This is a story about a woman named Genevieve. She is a cook for two writers who live in a beautiful house in Lausanne, not far from Lake Geneva. Genevieve is fifty-seven and has blonde hair turning silver. She lives with her husband Henri, a gardener, in a cottage next door to the beautiful house where the writers live.
Genevieve’s parents were bakers who had a bakery in Lausanne called Bon Pain. Genevieve began working in the bakery when she was eight. She loved to bake and she became adept at making delicious breads and pies and cookies. Indeed, Genevieve might have inherited the family business except when she was sixteen she fell in love and ran off with a young man to Zurich where she found work in a restaurant and eventually became an excellent chef, though the young man left her for another.
She reconciled with her parents when she was in her thirties and began spending her holidays in Lausanne. On one of those holidays she met Henri, a gardener, and they fell in love and she moved back to Lausanne and married Henri. For the first few years of their marriage, they lived in a small house on a large estate where Henri was one of three gardeners, and Genevieve was a chef in a fine restaurant.
When Genevieve was forty-four and Henri was forty-one, she was hired by the University of Lausanne to be the housekeeper and cook in the house where writers would come to live for years at a time, and Henri was hired as the gardener and caretaker of the property. They have lived in the cottage next to the writers’ house now for thirteen years and hope to live there for many more years.
The kitchen in the writers’ house is large and airy, modern but not too modern, and Genevieve would change nothing except have a bigger oven and an eight-burner stove instead of a six-burner. But these are small things and she is content to wait until either the stove or the oven needs replacing, which won’t be for some years yet.
Our story begins one winter morning when Genevieve arrives in the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast for the writers and finds evidence that a mouse or mice invaded the kitchen during the night.
“Mon dieu,” says Genevieve, who speaks French, a little German, and very little English. “Twelve years without a sign of a mouse, and now this.”
She has a cup of coffee to sharpen her senses and makes a careful search of the kitchen cupboards and under the sink and behind the refrigerator. And at the bottom of the wall adjacent to the oven she finds a small hole in front of which is a tiny telltale mouse turd.
“Monsieur or Madame mouse?” says Genevieve, speaking to the hole in the wall. “May I have a word with you? I promise not to hurt you if you will come out and speak to me.”
The whiskered snout of a small brown mouse emerges from the hole. “It’s Madame. Madame Fifi.”
“Bonjour Madame Fifi,” says Genevieve, who loves all animals, even mice. “I see you have found a nice warm place to live. Are you planning to stay long?”
“As long as I can,” says the mouse, sticking her head out a little further to have a look at Genevieve.
“Are you alone in there?” asks Genevieve, smiling at the cute little rodent.
“I am presently alone,” says the mouse, “though I am pregnant, so soon there will be more of us.”
“Ah,” says Genevieve, pursing her lips. “This is unfortunate and I must ask you to leave before you give birth.”
“Ask all you want,” says the mouse, somewhat haughtily, “but I’m staying. It’s dreadfully cold outside, the rats in the woodshed are merciless, and food is scarce, though not in your marvelous kitchen.”
“If you were the only mouse in my kitchen and you did not show yourself during the day, I would have no problem with you living here. But I cannot have mice. A mouse, yes. Mice, no.”
“Alas,” says the mouse, “pregnancy is never my choice. I am powerless to elude the males of my kind, even my own progeny. So babies will be born.”
“Could you bear them elsewhere and return here alone?” asks Genevieve, who has grown fond of the mouse.
“Nay. I’m a good mother,” says the mouse with a note of pride in her voice. “This is my nature.”
“Then I must get a cat,” says Genevieve, regretfully.
“If you must, you must,” says the mouse, stoically. “I can only be a mouse.”
So Genevieve tells Henri and the writers about the mouse, and everyone agrees a cat would be a welcome addition to the kitchen, mice or no mice.
Henri makes inquiries and a one-year-old orange and white cat named Francois is gotten from a fishmonger with too many cats. Francois, a most affectionate feline, is overjoyed to move from a cold wet shed into a warm house where people pet him and tell him he is beautiful and feed him well, though not too well lest he have no appetite for mice.
One morning, a year after Francois joined the household, Genevieve is alone with Francois in the kitchen.
“Now tell me Francois,” says Genevieve, scratching Francois behind his ears, “have you killed all the mice?”
“All but one,” says Francois, loving Genevieve’s touch. “Her name is Madame Fifi and she told me you declared that if she is the only mouse in the house I am not to eat her, and so I have not, though I have caught her twice and would have eaten her had she not been the last.”
“But is it not your nature to kill and eat her?” says Genevieve, astounded by Francois’s story. “How could you resist?”
“It is my nature to kill and eat mice, yes,” says Francois, purring as Genevieve pets him. “But it is also my nature to be prudent. And since you do not feed me quite enough to leave me full at night, I very much appreciate the mouthfuls of meat Madame Fifi provides me when her babies come of age and venture forth from the hole in search of food.”
“You are a most ingenious cat, Francois,” says Genevieve, gazing fondly at her pet, “and since I rarely find a mouse turd in my kitchen, I will leave the mouse situation to you.”
Some months later, on another morning when Francois and Genevieve are alone in the kitchen, Francois says, “Genevieve, I have sad news.”
“Tell me,” says Genevieve, bending down to stroke Francois’s glossy fur.
“Madame Fifi is dead. I came upon her corpse last night and put her behind the oven.”
“Does this mean there are no more mice in the house now?” asks Genevieve, gazing sadly at the little hole in the wall.
“No more just yet,” says Francois, “though Madame Fifi’s lair waits only for another mouse to discover that commodious hideout.”
“Shall I have Henri fill up the hole?” asks Genevieve, gazing at Francois. “And feed you more at night?”
“Yes, please,” says Francois, rubbing against Genevieve’s legs. “There are plenty of mice to catch in the garden by day.”
“And do you think Madame Fifi will be the last mouse to live in my kitchen?” asks Genevieve, putting on a pair of old gardening gloves to pick up the stiff little body and throw the corpse outside for the crows to find.
“For a time she will be the last,” says Francois, purring loudly as Genevieve pours milk into his bowl. “But as I’m sure you know, there are no end of mice in the world.”