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- Story Listed as: Fiction For Adults
- Theme: Drama Stories / Human Interest Stories
- Subject: Inspirational / Uplifting
- Published: 03/25/2011
Mouse DroppingsBorn 1943, F, from Elk Grove, California, United States
They looked like sesame seeds, but she knew what they were. Mouse droppings; in the drawers, on the floor, in the sink. Her home in Santa Barbara wasn’t much, but at least it didn’t have mice! On the other hand, it wasn’t even hers anymore since Chuck divorced her when she returned from the hospital following her stroke and sold the house. Hadn’t he promised to love her “in sickness and in health”? But no sooner had she become ill and he bailed.
So here she was, standing in the middle of Cousin Brian’s Tahoe cabin, on loan through the summer. The cabin had all the comforts of home; leather sofa, hand made log kitchen table and chairs, 30” TV with a stack of DVD’s, and comforters on the sofa. The kitchen window overlooked a redwood deck and a bubbling creek trickling over mossy rocks beneath towering pine trees. Birds flitted and chirped cheerfully above her head. It was truly beautiful.
The wood burning stove made her think of a warm cozy fire on a cold snowy night, but on its sleek black surface were mouse droppings. Didn’t mice carry 30 types of disease, or was that cock roaches?
Gina carried her suitcase upstairs to the bedroom with a handmade log dresser with moose head drawer pulls. She walked carefully; her balance still wasn’t good, but every day she had better control of her right foot. Couldn’t Chuck see that she was getting better? Why had he left when she needed him most? She blinked to keep the tears from spilling, caught up in a serious pity party.
First her stroke, then her divorce, topped by selling the house and half of her proceeds going to the credit cards and the mortgage, and losing her dog. Chuck gave away her spotted brown and white terrier while she was hospitalized. “He’ll be too much trouble to take care of,” he said, “It’s going to be hard enough taking care of you.” Nice guy!
The smell of fresh pine trees drifted through the open window. She wiped her eyes and smiled, pushing her troubles from her mind. She couldn’t deny her delight in the beauty of the cabin and its surroundings.
Gina returned to the kitchen and turned on the teakettle. She carried her mug of tea to the redwood deck, closed her eyes and listened to the twittering birds and trickling stream. She felt like a glass dome had settled over her head. Occasionally, the rumble of a passing truck broke the silence. Even the cabin next door looked abandoned.
“It’s as though there aren’t any troubles, or illness or divorce.” Gina sighed and lay back in the lawn chair, sipping her tea. “Tomorrow, I’ll go into town and look up the Physical Therapist my doctor recommended.”
After a light supper, she watched a DVD. With the setting of the sun, the cabin felt chilled in the mountain shade and she appreciated the comforters on the couch.
Gina jolted awake at the sound of scratching coming from the wall. The TV screen flickered snow. “What was that?” She struggled to calm her thumping heart. “It’s just that darn mouse. He’s looking for crumbs.” She laughed at her wild imagination.
Gina rose from the couch, rubbing the crick in her neck; not the best place to spend the night. Gina crawled into bed, convinced she couldn’t sleep with so many things on her mind.
It seemed only minutes until the sun streamed through the bedroom window and onto her face. From across the room, she heard a voice. “It’s really not your fault, you know.”
Gina’s heart thumped. “Who said that?”
“It’s just me.”
Gina scooted up in the bed, her back against the headboard, pulling the covers close to her neck. Frantically seeking the source of the voice, Gina’s eyes came to rest on a mouse on the corner of the dresser.
“I said, it’s not your fault.”
“What are you talking about? What am I saying? How can you be talking at all? Am I still asleep?”
“I’m not an expert, you know, but I’d say you’re awake. I’m talking about you blaming yourself for what’s happened. I said, it’s not your fault!”
Gina closed her mouth. Her head buzzed and the room looked a little swishey. She must be dreaming. A talking mouse wasn’t real. She was under a lot of stress. Anybody who had gone through what she had, over the past three months, might see a talking mouse. “How is it possible that you can talk?”
“It’s not unheard of, you know. I can name a number of talking mice. You’ve got Mickey Mouse, Mighty Mouse, and Tom and Jerry. Wasn’t Tom the mouse? No, I think Tom was the cat. Jerry was the mouse. As I recall, they all talked.”
Gina shook her head, still disbelieving her eyes and her ears. “Mickey Mouse and Mighty Mouse are cartoon characters. They aren’t real. I’m pretty sure real mice don’t talk.”
“You were pretty sure your husband would stick with you after your stroke too. Look how that turned out.”
“You’ve got me there. But how can you say it isn’t my fault? Of course it’s my fault. If I didn’t have a stroke, my husband wouldn’t have divorced me, given away my dog and sold my house. It’s definitely my fault.”
“Let me see,” the mouse, added, “By using that logic, if you hadn’t worked at Cruson’s, you wouldn’t have met your husband, so when you had a stroke, he could divorce you and give away your dog and sell the house. So I guess all this is actually your employer’s fault for hiring you in the first place. Did you think to file for Worker’s Compensation?”
