by Kris Green
Photo from Pexels
Rushing home, Alan swung his front door closed behind him. He ignored the large foreboding creature standing in the kitchen doorway. Not looking directly at it, it loomed in distortion out of the corner of his eye as he ran into the shower before throwing clothes on. Maybe if he moved fast enough, he could outrun its influence. Then looking in the mirror, the feeling of fatigue hit him. It wasn’t that he hadn’t slept. Lord knows those at work loved to tell him you can be tired from sleeping too much. Nor had Alan a particularly busy day. He had really had quite a pleasant day. The whiskers of the creature, just out of sight quivered slightly in the reflection. As he walked, no longer rushing toward the front door, he considered maybe he didn’t want to go back outside today after all.
As he found the couch, his shorts were already discarded on the floor, he sat down on the lopsided end leaning slightly to his right toward the large and foreboding mouse that sat with him. Alan looked at the mouse and sorted through all the many questions to ask. How long have you been here? Why are you here? How long will you stay? Why do you change sizes growing large and then small? But when he opened his mouth to say something, nothing came. His arm lifted turning on the television and his back sank into the soft padding of the couch.
When his phone buzzed, he considered even walking the three steps to his shorts and removing his phone to be a chore. He looked over at the mouse and the mouse shook his head no. Alan sunk deeper into the couch. Before he realized it, his house was dark except for the glowing screen of the television flashing its many colors across the walls.
Even the mouse had gotten up and left him at this point. Alan rose and walked over to the light switch. He hovered over it thinking if he turns it on, he should draw the curtains. If the draws the curtains, then he would have to walk all around the house and then he might as well eat something. The temptation to just go into the bedroom rose heavily inside but lost its battle to the growling stomach.
Alan closed a few of the curtains as the microwave buzzed radiating his frozen dinner. Something he hated but that was his relationship with food lately. He either ate too much or not enough. By the measure on his belt, it was becoming too much. Like everything, his relationship with food was becoming unhealthy.
Cold in the middle, Alan ate around the small piece of brown meat looking substance in the middle of the tray before discarding it and getting a pint of ice cream. As the television show switched to commercial, he thought to turn the channel or stream something. Anything might be better than a commercial but just the same, he saw the mouse standing in the doorway. Alan’s arm went slack, the remote lowered. The pint emptied.
When morning came, Alan awoke on the couch. He rose before his phone buzzed again with the alarm. He let out a small groan in the bathroom reaching for the toothbrush, but catching his own reflection, he froze. The whiskers on his face had grown from neglect into a beard. The bags under his eyes had their own carry-ons as his hand stretched across his belly.
He looked at the small radio. The one he had for years and years that sat with its own collection of dust over it. He thought to wipe off some of that dust and turn it on, but whatever would be on would annoy him. Maybe the silence was better. Maybe it was not. Alone with his thoughts, he considered silence a brutal yet specific form of torture.
He forgot about brushing his teeth and tapped the space bar a few times of his laptop in his makeshift office. Pulling up email, a prompt appeared on the screen reminding him of a meeting in an hour.
He turned feeling his face grow heavier with exhaustion looking at the dining room table. Tucked out of sight from the laptop computer, he was thankful no one would be able to see the Mouse now small but still large enough to be seen laying on his back with legs cross as he seemed to be considering some deep thoughts.
How long had it been since the mouse appeared? How long had his life taken this course? Was the mouse to blame for everything? Or was that just an excuse?
He rose and walked into the kitchen. The coffee maker still dirty from its last use which had been longer than he wanted to admit, while he opened the fridge to pour some premade iced coffee into a large cup. “Extra creamy” the label said, and he had bought it thinking it would make his life easier not having to buy creamer. At least this time the shopper who delivered it had picked up the right one.
As he walked back to the computer, he paused seeing a small black pellet on the floor before stepping over it.. He pulled at his right ear lobe as he considered, that was what had first alerted him to the mouse. It wasn’t the mouse, who’s now brazen acts of presence were more deliberate and foreboding than before. Before it was just a pellet.
Alan rubbed his bare chin lowering the newspaper to observe the small black pellet on the kitchen floor. The article about baby pandas had made him sad, but he didn’t quite know why and frankly if forced to admit it, the idea of retracing his emotions, like retracing one’s steps, terrified him. He rose to look closer at the pellet, hand on hip as he bent over to peer down at it. Then grabbing the paper towel to pick it up.
It was just the first of many proofs of the mouse’s presence. Time rushed forward as scratches appeared on the wall began to appear. Wallpaper peeled as well as the newspapers started to pile neglected and unread. The pile appearing almost overnight since that first fateful morning and that last article that he had never found the will to finish about baby pandas.
