This story is one I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, but other things have been serious distractions from writing, especially in the recent past. Sometimes, ya gotta do what you want to do, in the present, because tomorrows have the habit of being used for other things.
This story is quite a few years old, but it’s one that makes me rethink the nature of nature, and of our animal friends. “Friends” is a conventional word that often doesn’t really apply to both parties in man – to – animal relationships. It’s most often the human who’s the fickle friend.
In the state where I lived, it may or may not have been legal to keep a feral mouse. I’d not do it now – for various reasons – but in the moments of the Mr. Mouse saga, I was swept up by my curiousity – and his. I tend to judge an animals intelligence level by its curiosity factor. I mean, when I say that – to include humans. Mr. mouse’s curiosity was a trigger for mine. Let me explain.
One night as I slept, I heard a scratching and clawing sound as I lay on my bed. You know how it is when dawn has not yet arrived – and your consciousness has barely begun to arise in your brain. You’re alerted to something – but too drowsy to have solid thoughts about it. This is as it was on the first morning of Mr. Mouse – and the long relationship that resulted from first contact.
My eyes opened, and the fuzzy gray of the dimly lit room allowed my eyes to focus on the alarm clock – not yet at the three o’clock mark. My head began to drop back down onto my pillow, but from the gray light another small bit of gray movement caught my eye, and a scratching noise heightened my awareness. Just to the side of the clock, on top of the night stand, a fuzzy gray form was atop my can of nuts, jiggling around in deliberate small motions. I eat nuts all the time, so it was normal for a metal tin of those scrumptuous items to be placed next to the bed. The little creature was crouched down, having one arm pushed down thru the small hole he’d cut with his teeth. His head disappeared into the can, and then reappeared with a nut held tightly in his mouth. It was at this point that he recogzied my movement. For him, the sleeping giant had awakened.
For a moment, his big black eyes stared at me. Seemingly he needed a moment to decide what to do. He made his decision, bit down hard on the nut (at least I think so) – and scurried off of the stand and down onto the floor. He rocket-shot his little body across the room and out of it, leaving via the gap under the door. I looked at the top of the nut can. It was nearly full, and I wasn’t going to be having any more of them. I thought I’d see if Mr. Mouse (that wasn’t his name yet) – would be brave enough to make another trip, and I waited in the dark.
Only a few minutes were required for Mr. Mouse to carry the morsel he’d purloined to his pantry or stockpile – wherever that was. I didn’t even hear him come back across the floor. Suddenly, he could be heard digging in the little can of almonds. He looked at me briefly, but I did not move. Off he went with almond nut number two. A few minutes later he returned for the third.
I thought about the idea of his shopping trips ongoing while I slept, and decided to give him a reason to stop. I mean, how many nuts does a little bloke like that really need, anyway? I quickly overturned the metal can, allowing it to rest on its plastic lid near the clock. “That should do it, I thought.”
I don’t know how much later it was when I heard Mr. Mouse again. I don’t know if he sat there at the nut can and calculated a plan in his tiny head. All I know is that the new sound was much different. The new sound was more of a sliding sound, not a scratching one. I looked over at the top of the nightstand, and was astonished at what I saw. He was between the clock and the can. His back feet were firmly planted on the nightstand’s cherry wood top. He was standing up, and pressing against the can with his tiny arms and hands, throwing his weight against the object of his effort.
Amazingly, it budged. He kept doing it, budging the can much larger than him a quarter inch as a time. After a while, he walked around the circumference of the can, which he had pushed so that one third of its diameter was cantilevered over the edge of the nightstand’s precipace. He reached down under the lid, which miraculously was positioned so that the small hole was over the ledge. He knocked a couple almonds down onto the floor. I stared at Mr. Mouse. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
As he scurried off of the top of the furniture, and down to his latest plunder, I thought about how unlikely it was that such a tiny creature, with a relatively tiny brain, could have had the ability to fashion the sort of solution I’d just witnessed. In my thoughts, I wondered and wandered – and I fell asleep.
When the dawn light energized my consciousness enough to rise, I took a look at the metal tin on the nightstand. It was empty. On the floor, lay a few pieces of the chaff that sometimes flakes off of an almond. “That guy must have worked all night” was the thought I then entertained. I didn’t see Mr. mouse for a while, but one day he again surfaced in my room. Maybe his stockpile was running low, because it was broad daylight. He ran across the room to a place on the wall where there was a break in the baseboard. It allowed space for his body and maybe twice its width – and I guess he thought I couldn’t see him. I while later, I came back to the baseboard, and he was gone. Realizing that mice often take the same track to a destination, I left an almond in the little miniture mouse cubicle in which he’d sought refuge from the giant. Hours later, it was gone.
This went on for a while, but one day he didn’t take his nuts. Instead, he left the nuts with narrow teeth marks – pulled across each nut lengthwise, evenly spaced, like the stitches on a football, six times. I pondered for a while about the nuts, wondering why the little guy had done what he’d done. Then I noticed a little drop of blood next to one of the nuts. I wondered if his teeth had developed some issue, such that he couldn’t eat the almonds. On a whim, I removed the almonds and replaced them with soft cashews. The next day, the cashews were gone, but something else lay in the little cubicle. It was a bright red spot, and I thought maybe another drop of blood.
Bending over, I caught a glint of light from the spot, and lowering myself to the floor, discovered that it was not blood at all. It was a gem of sorts – and looked like ruby. It was plastic, of course, and probably from some little girls long lost plastic ring from the previous owner of the house. I’d never seen it before.