Gina laughed. “I guess you’re right. I never thought of it that way.” She reached for the glass of water by the side of her bed. “How did you get so smart?” she said, turning back toward the diminutive creature. The mouse was gone…
Gina threw back the covers, peered under the bed and around the bedroom.
“I guess I was dreaming after all. It’s ridiculous to think that a mouse could…” On the dresser, she saw mouse droppings.
“Okay, so there was a real mouse! I probably saw the mouse just as I was waking up and dreamed the rest.”
After breakfast, Gina drove down the winding road to the town of Lake Tahoe. The highway was cut into the side of the mountain, thousands of feet above the Tahoe valley, where the clear blue lake shimmered in the distance.
In town, she located the Physical Therapy Center. An appointment with a therapist had been made in advance. She gave the receptionist her physician’s orders.
Jake, the physical therapist, had designed a therapy program for Gina three days a week in the clinic and daily home exercises. Jake treated Gina to a cup of coffee in the lounge when the therapy session was over.
“How long will you be in Lake Tahoe, Gina?” He ran his hand through his curly blond hair.
“Hopefully just through the summer. I’ll be going back to work in Santa Barbara in October.” Gina could feel her heart quicken a bit. Jake was very good looking!
“You’re kidding! I’m here on a summer intern program. I get my Physical Therapy credentials in the fall and I have a job lined up at a Santa Barbara hospital. We’ll be neighbors!”
“Well, small world. I’d be glad to show you around town.” Gina replied.
“Apparently we’ll both be gone before the snow flies,” Jake laughed.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do before then. My job requires a lot of walking. I’ve got to build up this darn leg so I can handle it. Who ever heard of having a stroke at the age of 37?” Gina slammed her cup down, sloshing coffee onto the table.
Jake put his hand on her arm. “Gina, take it easy! It’s not your fault!”
Gina stared at him. “What did you say?”
“I said, sometimes things just happen. It’s not your fault.”
“That’s the second time I’ve heard that today,” Gina smiled. “I’m beginning to think it might be true.”
“You’ll get your strength back. It’s just going to take a little time. We’ve got all summer to work on it. Think positive. I’m sure everything will be okay.”
“Thanks, Jake. I’ll try.”
“I’ll see you in two days. We’ll talk more then.”
Gina returned to the cabin, encouraged by her therapy session and Jake’s words. She thought it was odd that he should say almost the same thing as the mouse in her dream. She remembered her friend’s advice, “Stay cheerful, things will get better.”
Easy to say when you aren’t homeless, crippled and abandoned. These same friends would kiss her good-bye and walk away in their healthy bodies to their perfect marriages and nice homes, while she returned to…what? Gina wiped tears from her face. “I won’t give up. Things will get better and I won’t give in to it. I just miss my dog and I’m so alone". She threw herself on the couch and sobbed until she exhausted herself. A voice broke through her tears.
“Why don’t you call her?”
“I said, you should call her.”
Gina dabbed at her eyes. The mouse was sitting on the kitchen table.
“You know who. You’ve thought about it 100 times. Why don’t you just pick up the phone?”
“You mean call Mrs. Johnson about my dog?”
“What good would it do? They probably love Wuffles. They wouldn’t want to give him back. Besides, he’s probably forgotten all about me.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?”
“… not really. I mean, I don’t think he’s forgotten me, but the Johnson’s probably wouldn’t want to give him up.”
“Why don’t you call and find out? At the very least, you can see how he’s getting along. No harm in that, is there?”
“No. I guess not. Hey! I thought you were a dream. And here you are talking again like a…a...person. For Pete’s sake, get off the kitchen table! It’s bad enough to have a talking mouse in the house. The least you can do is stay off my table.”
“Sorry.” The mouse scurried down onto the floor where he wiggled his whiskers.
“Okay, I’ll call them. Stay off the table!”
Gina thumbed through her address book and dialed the Johnson’s number. “Hi, Mrs. Johnson? This is Gina. How are you?”
“I’m fine. How are you doing? We think of you so often. We’ve wondered how you’re getting along. Are you still in Santa Barbara?”
“No. I’m spending some time in my cousin’s cabin in Tahoe. I just called to check on Wuffles.”
“Well, you know, we were just talking about you this morning. I was going to try to get in touch with you. Jeff has a job offer in the Bay Area and we’ll be moving into a condo. We won’t be able to take Wuffles. I wanted you to know in case you were able…”
“Am I able? Are you kidding? I was going to ask if you’d be willing to give him back to me!”
“Well, didn’t that work out fine? We won’t be going for about a month, so you can come and pick him up any time it’s convenient.”
Gina made arrangements to get Wuffles the next time she came to Santa Barbara. They had just ended their conversation and Gina turned toward the mouse. “You were right! Mrs. Johnson said…” The mouse was gone.
