I live with my husband and three year old son, one single
city block from Ground Zero. Itís a normal life, punctuated by
construction noise and orange alerts. My kid goes to day care
two blocks from the siteóevery morning, I push him in the
stroller through the throngs of tourists, some weeping, some
posing for pictures, most looking at maps because now that
theyíve hit Ground Zero, they have about thirteen minutes to
make the next boat to the Statue of Liberty. One overcast
Thursday morning, when the local morning newscast included a
brief item about six plague-infected mice gone missing from a
laboratory in Newark, my thoughts (as is usual, if you live one
block from a missing complex of buildings) turned to terrorism.
"How easy would it be for some schmo to buy a dozen mice from
PetCo and set them loose on a bus or an airplane?" I said,
zipping my preschoolerís backpack.
The newscaster assured his listeners that the risk to the
public was slim to none since the mice were sure to die or be
My husband, who like most Post-9/11 New Yorkers knows
entirely too much about scary subjects, laughed at the ignorance
of the reassurance. "They still donít exhume the graves of
plague victims in London for fear the virus might still be
With that, he kissed me and went off to work.
I walked our son to day care, returning to write, as I always
do, past Ground Zero, to see how the construction is
progressing. (The construction is progressing imperceptibly, and
still there is scaffolding, noise, and bulldozers on every
possible square inch of barren property). Then, right at my feet
in the middle of the rush-hour crowded sidewalk, there it was:
an eviscerated mouse.
Okay, Iím thinking, roadkill. I see this all the time. No big
deal. So itís in the center of the sidewalk. So itís weirdly
skinless, so itís on a really busy street corner at rush hour in
Ground Zero. So what?
I made a vain attempt to hold my breath, avert my eyes, and
pass on by, but as I walked the block to my home, I was haunted
by the image of the small dead rodent, mostly flayed, with its
innards spread in a small circleóand the dozens of morning
commuters who had already passed by as they hurried to get to
work before 9am.
Unable to shake the feeling of necessary duty, I called 311
(a city hotline our current mayor wisely instituted to give New
Yorkers someplace to call to complain about minor grievances)
from my home phone. A very friendly operator listened to my
story, and to his credit, did not laugh.
"Iíll patch you right through to the sanitation department."
A minute later, Michelle answered.
I told her my story. Michelle repeated my complaint in
disbelief. She hadnít heard the news story. I repeated it as I
had heard it.
"Oh. Okay. I see. A dead mouse. On the sidewalk. Might it
have been a rat?"
"It might have been. I didnít stay to check. I just thought
with the whole missing mouse thing in Newark, you might want to
clean it up sooner rather than later. People might panic."
So far, the only panic had been mine, in getting up the nerve
to make the phone call. But the operator was also a Post 9/11
"Iím going to conference this call with 9-1-1," she
"Is that really necessary?" I asked, feeling like an utter
fool. Was a dead mouse a terrorist act these days? Did it
require the police?
"It never hurts to doublecheck these things. Donít worry.
Iíll introduce you first."
The 9-1-1 operator answered the phone, all business, and the
Michelle efficiently announced her department and identification
number and recited my home telephone number from her caller ID.
I waited, feeling very exposed.
"9-1-1. Go ahead."
"This is going to sound stupid," I admitted. "There was a
news story this morning about six plague-infected mice gone
missing from a lab in Newark. On my way back from daycare, I
passed a flayed and eviscerated mouse on the sidewalk near
"This is about a what? A mouse?" The operator sounded jaded
and irritated simultaneously. No sense of humor or irony. None.
"Yes," I sighed. "I think it might be terrorism, or at least
it could be construed asó"
"Name. Address. Phone."
I gave her everything she wanted and hung up, relieved it was
But it wasnít.
At 10am my home phone rang.
"This is 9-1-1 dispatch," I heard, "Did you make a call about
a dead mouse?"
Yes, I admitted, I had.
"We need you to go to the street corner in question and show
the cops exactly where the mouse was discovered."
"I have to go there?" I thought of the manuscript I
was working on, and how many hours had already been lost to this
ridiculous stab at Post-9/11 Citizenry. "Iíd rather not."
