Boys and Mice


by Deirdre Erin Lockhart

As a mother of boys I am constantly learning. Take the issue of mice for example. To me a mouse is something for which you set a trap, plug your nose, and toss behind the barn. To Jake and Caleb—five and seven—a mouse is something that you buy and cuddle. Imagine spending three dollars to import a mouse into your home!

But they begged. And it was going to stay in their room. Under glass. And I couldn't say "no" to Jake when Caleb thrust him before me, pointed to his cherub face—artfully streaked with tears—and said, "But Mommy, Jake loves it."

Caleb's a bully.

So they got their mouse: Squeaky, a skinny thing with a long, twitching, hairless, pink tail. The tail bothered me the most. Right now it stuck out from Jake's hands and slapped his chubby fingers as they said their prayers. I looked away.

After all it made them happy. And it stayed in their room.

"Why don't you like Squeaky?" Jake asked me as I tucked him into his bed and ordered the mouse into its cage.

"I don't like mice, baby." I kissed his forehead.

"But why, Mommy? You never even look at him. He's so sweet."

"Perhaps." I reached for the light switch, and Jake popped out of bed again.

"Please look at him, Mommy." He shoved that creature into my face. The tail wrapped around his thumbs, the nose twitched, and six curious eyes wondered over my disgust.

"What's wrong with him, Mommy?"

"Nothing, baby. He's just a mouse. Go to bed."

"But he's sweet. You liked our gerbil."

The pink snaked around his forefinger and dangled, stiff, midair. "Francis didn't have that tail."

Jake's nose scrunched. He released the mouse to Caleb's insistent fingers, and as I closed the door, I heard Caleb hiss something about not pushing it. After all, I allowed them to keep the thing.

That was last night. It was morning now. A long Saturday morning. But the cartoons have not been on, nor I have glimpsed my boys. "Breakfast." I called. There were whispers and shuffles. They knew not to wake their Daddy. Caleb entered, beaming. Then Jake. Jake had something behind his back.

"Did you wash your hands?" I asked.

Nods.

"Mommy, do you like Squeaky now?" Jake thrust the mouse forward. It was quivering. He set it on the table. The tail was gone.

My heart stopped. "What did you do?"

"We cut it off, Mommy." Caleb bragged.

Something pink escaped his fist.

"Now do you love him, too?" Jake asked.

Theirs were the faces of angels. There was blood on Jake's place-mat, and Squeaky was motionless, not even attempting an escape into my kitchen.

My heart broke. "Oh, baby, yes I love him."

I reached for the cornstarch to stanch that blood and eyed my boys, both so proud of themselves, and from the corner of my eye, I saw Caleb toss that amputated tail into the trash.

Needless to say, Squeaky earned a place at my table. Even a tidbit now and then.


BIO: DEIRDRE ERIN LOCKHART is a Canadian author with stories regularly appearing in Joyful! Magazine.