I know it wasn’t easy being you. The endless search for food. The seeking for warmth and shelter. The foxes fixed on a quick meal. The hawks swooping from a great beyond so vast you probably wouldn’t have seen them until the shadow fell and you were seized screaming, picked apart on some remote tree limb, eaten alive.

That this did not become your fate must have been small solace. You knew the hawks were there, watching your every move, determined to reward the slightest lapse of your attention with certain death.

It was the very state of existence that caught up with you, the endless seeking and hiding.

How many times did you make a mad dash through the dark, emerging from a brush pile to open lawn, running pellmell across the pavement knowing you had a target on your back? Were you one of those sneaking into the house for warmth, licking the condensation off of water pipes for hydration, rummaging for seeds, and desperately gnawing the plastic from a countertop loaf of bread in the dark as we slept?

Did you lick the peanut butter from the mouse trap in the attic, only to watch your brother or sister die ignominiously with a broken back? I discarded a dozen of your kind this fall, holding each reusable trap at arm’s length but unable to resist observation of the sex before squeezing the trap open and depositing the carcass into the kitchen trash bag.

Those gravity-defying creatures, once scaling vertical obstacles with so little effort, finally dropped like stone statues into the trash when released from a foot above, only their stiff tails dithering in the air like disconnected wires before impact.

Poison, too, awaited some of you. Not in my house of late, but in others. Formulas calculated to appeal to your rodent palates, the green color somehow serving as no warning at all before your beady eyes. Or perhaps hunger overrode your suspicions. Your brethren who partook of this feast in neighboring houses bled to death in horrible pain, their innards dissolving, tormented by the sensation of unquenchable thirst before expiring.

If you or yours could only know how frivolously we humans portray your kind. In our stories we have you sashaying on hind legs, helping princesses on with their clothes. Even those Tom and Jerry cartoons do no justice to the true imperatives of your short lives, as if mere acknowledgment of the chase could compensate for the lie of eternal elusiveness, when in fact your daily existence remains so nasty and brutish.

And yet, for all that, following your compulsion toward life—because what else is there—you scurried about unashamed of your desperation, crying out when chased, trembling openly when cornered, gleaning what you could in defiance of gigantic forces all around you.

In this state you came to the trash enclosure behind the garage to look for a meal. You climbed the gray plastic can and teetered on the rim. Perhaps you lost your balance and fell inside or perhaps you smelled something too tempting and followed your nose into the abyss. Either way you wound up looking at a sheer slippery cliff with no purchase. You could not leap it vertically—the equivalent of fifty human stories. You ran around the channel at the bottom, hugging the walls, round and round until you exhausted yourself or succumbed to the futility of it. The night grew cold and you huddled in that channel, the chill creeping in, squeezed into the smallest ball you could form, your need for warmth the last measure of a life lived every moment in yearning.

And there, little mouse, in the depths of this manmade hazard, your life came to a point. If it seemed unfair that’s because it was. The fox and the hawk and the traps and even the poison—at least facing each of these you had a chance. The game was on and you might outwit the opponent or outlast him. But not here. Not at the bottom of an inanimate trash barrel, a piece of the world shaped by casual human ambition into an insuperable obstacle.

I found you alone down there, not even a scrap of trash against which to lean or behind which to hide. No comfort. No escape. No hope for meaning. Only the result of a clumsy misbegotten step hours ago upon the rim of the giant bucket. Only that single false step to contemplate forever and the sheer plastic palisade stretching up to eternity as you emptied your miniature lungs one last time.

When I carried that bin to the edge of the field and tipped it over, you slid down the side and fell in among the dead grass. The impact of your tiny body scarcely made a sound.

TAGS: , , , ,

J.E. Fishman, a former Big Six book editor and former literary agent, is author of the thriller Primacy, which Publishers Weekly called "appealing" and Kirkus called "good, boisterous fun." His mystery novel, Cadaver Blues, was serialized in 2010 on TNB and you can still find it here if you dig deep enough. It's now available in ebook and paperback. His financial thriller, The Dark Pool, was published this year, and his new series of police thrillers, Bomb Squad NYC, will be published in February 2014. He blogs here and at the Huffington Post. Please visit and follow him at his very fancy and expensive official author website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *