Monday, February 4, 2019

Flash Fiction: Mouse House

My husband, Stephen, was lizard-sitting in the afternoons for some friends of ours. Of course, he picked up the mail and made sure their condo hadn’t burned down and all the stuff you do when your friends are out of town, too. But mainly, he was there to feed Murray, their bearded dragon. Our friends traveled a lot, so Stephen had lizard-sat several times before, he knew the drill. He’d make sure Murray’s heat lamp was on, refill the water bowl, dump a bag of crickets into the tank and wish Murray bon appetit. The thing was, Murray was ancient, as far as bearded dragons go. He was fifteen years old, which meant he wasn’t chasing much these days. Plus, his eyesight was going. Now, the only way he caught crickets was if one happened to hop right in front of his maw.
During this particular lizard-sitting engagement, Stephen was working an evening shift, which meant he was taking care of Murray in the afternoons. He also frequently came and had lunch with me-- well, lunch for me, breakfast for him.
Stephen picked me up at the office, as usual. When I slid into the passenger seat, I noticed a brown paper bag on the floorboard. I assumed he had packed himself a lunch for work and didn’t think any more about it. We went to the restaurant and had a pleasant meal, (tuna with baby artichokes and lemon oil vinaigrette on ciabatta for me, a meatball grinder for him). Afterwards, Stephen dropped me back at the office. As I started to get out of the car, I brushed the paper bag with my foot. Something squeaked and rustled inside. I jumped. “What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, those are baby mice for Murray,” Stephen said nonchalantly.
“What?” I asked, horrified.
“He can’t catch crickets anymore, so now he eats baby mice.”
“They’re still alive?”
“Well, sure. You didn’t have a problem with me feeding him live crickets.”
I found this in no way reassuring. “And you just left them in here while we were eating lunch?” Snatching up the bag, I peeked inside. In the bottom were the two ittiest, bittiest, pinkest baby mice I had ever seen. They were no bigger than the tip of my finger, eyes closed, tiny paws curled up. Apparently sensing the light on them, they wiggled their noses and mewled pitifully. “You’re really going to feed these to him?”
Stephen shrugged. “He’s gotta eat something.”
Setting the bag quickly back down, I scrambled out of the car. “Don’t tell me. I don’t wanna know.”
I tried not to think about it for the rest of the day. That evening, when I got home from work, I was surprised to find Stephen was there. I was even more surprised to find a new cage sitting on the kitchen table with shredded paper already in the bottom. There was a plastic bag with more supplies from the pet store. One of the baby mice was resting on a folded dish cloth. Stephen was feeding the other with a small nursing bottle. He looked up at me and smiled sheepishly, “You’re right. I couldn’t do it.”

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