Gina couldn’t be happier, making plans for the future. She would bring Wuffles here to the cabin in Tahoe. They would take long walks along the river. Next Fall, she would find an apartment that allowed pets. With these happy thoughts, she headed for bed.
Gina opened the bathroom window curtain to look at the stars. She noticed a light moving in the abandoned cabin next door. Who could be over there? Why didn’t they turn on the lights? She saw a man carry something large and heavy through the front door and then the car sagged as the heavy object was dropped into the trunk.
Gina’s heartbeat quickened. “Stop it,” she admonished herself. “You’ve been watching too many murder mysteries.”
The car pulled slowly from the driveway and turned up the hill. She was unable to read the license number or notice the make of the car. She checked the locks on the doors and went to bed. Once she was in bed, sleep would not come. She kept thinking of what she had seen.
“It was probably a heavy rug. He was probably taking it to the cleaners at 1:30 in the morning. Yeah, right, that’s what it was. Or maybe he was taking a bushel of potatoes to the Farmer’s Market that opens really, really early down in Lake Tahoe, yeah that would explain it. Oh...oh, it was probably a bundle of old clothes and he was on his way to the Salvation Army, uh huh, Let’s face it, you know what it was.
The guy’s wife had a stroke and he doesn’t want to take care of her. He didn’t bother with divorce. He just killed her and put her body in the trunk and he’s going to bury her. They’ll never find her body and he’ll never get caught. He probably strangled her little dog too!”
Her heart pounded. Should she call the police? They wouldn’t believe her. She couldn’t identify the car or the driver. All she saw was somebody loading something heavy in the trunk at 1:30 in the morning. What reasonable explanation could there be except that he killed his wife and was hiding the body? She picked up the phone to dial the police and hung it up again. She wrung her hands, undecided. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised when she heard his voice.
“Don’t worry about it. It was George’s son, Randy!”
Gina turned toward the voice. That darned mouse was sitting on the dresser. “Are you sure? What was he carrying? How do you know?”
“Let me see. Am I sure? Yes, I’m sure because I heard him on the cell phone, talking to his dad. What was he carrying? It was his duffel bag. How do I know? Because I was over in his cabin earlier this evening. Randy drove all day from Boise, Idaho, on his way to the San Francisco airport. He stopped at his dad’s cabin to sleep for a few hours and he left at 1:30 in the morning because his plane leaves for Iraq at 6:30 tomorrow morning. Any more questions?”
“Um, no, I guess not.”
“Gina, you’ve got to get a grip. Your problems are all behind you now. Your health is improving. You’ve got a home for the next three months. You’ve made a new friend. You’re getting your dog back. Your old job is waiting. Why are you imagining killers in the middle of the night? Honey, you’ve got to think about the positive things in your life. Look forward to the future, don’t let the past keep dragging you down.”
Gina thought. That’s pretty much what Jake said yesterday. And it must be true. Maybe if I stopped dwelling on my troubles, I wouldn’t be talking to a mouse.
“You’re right, I’m going to concentrate on the future and…” but before she could finish her thought, the mouse scampered away.
Gina lay in her bed, thinking. Just two days ago when she came to the cabin, she was homeless and crippled in her body and spirit. She felt broken, abandoned and unloved. In two short days, things had changed. Or was it just her perspective that had changed? She began to see that the problems she thought so insurmountable; the stroke, the divorce, losing the house, were really just minor annoyances now, like mouse droppings. She had so much to look forward to. She was getting better every day. She was getting Wuffles back. Her job was waiting in Santa Barbara. It was time to start a new chapter in her life. With these happy thoughts, Gina settled down to sleep. She snuggled deeper into the covers and then she heard it.
Gina sat up in the bed, her eyes wide. What was that? It sounded like -like a mousetrap. Oh no! She threw the covers back and jumped from the bed. “Mouse! Mouse! Where are you? ”
There was no answer. Where was it? Gina moved shoes, pulled the dresser from the wall, turned over the wastebasket, searched through the closet. There it was! The moonlight gleaming through the window cast an eery glow on the still brown body that lay mashed beneath the cruel wire. His beady eyes were glazed and the familiar whiskers no longer wiggled. Gina wept for the little creature that had comforted her with his words of encouragement, or perhaps he never spoke at all. Perhaps only seeing the mouse had influenced her dreams and loosed the strength and courage that had been within her all the time. Either way, it was too late. His presence had helped her move toward emotional healing.
Gina wiped tears from her cheeks and stroked his still warm body with wet fingertips.
She thought of the inspiring words she had heard since coming to the cabin; Jake’s encouraging words, Mrs. Johnson’s welcome words promising Wuffles’ return, words from the mouse, real or imaginary, that set her on the path toward acceptance and emotional recovery, but none of these words brought her as much profound relief and joy as the words that came from out of the darkness…
“Gina, I tried my best to warn that young rascal about the trap in the closet, but the darn fool would never listen…”