The Mouse

A tragedy in miniature.

Sometimes life is too difficult to bear in an upright position. Walking among giants, you’ll find that it is easy to lose your balance.

For nearly a quarter of a century, my heart has been at war with gravity, my blood soldiering against its invisible, unremitting current in the name of a cause I have yet to understand. All the while, the world spins variations on a theme: dark clouds gather. A blade is pressed to the jugular of a neck, pale and slender. There is a gasp of air, and a millisecond in the history of light and sound slips away. Quaking in aftermath, the ground fells us where we stand, rocks us to sleep.

We will all surrender to the floor eventually, our corporeal mass embracing the earth in a lovers’ reunion. With so much violence coursing through our veins, there is a comfort to be had in the promise of inertia. In other words, I find that it is not so bad down here.

At present, there is no furniture in the living room, and I have a clear line of vision from the dust in the corner where the sofa used to be to the dust collecting beneath the radiator on the opposite wall. I am afforded this view because my mother has decided to trade in Swiss dots for something more tasteful, more beige. Our new couch is supposed to arrive over the weekend.

Because I have nothing better to do in my supine state, I wait for the mouse. He’s late. I imagine that it is because he is probably confused — we keep moving things around on him. First, the bagels disappeared from the basket on the kitchen counter. Then, the microwave, coffee-maker, and toaster oven were shifted forward ever so slightly, exposing some of his favorite hiding places. Now this.

He’s a smart mouse, though. Over the past month, he has kept a low profile, dodging glue traps and those of a more sinister variety, sneaking nibbles when we left our baked goods unattended for even a moment. Without the tattered bags — the telltale indications of tiny teeth at work — we might not have even known he was still around.

Except I saw him a few days ago in this very room. I was sitting on our old couch with my legs propped up on the coffee table. I believe I was reading some Yeats for my Modernist poetry class. In the shiver of an instant, a whiz of brown fur came darting across the floor, passing under the bridge of my outstretched limbs, and vanished behind the speckled ruffles.

I was startled, but not because it had all been so sudden. In a way, I was waiting for him then, too. The thing is, our first meeting wasn’t what I expected. I thought he would stop, look me in the eye, plead for my sympathy. I thought I would witness him frozen in fear, see his diminutive body swell with panicked inhalations. I thought I would be moved. Instead, he reminded me of a wind-up toy on the go. Something insensate.

Still, he deserves another chance. That’s what I tell myself as I lie on the floor breathing, waiting. A mid-September breeze spills through the window, and I can hear a car puttering up the street. Overhead, the light is dim and yellow, too weak to really fill up the space. The only thing challenging the emptiness is the possibility of a second encounter.

Here, time recalibrates itself to accommodate life on a smaller scale. I occupy the prolonged minutes by contemplating boredom. Boredom, that grayest facade of depression, materializes when we lose faith that something is going to happen. Conversely, anxiety is our fear that something will happen. I can’t decide which is worse.

I do decide that if boredom were objectified it would be a penny — pointless but everywhere. This is not a giant leap for me to make; the penny stuck to the back of my arm comes away easily, leaving a faint red impression which will soon fade. Long ago, I believed that unusual coins had magic powers. I used to walk around with a schilling in my right shoe, pretending that I could discern the outline of edelweiss beneath my big toe. But pennies, they were always bastards.

To my right, I see an object that suggests a little more zing. It is a pea-sized, translucent pink bead with specks of glitter floating in its depths. It’s the type of bauble most commonly found strung on little girls’ necklaces. I wonder how it got there. I wonder what the mouse would make of this enchanted ball if he came across it in his travels …

But maybe he’s taking a rain check. Maybe he’s huddled in his apartment in the wall, too cozy to venture out in the open, where the breeze feels as cold as the breath of Pluto. He’s probably snug in his matchbook bed. It’s right next to his nightstand, the one fashioned from a spool of thread. Maybe he’s dreaming that the overhead light in our living room is made entirely of cheese.

I look again and see that the floor is sprinkled with other treasures. Tiny pebbles form a trail leading beneath the radiator. They are turquoise and not so different from the gravel in the bottom of our fish tank. That makes sense, but I have to ask myself when the last time was that someone dragged a broom through here. Squinting, I see that there is something not quite right about those colorful granules — they are too jagged, too cylindrical.

I break my posture of repose and crawl over to the radiator. Reaching my hand beneath the metal pipework, I extract a small, brown box. The lid is ripped halfway open, revealing more of the magic pebbles, but the mystery is solved once I read the words on top: “d-CON Ready Mixed Baitbits,” guaranteed to “kill mice and rats.” It turns out that there will be no second chances for either of us.

Now the mouse is lying in his bed, but he’s gasping for air. He feels like he is on fire. I am sitting on the floor in my living room, feeling betrayed. I didn’t know about this brown box. I shake it, listening to the sound of rain. He was supposed to be too smart for this.

I lie back down for a moment, forgetting that emotion is a trick I’ve been practicing since my petrified youth. The breeze picks up, stirring the detritus around me, and the house shudders in my place.

Article © 2004 by Sarah David