One day, when Alan got out of the shower, there it was sitting on the edge of the sink a small, furry little mouse. Alan turned his head to the side looking. The mouse did the same mirroring action. Alan thought to make a sudden move to try and scare it. Then he considered a slow and more methodical approach to try and trap or even kill it. But this mouse was no ordinary mouse. It merely nodded toward him as if to say, “Poke, poke, I am here, a mouse”. Then it turned and disappeared down the drain.
Alan convinced himself, it must be a dog. It wasn’t difficult for him to do. It was one of those things that you just tell yourself and all the symptoms of living with a dog lined up. Must have left the door open one day, he considered. It was the only plausible explanation.
The mouse had begun to grow. This mouse, not all mice, but rather this mouse would grow large and then small. Sometimes it was forceful in making its presence known and sometimes not. But it never left. All the while, Alan convinced himself it was just a dog and would leave on its own.
Deciding something needed to be done, Alan picked up his phone. He didn’t know who to call but thought certainly he should call someone. But went back to the couch where sitting on it, the size of a dog now, sat the mouse.
He went outside to look at his lawn. The crude temptation to mow overwhelmed the size of the job as he witnessed it diminished his will.
“Your lawn could use some work.” His neighbor shouted seeing Alan, hands on hip, looking at the law.
He nodded before turning and going inside.
Alan’s cell phone buzzed with an email from an old friend. His finger hovered over it when his eyes looked up to see the mouse. The mouse shook his head side to side. Alan felt the weight of the email bearing down. He felt the anxiety and stress of merely opening it. If he opened it, he would have to respond. Alan put his phone down.
If Alan had spoken about what had been going on to anyone, they would see it clearly and be able to say, hey that’s not a dog, that’s a mouse. But Alan kept the mouse as his secret. Working from home helped keep the secret. The world didn’t need to know about the mouse.
One day, Alan woke and didn’t see the mouse. He walked around the house, but he didn’t see it. He nodded his head and sat down and ate breakfast. He wondered when he had stopped eating fruit and oatmeal. The oatmeal, there was no fresh fruit, tasted good. How many things in his life had changed because of his guest? He felt his stomach; it had gotten bigger. When had he stopped exercising?
Alan walked around the house again not sure why but subconsciously looking for the mouse. He waited for the mouse to appear, it didn’t. Even approaching the front door, he half expected the mouse to be blocking the door preventing him from leaving. But nothing.
As he opened the front door, he saw the sky was a little brighter than it had been. He walked down his front steps and saw his neighbor.
“How are you?”
Alan didn’t like this question. He realized their regular conversations had gotten less and less. People asked how you are not because they really wanted to know. But maybe his neighbor was different. He smiled weakly and nodded.
“I get it.” His neighbor said.
Alan felt his shoulders slump. “I live with a dog.” He blurted out, not sure why.
“Oh, did something happen?”
“No, it just showed up one day.”
“How long ago?”
Alan frowned trying to think. He thought of it blocking his door and sitting on his couch. It even bought tasty sugary foods for him rather than the healthier foods he should be eating.
“A little while now, I suppose.”
“Well then,” his neighbor, Mrs. Sanders, said, “It sounds like it is a little more threatening then a dog. When my husband died, a dog followed me around for a little while. It happens. It’s natural. But when it doesn’t go away, it is more than a dog. Perhaps, it is a mouse.”
Alan tapped his computer seeing the time and deciding it would be a good time for lunch. As he entered the kitchen, the mouse sat at the table. Human-sized and looking rather sheepish at Alan as he approached.
It was a mouse. He nodded looking at it as it sat, human size at his table. Alan opened the fridge and found nothing remotely healthy to eat before turning around, his eyes narrowing at he looked at the mouse.
“Are you a dog?”
The mouse said nothing.
“You are kind of like a dog. You have fur and you follow me around.”
The mouse said nothing.
“But you don’t leave me alone. Even when I don’t see you, you’re around aren’t you? It’s because you’re not a dog at all but rather a mouse.”
The mouse said nothing.
“What is your name?”
When the mouse didn’t speak, he thought it might never be over. Maybe, the mouse would never leave him. He would have to reevaluate his entire life to living with a mouse. The mouse’s head moved, and he considered, maybe it wanted to speak. That was good. If the mouse spoke, this might come to an end. He hoped it would. Anything could happen and a terrible hope threatened to change his mood.
“What is your name?” Alan asked again wanting not just an answer but wanting freedom.