You carefully arranged each piece of straw, each stolen shoelace, each scrap of newspaper. Mama Mouse wanted her nest. She wanted to burrow deep into that hovel on Clay Street and cozy up to her mate. The love will come, she said, The babies will come. All my dreams will flourish.
But the love never came and the babies never came and there was no flourishing of dreams. They festered instead. When you scurried away to build your nest elsewhere, I cried because you were alone. Mice are not meant to live alone. But sometimes sister mice must live apart.
I remember the headline from Medscape Medical News: “Mice Can Avoid Menopause, But Can Women?” Back when I edited copy for the hospital, I ran into more pregnant women on a daily basis than there were people in my high school graduating class. That's what I get for growing up in Appalachia but living and working in Norfolk. Too far from Richmond to snuggle with you and gnaw on wood.
I had my own nest in Ghent, a warm one not built for love but by love. Papa Mouse loved me and I loved Papa Mouse. We were getting on like mice in love do, so we knew we'd be not two but three soon.
There's a Yahoo! Answers thread called “Our mice buried their dead cagemate ...?” It reminds me of how I had to bury my happiness under the cage litter, that way you wouldn't see it. That way you wouldn't think of how your buck mouse had found another doe.
“I still have stuff at our house,” you said one night while we sat on the porch, making fun of the passing marathon runners. Purple and gray tinted the shadows beneath your eyes. You wore no makeup and your hair jumped out like Einstein's. You hadn't showered in days.
“His house. This is your house now,” I said.
“You know what I mean.”
“Use the right words: 'me,' 'my,' 'I.' No more 'we' and 'our'.”
“Can you stop being a big sister for five seconds?”
I chugged my root beer and threw the bottle in the recycling bin by your swing.
“Give me the key,” I said.
“The key to his place.”
“I'm going to get the rest of your stuff. That way you never have to go into that damn apartment again.”
“I can take care of it myself.”
“I don't care if you can. I care that you don't.” I kicked the recycling bin. Bottles crashing against one another filled the silence between us.
“It's like all the other breakups before,” I said, much lower than before. “You'll get through it.”
“I'm getting old.” Fear flashed in your eyes.
I kneeled down and patted your hand. “All of us are. But you will love again. You are strong and you are beautiful.”
You looked down at your lap and whispered, “Thank you.” Then you stood up and fetched the key from your purse. You placed it in the palm of my hand and hugged me long enough for a few runners to stumble by.
“You know,” you started as you pulled away and collapsed on the porch swing. “You'll never be able to carry all that stuff by yourself. I mean, there's not too much left, but it's heavy.”
I shrugged. “I'm going to call Judy to help me. She's not doing anything today.”
So I did. Judy agreed. All it took was the promise of food.
Judy and I nearly kicked his door down since the lock was ancient and rusty. When nobody answered, I forced the key one more time. The lock clicked. He wasn't home.
We scampered up the stairs, nearly tripping over a stack of pizza boxes and PBR cans. Your former bedroom looked like a crime scene. Drawing supplies, condoms, stuffed animals, and dirty clothes made up one foul-smelling potpourri.
Judy glanced at me.
“Let's put shit in garbage bags and come back for the chairs,” I muttered.
Later that afternoon, we piled your living room high with our finds while you hung out with friends on the other side of town. Judy and I split a rotisserie chicken from the corner store before she split. I scrawled you a note and tucked it under your pillow. New nest, new dreams.
After tossing his key in the James River, I hit 64. I missed Papa Mouse and Papa Mouse missed me.
The next morning, I rolled over to quit my phone alarm and scroll through the web news. Apple and Facebook were encouraging their female employees to freeze their eggs, and all the bloggers were wondering which companies would follow. We never talked about it. For now, we will remove “freeze” from your vocabulary. Your nest can't stand to get any colder.
Christine Stoddard is a writer, visual storyteller, and the founding editor of QuailBellMagazine.com. Once Upon a Body, her collection of short stories, is forthcoming from Six Gallery Press (Pittsburgh).