I gave explicit details of the location (one thing New
Yorkers know how to do is identify precise street corner
locations), but he said again that I should meet with the cops.
"You know what? On the off chance that it actually is
infected with the plague virus, I honestly donít want to go near
"You wonít have to go near it, maíam," he said. "The cops
will come to your building. Where on Broadway are you located?"
I suddenly felt harassed. Did they think I was calling in a
bomb hoaxóthat isóa plague mouse hoax? Did they need to see me
to decide whether to arrest me?
"John Street," I said, being as vague as only this city
allows. "Broadway and John."
He said to expect a squad car, thanked me, and hung up. I
grabbed my keys and went outside to wait. Once on the busy
Financial District corner, I realized I had given no description
of myself, nor been asked. I didnít even have a wallet or a
cellphone. And in Lower Manhattan? Police vehicles drive by
every three minutes.
First, a police limo with dark windows. Then two trucks from
ĎSpecial Servicesí. Convinced these were my guys, I waved, but
they kept driving. A few cycles of the traffic light later, a
red squad car marked NYC Sheriff turns onto John Street. I flag
him down, only to discover heís not the one.
"Iím a Sheriff, not a cop, and today, Iím being a mail man,"
he laughs, pointing to a small package on the passenger seat.
Next, he tells me, he has to go pick up a mental health somesuch
thing. I tell him to come back afterwards and if Iím still here,
have me committed. Two squad cars screech to a halt beside one
another in front of the old ATT building, and I interrupt our
tÍte-ŗ-tÍte. A third squad car takes the turn fast and drives
past my favorite department store. No one has noticed me. I feel
like Iím approaching the scene of NYPD Blueóall thatís missing
are the cameras.
The four officers are talking to one another through open
windows. I walk up to the closer of the two cars and ask if they
were sent by 9-1-1.
"Sorry. Weíre not City cops. Weíre Trade Center cops."
A stereotype of serious beat cop got out of the other squad
car: 5í11í, 30s, short dark hair.
"Are you the car that 9-1-1 sent?" (I hope.)
He narrows his eyes. "What's this about, miss?
I turn beet red, shuffle my feet. "A dead mouse."
I seem to have passed the test. He nods. I proceed to tell
the whole stupid story again, and then it starts to rain. He
climbs in the car and tells me to wait a minute. It starts
raining harder. I point to a nearby awning and he says, "Get in
I do, feeling incredibly weird. The driver (a tiny but very
fierce Asian woman) immediately pulls away from the curb,
explaining they want me to show them the place the mouse was.
Now I'm thinking--if by some horrible longshot it IS a plague
mouse, I am being forced by the police to enter the plague site
again. Great. And the wind has picked up.
We get to the spot and of courseótwo hours have passed since
the initial callóthere is no mouse body.
"It was right here," I stammer, pointing to a very clean spot
on the sidewalk in front of a vendor of crystal WTC statuettes
that light up if one pays extra for the base. "Ask the vendor."
"We did, Miss," the male cop said, "No one but you has seen a
"No one sees anything around here," I replied. As if in
proof, I spot a set of keys on the sidewalk nearby. "Look." The
Asian cop is very polite as she tells me I have done the right
thing and to have a nice day. The cops and I stare at the lost
key chain, then I turn to walk home in the rain. They leave the
keys in the rain and drive off. The City is safe again.
M. M. De Voe is a prize-winning author, whose short
fiction has been published in PRISM: International,
The Spectator, SLANT, and Bee Museum. Her
translations of contemporary Lithuanian fiction are forthcoming
in anthologies in Canada and the European Union. Her YA novel,
Burn in our Hearts, was a finalist for the 2004
Bellwether Prize; she is at work on another. She holds an MFA
from Columbia University. Her story "Overheard" appears in the
forthcoming anthology Stirring Up a Storm: Tales of the
Sexual, the Sensual and the Erotic, (Thunderís Mouth Press,
Oct 2005) alongside works by Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol
Oates. The story has been nominated for a 2006 Pushcart Prize.