who became conscious of this fact all at once.

“Rude! That is so rude...” Iona stood in place as another customer brushed past her to place an order. She turned to her left and right, searching for an ally in the war against menial indifference, not finding a single individual who would return her body language. It was time to give up the battle.


Margarita mix. Iona had forgotten the one ingredient for which she had come to the supermarket. She would have to make do with Chardonnay. Trying to forget her mistake, Iona busied herself with putting out a bowl of salsa and making sure the pillows on her couch were arranged in a manner that invoked spontaneity. Satisfied with herself, though not pleased, Iona sat down on a kitchen stool and pulled out her phone for the first time since she had hung up on her tenants in the cheese aisle. Met inevitably by the sheer volume of messages awaiting her response, Iona had long since grown reluctant to rely on technology for the purposes of communication. It was easy to miss something important amidst the litany of demands on her time. One email caught her eye: it was from a close friend Iona had met in her college days.

TO: inabproctor@gmail.com

FROM: jess@bakerfamily.me

SUBJECT: RE: Mouse problem

Yeah i totally agree with that. Often times the cost of getting rid of mice is not worth the rent paid by your current crop of renters. That said my husband can provide extermination services (on us of course) if you are having a really hard time with the situation. Other wise let me know and we can discuss strategies for resolving the issue without making a huge investment. I know this is all hard at first but you will be seeing the benefits of your investment very soon, I promise. Its all worth the wait.

Iona traded frustration for relief as she glanced at the tiny holes in her living room baseboard. Issues in her life had a habit of growing larger unless she salted their roots before the seed had sprouted. Were this truism not already obvious to the reader, it should be noted that it wasn’t obvious to Iona. She could not be depended upon to step outside her own shoes any more than a possessive child could be depended upon to leave an unattended cookie jar full. Problems ate at her independently of their easiness to resolve — someone tethered to the present spares no time learning from the example of their doddering ancestors.

Tiny holes… tiny holes that amounted to what? Iona cared little about the mice. She encountered them rarely. She had a mousetrap stationed underneath every appliance and an ultrasonic generator installed in the mud room. Once, late at night, Iona came into the kitchen for water and stumbled across a mouse lounging on top of her refrigerator. It didn’t scurry away as she anticipated, but instead remained in place, paying her no more attention than the box of saltines she had accidentally left open. The whole scene made her laugh to herself, though at the time she felt as if the laughter came at the mouse’s expense, as if she had positioned it as an object of ridicule in her mind. Eventually, Iona clapped her hands to scare her unwanted guest back into hiding before tossing the saltines in the trash and heading back to bed.

It must’ve been the case that people liked to cause trouble for themselves on purpose, though Iona could not imagine why. Mice hardly seemed like a threat worth rocking the boat to eliminate. As captain, Iona bore the responsibility of making that call. O captain, my captain… random bits of language acquired long ago bounced around Iona’s head ceaselessly. What’s done is done. How the sausage gets made… two wrongs don’t make a right. Legal tender. It’s a hard-knock life. She found these empty fragments working their way into her everyday speech, and it concerned her that this tendency might make it harder for her to be understood. It was hard to let go of the notion that if she had heard a phrase before, others must have heard it too. Their shared experience as humans, friends, Romans, countrymen, my fellow citizens… But there it was again, and Iona’s friends were near to arrive.

The knock at the door signaled a change of atmosphere, and Iona straightened herself out before walking to answer it. She found that the visitor wasn’t one of her friends, but rather the same tenant who had called her hours earlier. “Hello. Can I help you?”

“I know what you said on the phone earlier. I know you’re not interested. All I wanna say is that, my former landlord used to pitch in for these things all the time, and my son really wants to win. I was wondering if you’d reconsider and buy a tub.” Iona pushed against her front teeth with her tongue as if holding herself back. For this exchange to work in her favor, it was essential that she control the tone.

“Okay. I think it's odd of you to come up here without letting me know beforehand, but I understand. I will buy a tub of cookie dough. You should know that I don’t eat this stuff, but I understand.”

“Thank you. Do you want to choose a flavor?”

“It really doesn’t matter… put me down for chocolate chip, I guess. I feel weird that you came up here for this.”

“Well, I know we’re not exactly friends, but my son needs all the help he can get. He really wants to win that stupid prize. I don’t know what it is.” There was a slight pause. “Have you gotten a quote from an exterminator?” It was the shift Iona had anticipated and so desperately needed.

“Look, I really don’t appreciate being ambushed. I’m taking care of one thing at a time.”

Not in a position to push, the tenant acquiesced. “Okay.” Another pause. “I just need an address and I can put in the order.”

