A Better Trap

Dustin M. Hoffman


A NECK SNAPS as my daughter sleeps. She is one year old. I’ve killed five mice. This time, I find the trap licked clean of peanut butter bait, and I’m glad to have provided a last meal. I long for mercy, but my daughter lives here, sleeps open-mouthed here, eats here, mashes her face into the carpet. Or maybe this mouse didn’t get a last meal, and instead its kin lapped up the peanut butter before its dying eyes. I understand the cruelty of survival. How delicate that string of pink mouse tongue must have been, thin as unblown dandelion seeds, the ones my daughter can’t yet dislodge, more spit than wind passing through her lips. Same with candles—spit-speckling her cake as she chants “Happy Tuesday to you.” The “birth” has been lost, and it sounds like we’re celebrating weekday. We marvel at the wonder of Tuesday.

The colony learns to elude the wire traps, and I’m glad to give up the old traps that sometimes misfire and purple my thumbnail. The walls click and scratch at night, and I purchase a better mousetrap—durable plastic, shark-toothed, guaranteed, a snap to set—to protect my thumbnails, to protect my daughter. But under the oven, it melts after one baked Happy Tuesday cake. The plastic shark teeth wilt and warp, are in need of braces. I buy another better mousetrap. My daughter sleeps as I collect half a dozen mice, dumping corpses and re-smearing last-meal bait. The walls go silent.

Later, while walking my dog, daughter backpacked behind me, I encounter a mouse scuttling against the curb, trajectory aimed at our house. It is slow, bumbling. I could easily stomp it. Instead, I nudge it with the toe of my shoe until it aims in the opposite direction. Perhaps a neighbor’s house. Better them. Live anywhere but here.


Return to Fall Issue Volume 11.1


DSC01487 (2)


“Better Trap” is included in Dustin M. Hoffman’s forthcoming collection No Good for Digging, which will be published by Word West Press this December.  He is also the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now is an associate professor of creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared in The Masters ReviewThe Adroit JournalWashington Square ReviewThe Journal, and Juked. You can visit his site here: dustinmhoffman.com