Chapter Five: Evening
On the evening of the day on which her life had effectively changed forever, she had awakened, yawned hugely, stretched, licked her paws, then thoroughly scrubbed her whiskers and face. After she had completed her ablution, she moved languidly to the main entrance of her burrow, peeking out and sniffing the air. A tiny moth, resembling a bit of bark, flitted past her nose, causing her to appear comically cross-eyed as she attempted to focus on it.
The slanting golden rays of the semitropical sun were a welcome relief from the steady rain that had fallen over the previous several days. It had been impossible for her to venture out in search of food, especially since a portion of her burrow had become flooded. She had found it necessary to deplete the small amount of stores which she had been able to set aside, and her stomach was beginning to growl. She looked forward to a good meal and a long evening devoted to refilling her empty pantries.
She ventured slowly out, nose and ears ever attuned to detect any indication that danger might lurk nearby. She darted from cover to cover, like a pinball in full play. Much of the vegetation under which she crouched retained a substantial film of moisture from the recent rains, and she found that her fur became rapidly saturated, forcing her to pause frequently to lick herself dry. This was beneficial in that her thirst was quenched, pleasing rather than irritating her, and after each halt she continued contentedly on in search of food.
A soft, silken shroud of dusk had spread itself across the land by the time she located a lonely stand of wild maize. She searched diligently among the tall, slender greenery until she discovered an ear which had fallen from its stalk. She sniffed at it avidly, decided that it was edible and gnawed through the tough outer husk to reach the sweet, tender kernels within. As she ate, she eyed a rambling train of ants that had disgorged from a diminutive anthill near the base of one of the stalks. Like electrons shed from a stream of atoms, several individuals peeled off to head in various directions as the main body continued on, headed directly toward her meal. Antennae waving furiously, the ants swarmed up and over the ear of maize, gnawing off tiny morsels to carry back to their nest. As they invaded the section of cob upon which she was dining, she became annoyed and began to snap at them, hoping to drive them away. Catching one between her teeth, she chewed on it experimentally, quickly spitting it out as the acrid taste of formic acid irritated her palate.
As she had eaten her fill of the maize, she decided to leave the remainder to the voracious ants and begin her search for seeds and nuts with which to restock her larders. Whiskers twitching, she raised her nose and sniffed the evening air. A familiar scent reached her nostrils and she trotted forward, halting as another mouse rounded one of the stalks and stared in her direction. This newcomer was of a slightly larger build, with a coat the color of cocoa and a tidy beige belly. Her senses quickly informed her that this was one of her brothers, whom she had not seen since leaving the nest three weeks before. The kindred kits approached each other, twitching their whiskers and sampling the air, assuring themselves that nothing was amiss. Communicating, as mice will, with pheromones, scents and sounds, they compared notes about good things to eat and where they could be found, and traded news about the comings and goings of other members of their family. After they had caught up on all the recent events, they genially said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
The moon was approaching fullness this warm summer night, shedding its silvery brilliance over the grassy uplands and the verdant trees of the ancient and mysterious forest, a place to which the tiny mouse had never ventured. She would actually have preferred the total darkness of a new moon, opining that it would have provided her an extra measure of safety from the predators that prowled the night in search of such as her. Be that as it may, she did enjoy the play of moonlight over the rocks and grasses through which she wended her way, even as she avoided it in favor of the deep shadows that shielded her from view. All of her senses were on full alert, tasting the air and scanning far and wide with ears and eyes. The air was redolent with the scents of moisture and greenery, and less definable things. The stillness of the evening was punctuated by the soft breeze rustling through the grass, the buzzing of small insects, and the occasional wild cries of large animals moving about the nightscape, sounding thankfully distant to her quivering ears.
At most times she would not have strayed very far from her burrow, but the multitude of mice this year had depleted the supply of readily available foodstuffs and she found herself having to travel further afield in order to locate storable seeds and nuts. On this night she continued on for a long time before she detected the delectable aroma of something edible. Moving forward warily, she discovered a batch of largish nuts with olive green hulls that had likely been shaken loose by the recent heavy rains. She was unfamiliar with these particular nuts, but they possessed an enticing scent and she was persuaded that they would make an appetizing addition to her pantry. To her chagrin, the nuts were so large that she could carry only one at a time. Heaving the mousey equivalent of a sigh, she began the long trek back to her burrow with a succulent nut clenched firmly in her teeth.
I hope that, in some small way, I have given you an indication of what it is like to be a mouse. Any verisimilitude in my tale is derived from direct observation of my pets, and I extrapolate from that to imagine what it must be like in the wild. Oddly enough, in popular literature people, particularly women, are portrayed as being afraid of mice (the farmer's wife being the rare exception), when in actuality the opposite is the case. If you have ever stood at the base of the Empire State Building and craned your neck to see the top, you know how a mouse would feel if it were to look up at you. When we contemplate our insignificance in relation to the unutterable vastness of the universe, we can only imagine how a mouse must feel.
It occurs to me that I have not given my heroine a name. You may call her what you wish; I tend to think of her as Everymouse. If you need a name, you could think of her as Lona. I have read somewhere that it is Spanish for 'solitary', and it will do just fine.
Until tomorrow, peace.
All content copyright Malcolm Mott 2005