“You have my address.” The tenant looked like she wanted to say something but had clearly exhausted her allowance of courtesy from Iona. She stretched her mouth into a neutral smile and gave a nod before walking off. “She does have my address,” intoned Iona quietly to herself before shutting the door. She allowed her muscles to relax. “Oh, life. Life life life life life!” It felt natural for Iona to decompress because she fancied herself an underdog whose conquests must be matched in equal measure by bursts of levity. “Ridiculous.” Iona looked in the hallway mirror and tried out some poses: putting her hands on her hips, pulling one leg behind the other, broadening, narrowing her stance. It was something fun for her to do as she waited for time to pass. High-stakes, but fun nonetheless. “I’m a boxer! Hyaa!” Iona jerked her arm forward as if throwing a punch. “I’m a—”

Interrupted by the doorbell, Iona composed herself and went to greet her friends. Iona found it effortless to be cheerful when her friends were around. They pushed her toward a centrism of subject and object, actor and actee that refreshed her senses and allowed to see the world untainted by its usual threatening aura. “I’m not… you are… oh my God. Oh my God!”

“So you ditched work because your coffee machine was going off? I can’t believe you.”

“No offense, I mean… it’s just such a ‘Cara’ thing to do.” Laughter. “Am I right? I’m right, though!”

“No, really though, I need to get one of those. I would love to have a cup of coffee waiting for me in the mornings when I wake up.”

“Yeah… anyone want more?” Someone was holding up a wine bottle.

“Me please!” But as she began to pour, a few errant drops of wine made their way from the bottle to the carpet below. Snow white carpet, though not unblemished; anyone could clearly see the remnants of simpler stains. But after the Chardonnay had expired, Iona had chosen to open a bottle of Merlot against her better judgment, and now it was time to pay the price.

“Ah, goddamn!” Iona was the first to notice the stains.

“Oh, fuck! Iona, I’m so sorry…” but as Iona already had her head clutched in her hands, there was no use in trying to reassure her friends that everything was fine, the wine stain not a big deal, the party unruined.

“It’s just been a rough week. I know it sounds gross, but I have this mouse problem that the downstairs tenants are complaining about.”

“I actually might have a solution to that… have you ever seen those old cartoons where the cat is trying to catch the mouse, and he takes a shotgun and fires it into the mouse hole? See, that’s not actually a bad idea. My husband says that mouse holes aren’t really that deep. Maybe we could snake the whole family out.” Everyone looked fairly puzzled at this suggestion.

“I mean, I don’t have a gun.” Iona’s friends laughed.

“No, I obviously don’t mean that… but like, just put some poison right in the holes. They won’t be able to resist.”

“Oh believe me, I’ve been poisoning them for years. Doesn’t work. They’re really intelligent mice, I guess.” A pause. “Maybe I really do have to shoot them out. I mean, if I wanted to get rid of them. I don’t care that much though. Not enough to damage my own property.”

The rest of the evening passed without event, and lacking an extra bedspace to offer her more inebriated guests, Iona sent them all home when the wine ran out. Slightly drunk and still exasperated by the noticeable stain in her carpet, she decided to do something uncharacteristically hands-on and peek at the source of her current woes. The mouse hole was large enough to see through, and shining a flashlight into the crevice, Iona was able to glean a few details, that

  1. the mice had stashed crumbs and trinkets in the far right corner
  2. there were droppings scattered throughout the cramped space, and
  3. the mice were dead.

She didn’t know how they had died, but their unnatural resting positions bore all the signs of a sudden passing. It was seemingly a problem solved all at once. Thoroughly grossed out, Iona stood up and took a look around her apartment. Signs of human activity remained from the party, but generally speaking it looked well-kept. “I’m better than a mouse,” said Iona aloud to herself. “Cleaner, at least.” She spared no time informing her tenants downstairs that their demands had been met, however coincidentally. “The mice are gone. I was able to kill them without hiring an exterminator. Couldnt stand me I guess LOL.” Wondering if they would be skeptical of her ability to deal with the hazard in such a short amount of time, Iona added on a few details. “I had applied some fast acting posion a few days ago, but i guess it took until now to work. No charges.” Satisfied with her generosity, Iona performed her bedtime rituals and headed off to sleep.

Nothing else happened that night (in the same way that nothing happens on any night, one assumes) but Iona did encounter a rare dream as she slept. She found herself making “snow angels” on a carpet that resembled the one in her living room. The material was as soft as it had once been before being tempered by the forces of age. It was a good dream; she felt happy. Yet when Iona awoke and returned to her living room, the stains were still there, and for all the alkaline poison in the world she would not be able to work them out.