Dreams tell much, the head-shrinkers say. My therapist asks of me such things as writing, then telling. I'm shy with words. I'm ashamed of my spelling. But he says that's not the point. All the characters are versions of me, I'm told, so I hold these visions, try to record them, excavate wisdom. Like a rodent, I hoard them.

In one dream, I plow a vast and wide field. I am horse-less, alone. My plow's an old thing from some long-dead time, the earth hard and barren; it will not yield. My thoughts, without thinking, come out in rhyme. At the end of the dream, there's some tragic mistake I cannot remember: chaos, remorse. And then, I wake.

I wake in a mouse house. The mice (there are three besides me) are nice. But they need feed. Need money, honey.

Mama Mouse keeps house, makes winner dinners, buys, sighs. Long ago on a bridge in the woods we made love. Be my bride. A stream rushed below us, around us, inside. But the thrill has spilled. The shone has gone. I think she is fucking the hardware salesman.

Daughter Mouse dates louse. She's a looker. Dresses like hooker. She used to give princess kisses to me. We said goodnight in the great green room. Goodnight little mouse, goodnight moon.

Brother Mouse has a cough, stays plugged in, jerks off. As a little guy, he was Mouse-Pie. He hopped on Pop. Cut the pickle. "Peanut butter!" Tickle, tickle. My peanut's heart was all a-flutter, but the 5:15 left years ago.

I―chubby hubby, square père guy―wear tie. Sell wares. Compute. Loot. Wear suits. Bear suits. Being sued. How shall I sue, being sued? Buy shoes.

"Put it on the list," says Mama. "I'm going into town." She paints lips, shimmies hips. "I'll get a shoe rack at the hardware store."

Have trouble feeling. At work all day I remember the therapists, who say (over and over and over and over) "How do you feel? How do you feel?"

No answer there. I think. I stare. Quiet―ha!―as a you-know-what.

"Mad? Sad? Glad? Afraid?"

Fifty minutes are up. My debt is paid.

At the Park and Ride, I see a mouse. Rare, there. My bus mates grouse and screech and stare as I offer a bit of my cheese and pita―which I'll toss at the office. (For lunch: Margarita!) The mouse declines. Is it she or male? The bus arrives. Fare thee well, wee tail! Not home till eight! Please don't get ate.

Funny to see a mouse in the city like that. In college I studied a poem about mousies, by wee Bobbie Burns. What was that poem? How did it go? The best laid plans of mice and―     

"Joe!"     

That's me. "Hello."     

"Got a minute? Let's chat." I doff my hat.

Says my boss, "Joseph, I'm at a loss..." My work is rough. Not up to snuff. Do I feel frustration? Do I need a vacation? Perhaps modification? Special consideration?

Maybe new medication. Memory irradiation.

"It's severe constipation."

"Take two weeks."     

Elation! I ride the bus home. In the shelter, I kneel. I find my mouse friend. The children will love him. And I will pretend that they're seven and four, wee bairns once again.

I hold out my hand, expect to give chase. But the wee sma' mouse, trembling, goes into my case. There, there. Don't fear. I mean ye no harm, sleekit tim'rous beastie. In my mouse house, it's warm; ye'll have a fine feastie of cheese and nibbles of crackers and kibble the dog left behind. He died. He was kind.     

No one's amused. Mama Mouse blows a fuse. Mouse Son sniggers darkly, a sardonic lad. Daughter Mouse trembles. "What's wrong with you, Dad?"     

Poor Mousie, forgive this most terrible crime. The worst kind of thief in the world, that's what I'm, to steal you away from your home. You maun live. And I must be punished for making you grieve.     

Me and the mousie go out of the housie into the garage. It's a She-mouse, I think.

We get into the car. I start the ignition. I'm sorry, wee mouse. On the way to perdition I open the car door so she can escape. I've no wish to harm you.

Squeeze out now, go on. There's a hole in the wall where the bikes used to be. Go on, sma' companion. Nest well and be free. Hold no ill opinion. There's better than me.

But she finds an old box and burrows inside. The children's school papers I've labored to hide give Mousie good nibble. She stays, believing she's safe at last and spared from consorting with cruel creature Man. And the air grows thick with best laid plans...goodnight nobody, goodnight house.

But no! The words come back in the end. It's best-laid schemes gang afta gley, and dreams that bring us naught but pain and who's to say...who knows why does Mousie stay...and die...like me.

In the morning they'll find us, along with my note. "Dear Mice, I leave you with a quote: 'Thou art blest, compared wi' me! The present only toucheth thee.' And when you find me breathless laid, check one response: mad, glad, sad, afraid."

 


Stephanie Kallos took a twenty-year detour in the theatre as an actress, teacher, and voice coach. Her short fiction has appeared in Carve, The Iconoclast, and Chelsea. She is the mother of two rowdy, beautiful boys, and she earns grocery money as a part-time medical transcriptionist and yoga teacher. Her first novel, Broken for You, will be published by Grove/Atlantic in spring 2004.


I wrote this in July and August of 2002, during which time a mouse was caught unawares by me late one night in the bathroom (the only sign of him was a small tail protruding from under my jewelry box), and our cat Seth delivered several dead rodents to our dining room and to my upstairs office. It was also the summer of Stuart Little 2.

 

 

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