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The Mouse by CL Bledsoe

The Mouse by CL Bledsoe

Fiction, Vol. 3.4, Dec. 2009

After his sister moved out, Boy decided to move into her room, which was bigger and had windows (Boy’s room was actually the old den, which was in the center of the house with no out-facing walls for windows). But mostly, he decided to switch rooms because of the mouse. It rustled and chewed all night, from just after dark till just before dawn. He could hear it, over by the door of the closet in which it lived. It wasn’t that he minded the thing pursuing whatever comfort it could find, but Boy had a weak bladder which necessitated many trips to the bathroom if he made the mistake of drinking anything even two hours before bedtime. But Boy was terrified of stepping on the floor, whether he might step on the mouse and crush it, or whether it might try to eat him from the toes up. Many nights, he lay awake shivering in bed with the need to urinate, listening to the silence broken only by the mouse, which forever nibbled at the shoes of its betters.

*

The closet in Boy’s bedroom wasn’t his. It was his father’s. Boy used the closet in the hall for his clothes. The two closets in his father’s bedroom stood cluttered with some of his mother’s old clothes. This was another reason for taking his sister’s room, as it came with a closet.

Boy was wary of moving out of his room for fear that his father would discover the mouse nesting in his old clothes that had fallen in the back of the closet. But then one night Boy had to pee so badly that he woke disoriented in the dark and got up on the wrong side of his bed and was trapped between the bed and wall, where his bladder released itself. As soon as it was over and he realized what had happened, he had made up his mind.

It was a moot point, anyway, because his father had already smelled the mouse’s ammonia stink and made plans to trap it. That day, Boy moved his things into his sister’s room. It was strange, having all that open space and light, and he sat through less than an hour of being watched by birds and trees before tacking dark sheets over the windows. That evening, his father came home with mouse traps and baited them with peanut butter.

“Last time I did this, I woke up and all the traps were empty. I thought we had some crafty mice until I saw you had purple fingers,” he said.

“Ha ha,” Boy said. “I thought we only kill what we eat. That’s what you told me when we went hunting and you made me eat that blackbird.”

His father didn’t answer. He laid traps out all over the house, and Boy waited till he went to bed to set them all off with a pencil.

*

The next morning, Boy met his father in the kitchen for breakfast just after dawn.

“Boy,” he said, “did you mess with these traps?”

Boy shook his head and held up his decidedly un-purple fingers. “Must be defective,” he said.

“I’m going to set these again,” his father said, “and don’t mess with them this time.”

“All right,” Boy said. “But it wasn’t me.”

His father reset the traps and Boy waited till he left. This time, he found a picture of his sister that she’d scratched up years ago when she went through a phase of defacing her own pictures. He wrote on the back:

Give us Feta or the Girl Gets It

And drew X’s over the eyes and left this in one of the traps. In another one, he put a baby doll, in another, a cigarette. He went through the house and set them all off, leaving strange things in each.

When his father came home, he was furious.

“It wasn’t me,” Boy said, holding up his fingers again, “see? They’re not purple.”

This time, his father set out poison before he went to bed. But he didn’t really go to bed. He waited in his room for several minutes, listening, and then came out and checked all the poison. Boy heard him do this and waited. His father went back into his room and waited a while longer and then came out again. Again, the poison was fine. This time, he lay down and Boy waited until he heard his father snoring before he went through the house, emptying the poison. He left a note in one that read:

Thanks! This was some good shit! Got any weed?

Then he refilled them with cereal.

*

The next morning, his father slammed Boy’s door open and thrust the note out to him. Boy held his fingers up.

“Still not purple,” he said.

“What the shit?” his father said. “What’s the matter with you?”

“I don’t understand the question,” Boy said. “But now that you mention it, the cereal tastes funny.”

His father stared at him for a long moment and fear rose in Boy as he saw the desire in the man to beat him. But it passed and he walked away, leaving the door hanging open.

*

His father didn’t speak to him that night, but he doggedly set the traps and went directly to bed. It made Boy feel bad and he spent the night in front of the closet door, trying to explain the situation to the mouse in hopes of finding some common understanding. But the mouse didn’t emerge, and Boy dozed on the floor. He woke in the dead hours of deep night to a loud snap. He already knew, and he looked down to see the thing struggling its last spurts out. He touched its side to try to calm it, and it wriggled and stopped. He spent a long night with it, stroking its cooling fur. It was almost as bad as the blackbird. His father had made it into a stew and drank beer after beer while he made Boy eat each bite in his bowl. This had been just after mom died. After his father passed out, Boy had taken what was left to the woods and had a funeral for it.

His father was ecstatic in the morning when he discovered the body. He took the trap to the trash and emptied it, whistling the whole time. Boy waited for him to leave and dug the body out. He thought about having a funeral for it, but decided against it. He left it in the sink for a long while and went and lay on the bed in his new room and stared at the creases that looked like faces in the flag his sister had left hanging on the ceiling, but they were mute, as always.

*

When Boy’s father came home, he was surprised at the smell of stew. Boy ladled out a bowlful and set it in front of him. His father breathed it in deeply and took a tentative bite. He smacked his lips loudly, making Boy shudder.

“It’s good,” he said. “What is it?”

“Squirrel,” Boy said.

“Where’d you get squirrel?”

“Found it in the deepfreeze,” Boy said.

“Well it’s good,” his father said, taking another bite.

Boy nodded. “We eat what we kill,” he said.

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