A Bad Day For Mice
by Samantha Memi
The man was looking at the woman. The woman was looking at the dog. The dog was looking at the cat. The cat was looking at the mouse. The mouse was looking at the crumbs of bread on the floor. The dog growled. The cat turned, hissed at the dog. The mouse ran from behind the cooker, around the cupboard and across the floor to the crumbs under the table. The woman, catching the movement in the corner of her eye, turned, saw the mouse and screamed. The man, thinking she had screamed at the dog, called 'Prince!' Prince leapt at the cat, but the cat leapt back and the dog landed on a rug on the polished wooden floor, slid across the kitchen and crashed into a chair. The chair fell over. The mouse, nibbling a crumb, ran out from under the table, across the floor and into the living room. The cat, its tail fluffed and fur electric, chased the mouse under the sofa. The man, having seen the mouse, ordered, 'Prince, sit!' and followed the cat. The cat sniffed the edges of the sofa, then lay on its side and stretched its paw, claws opened, into the space between the sofa and the floor. The man moved the sofa. The cat looked at the man as if to say 'Stupid,' then sniffed round the edge of the sofa again. The woman came and stood in the doorway and watched the spectacle.
She said, 'Leave it, it doesn't matter, I thought you were going.'
'Its a mouse.'
'I know what it is. I thought you were going.'
'How will you sleep with a mouse running loose?'
'The cat will get it.'
'What if it doesn't?'
The man lifted the sofa. The mouse ran out. The cat pounced, caught the mouse. The dog bounded through, and jumped at the cat. The cat hissed. The mouse escaped. The dog barked. The woman winced at the sound. The mouse ran between her legs. She screamed. The mouse ran into the kitchen, and hid behind a cupboard. The dog barked at the cat. The cat hissed back. The woman spat at the man,
'Get that stupid dog out of here.'
The man shouted, 'Prince, sit!' grabbed the dog and pulled it into a corner. It sat, panting, thinking how clever it was.
'Janine, please ...' said the man.
She picked up the cat and tickled behind its ear. Its heart was beating fast. She carried it through and put it down near the cupboard.
She looked at the man.
'Kill that mouse and then go,' she said.
He found a broom, saw the cat, tail swishing, moved the cupboard, swung the broom at the running mouse and hit a plant instead. The plant broke.
'That's a Chinese Rose,' the woman screamed, and the cat chased the mouse behind the fridge.
'Please go,' said the woman, 'I don't want you here. Go and see Muriel. I'm sure she's not scared of mice. She probably feeds them. Please go.'
'But Janine ...' said the man, 'You're being silly. I don't want to see Muriel. I want to be with you, not her.'
'Bit late for that now,' she said, 'you should have thought of that before you went gallivanting off with her.'
'I only went with her once. We've been through all that. We were drunk,' said the man.
'Oh well, if you were drunk that's all right then,' said the woman, and the cat tried to squeeze behind the fridge. The mouse ran out, across the floor, and under the cooker. The cat wriggled backwards to extricate itself from the wire contraption behind the fridge, then ran over to the cooker.
'You can't say it's finished, just because of one stupid mistake,' said the man.
'I can say what I like,' said Janine, 'It's my flat, my life, and I want you out of both.'
The phone rang. Annoyed, she answered.
'Hello, yes, look Amy I'm really busy at the moment. – Have you? – Oh God, oh all right then. I'll be over as soon as I can. – Yes, I know where it is. – Yes. – Yes, I'm fine. Got a mouse in the kitchen. – Yes, I'm sure it will. – He's here now. – Yes, he's fine. Yes. – No, I haven't heard. I don't think I got it. I mean they would have written by now, wouldn't they. – I don't know, it's a bit of a worry but everyone's unemployed, aren't they? – Ok, I'll be there as soon as I can.' She put down the phone.
'That was Amy. She's run out of petrol, she's in Fulham. Will you please go?'
'I'll come with you.'
'You will not. I don't want you with me. I want you out of my life.'
'We need to talk.'
'I've got nothing to say to you.'
The man crouched down on his hands and knees.
'Look David, you must leave, Amy's stuck in a traffic jam, she's frightened, I've got to take her some petrol.'
'Some friendly motorist will help her.'
'Some unfriendly motorist may well rape her. Look, I've got to go.'
'I'll stay here and get the mouse.'
'I don't want you here when I get back.'
'I'll get the mouse, then I'll leave.'
'Leave the mouse, leave my flat, leave my life, just go.'
David poked the broom handle under the cooker, the mouse ran out, the cat pounced, caught the mouse, mauled it, let it go, pounced again.
The doorbell rang. Janine went through. It was Helen, an old friend she had met recently and invited round, not imagining she would take up the offer. With her was a dog. It barked at the cat. Helen saw the mouse, shrieked, 'My God, it's a mouse.' It ran round in circles with an injured leg and the cat pounced again.
Helen's dog, a Yorkshire terrier, strained at its leash, barking and showing its teeth. Helen refused to move. Prince bounded through to see what the fuss was. David caught its collar. Janine started pushing David,
'Get out of my flat.' She pushed him into the hall where Helen's Yorkshire grizzled at David's labrador-alsation cross. 'I'm sorry Helen, I'm in an awful muddle, my daughter's stuck in Fulham in a traffic jam, she's run out of petrol. So I have to go out. And this is my ex-boyfriend and I can't get rid of him. Come round again. Give me a ring. Have you got my number?'
'Yes, I think so.'
'David, you have to go.'
'Yes, I'll see you again.'
'No, don't bother.'
Helen with the grimacing dog squeezed out of the door and stood looking at Janine, perplexed. Janine pushed David out.
'Give me a ring Helen, I'm sorry about this.'
Janine slammed the door and thought What have I done to deserve this? The mouse was on its back, convulsing. The cat was flicking it across the floor, first one way with one paw, then back with the other; then it crouched, watched the mouse convulse, then wriggled and pounced again. Janine couldn't watch. She went into the living room. There on the sofa was David's jacket. He'd left it there on purpose to give himself an excuse for coming back. She wouldn't let him in. She'd get a chain for the door. She wouldn't let anyone in. She ran to the front door to check he wasn't still talking to Helen, but the hall was empty. She got her handbag, found her keys and jacket. The phone rang.
'Hello mum, it's all right, I saw a friend of mine, what a coincidence, eh, and he got me some petrol. It's really lucky 'cos I really fancy him and I wouldn't normally have dared speak to him, but I just saw him and waved and he came over and now we're going to Brighton. I might not be back tonight. I'll see you tomorrow. Is everything all right?'
'Yes, everything's fine.'
'You sound a bit down.'
'Just tired, that's all.'
'You don't mind, do you?'
'Me, going to Brighton?'
'No, of course not, you go and enjoy yourself.'
'See you tomorrow.'
'Yeah, take care.'
'I will. Bye.'
Janine put the phone down. She was crying. Why had David done that? Why did he want another woman? Soon Amy would be leaving her. Soon she would have no one. She'd be a middle-aged single mum with a grown up daughter who came to visit and scrounge once a month with a succession of boyfriends.
'This is my mum. She lives alone.'
The mouse still clung on to life. Janine poured a glass of Rioja. She looked out at the grey London sky.
'Fuckin' world,' she thought as she swilled down the wine. She wanted to put the mouse out of its misery but didn't know how. The doorbell rang. She didn't move. It rang again. She sat down. The mouse suffered. She poured more wine, drank it like water, poured another, and from the corners of her mouth curled the purple wisps of a clown's smile, and she felt like a mouse escaping the trap, escaping the cat, caught by the poison.