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“The tools, move out the tools!” Dad commanded, as Carter grabbed a rake and a pick, and I a fishing rod clutching its gut. “Clear out those paint cans now!” The brush of the Dutch Boy flying across night, dubiously stacked cans shoved to an epiphany of convincing dunts, Dutch Boy rolling from side to side, convulsing over a broken back, spades of light from the fanged tungsten filament of the overlord bulb, uncovering a sawdust nest and droppings of a mouse, fleeing the spear and net of light, the Day of Judgment all too punctual. The mouse crashing madly against the wall, under the hulking, pendulum tower of a deer — the panicking mouse, infected with dread, racing against destiny — stabbing our ears with shrieks, squickleleequeak, squickleleequeak! Frantic piano casters. Oh, stop it! Stop!
A surprised silence. Dad’s booted foot, sliding on the pulpy nest of sawdust and newsprint, shredded to an accessible guess. It was evident. The mouse had hidden behind a dead battery, long forgotten, inert, yet acid to the touch. Black throwback to another year.
My father’s forecast of a shadow pointed to me.
“The oven pipe, Chris. Get the oven pipe.”
A few days back, we had dismantled an old stove from one of Dad’s duplexes — “dumps” he would call them. It was the first time that I had seen cockroaches.
The tunnel of tin limped through the dark, invaded by the feeble bulb that kept champing from the ceiling, destiny marching towards its conclusion, a king and two pawns advancing on the checkerboard floor of the garage, the king wielding his sceptre of tin. We inched around the battery. The mouse, surrounded by a mountain range of toes, and our father’s boots, its possibilities hocked by our feet.
Silence. Dad’s right hand lowering to a grip on the battery, deus ex machina, his left hand armored with tin, snapping back at the viper of light, the right hand ready, impervious to black acid, ready, ready …
The battery tugged out with a shout, the barrel of tin slammed to the floor, father collapsing to his knees with glee, robbing the mouse of escape, whirring in the cylinder, the mouse bolting in our stomachs to the flang of cinched tin, bitten at last into tile, lobs of its peewee skull pranging against a reality metaphysicians deny — thumping squeaks, piss-wet tail scurrying against time, its tinny voice pitting its wind against the sniggering Fates, its pleas and shrieks quivering our lips. Oh God, make less a monster of our father.
“Get a can, Carter, the peaches. Hurry!”
Carter whimpering to the shelves of canned goods, over towards a pretense of order, grabbed a four-pound tin of peaches with his quaking fingers, presented that mercenary metal to Dad, Carter and I, fighting tears, sucking hot globs in our throats, the oven pipe squeaking like casters, Dad’s tarantular hands suspending the can, craning over to the mouth of the pipe. The mouse — that dumbstruck runt of flesh — paused in its tracks, rose up on its haunches, peered at the tombstone of tin rolling overhead, eclipsing the monster eye, an eye that could gobble its head.
Dad, why are you waiting? Do it now or don’t make us go through with it.
The mouse, now spinning in tin, cringing at the ceiling of peaches, recounting all of its hours in a blur, paced by the arc of a carcass, holding its final Sabbath with black, baptizing our foreheads with an unbearable sweat.
The peaches shrink to a ratching screak, a screeching metal squist that rips our gristle to an erupted flood, vomiting the crumpled pulp, sliding from under itself, the cancellation of all doubt, the death warrant affixed by the squishing sound, the globules of hammered fat crawling in our brains — oh, how can we escape that god-awful sound that bolts in our veins? Yes, yes.
Mother was glad it was done. Hickory-dickory dock. Our hearts limp.
By awakening me to the sufferings of others — both animal and human — the death of the mouse brought empathy to my life. By becoming more humane, I became more fully human.
In the Baha’i Writings, provision is made for the greater good of health and hearth. Later, on becoming a Baha’i, I realized that my father was only trying to protect his own family from the diseases mice can carry. So I learned to understand the perspective of not only the mouse, but of my loving, protective father, too.
Home is where the heart is, as the proverb goes, but the heart is where the soul is, and the spirit of God as well (although both are placeless), as this profound Baha’i aphorism states:
O SON OF BEING! Thy heart is My home; sanctify it for My descent. Thy spirit is My place of revelation; cleanse it for My manifestation. – The Hidden Words, p. 17.
Read the next article in the series: Our Eyes Mirror the Animals
Read the previous article in the series: A Mouse in My Spiritual House
©2013 by Christopher Buck.