Cat and Mouse

Some stories sit in the corner, watching. They’re told in hushed voices—if they ever reach the tips of tongues at all. They’re not like the others; they have no point. They ruminate in their own existence.


Eh, I was about 8 when we got the cat. I remember holding it for the first time, nestled into my arms, and I put it back down. My mother said that if it came back the next day, I could keep it—and the next day, there she was again. So, that’s how I got the cat.

That thing loved me. She’d fall asleep watching me. She’d drool on me. I had to carry her everywhere. Then she started bringing me mice.

The first time, I didn’t know what to do. I was just a kid—and I guess a little weird. So I put the dead mouse in a Rubbermaid bin under my bed and went to school the next day thinking about it the whole time.

When I got home from school, both of my parents were still working. So I grabbed the mouse from the bin, took a knife from the kitchen, and headed into the bathroom.

Mouse skin comes off pretty easily. The ripping sound it made, fibers from muscles, made me sick. And I was surprised by how much blood a little thing like that could hold up in itself. I still remember the cat watching me, perched on the toilet, its’ tail going crazy.

I’d never cooked before. After school I’d have a fruit roll up or something to hold me over until dinner. It took a minute to work the burner, I knew where the pans were, and I set it all up with the dead mouse. The cat followed me from toilet to countertop. It smelled terrible.

When it was all said and done, I sat down with the cat and ate the mouse. She took the bits I gave to her and eagerly swallowed them. After, I’d wash the dishes, spray deodorizer, and toss whatever remained in a dumpster behind our apartment building.

There were more mice.

I’d place each in the Rubbermaid bin and wait until those moments after school before my parents came home. While “cleaning” one—that’s how I referred to skinning them in my head—I got a good amount of blood on my hands. Without thinking, I reached for the cat’s head and gave her a pet. Blood matted and spiked her hair up. She didn’t seem to mind. We sat down, ate, and I threw out the scraps.

I used some de-lice shampoo my parents bought after we brought her inside, to wash off the blood after dinner.

More mice.

Rubbermaid bin. Clean ’em. When the blood poured, the cat pawed at its’ head. So I’d give her a rub and get back to work. Eat. Throw out. Wash. Repeat.

I took my lunch money and bought the same brand of de-lice shampoo so as not to raise suspicion. It became too much to handle; this second shift I’d picked up. It’s all I thought about. All I dreamt about. The bin started to smell no matter what I sprayed, and the taste of mouse was growing stale. So it was too for the cat, I found.

One night, it dropped the bloody corpse of a thing at the foot of my bed. A good portion had been ripped from its belly, leaving a crimson colored hole, matted mouse fur and bones. It wasn’t worth cooking, and I didn’t want to anymore, anyway. The cat looked at me for a second, sat near the front door, pawed and meowed. I opened, and it ran outside—into the night—and I never saw it again.

I was sad for a bit, and my parents tried to tell me it would come back. I knew it wouldn’t. The cat didn’t know how to survive before me—I think I taught it how to.

My parents never found out about our little ritual, but they often wondered how the de-lice shampoo was always full.


andante con moto

Mine meet the painting man’s eyes, “you read too much.” He says. He used to be a jazz musician. I crook a smile, embellish a nod, and refill my right ear with Mendelssohn. He stares agape for a moment–saturnine eyes droop, catch themselves, then fix upright again. He takes a thin brush from robin’s egg-colored water and continues his piece.

Violins drift in quiescence, flute-float and reach a surfeit of colorful bassoons and trumpets before they tumble back to simple notes. The blue-haired girl behind the jazz player has buttons in the back of her shirt. She reads andante con moto and flicks her wrist as she goes. She turns a page and the jazz player looks askance, first at her, then me, then back to his work.

I want to feel something, but the words of this story are so far flat. From the window, a boy wanders in circles as he takes pulls from a cigarette, and I let go a sigh. I shouldn’t be reading this much.

I should be writing.

I should be writing.
I should be writing.

A strong wind knocks the smoking boy and his smoke-line off-balance, the first of the season. The Mendelssohn piece ends. I should read to something else; something lighter. I should write. I watch the jazz player use a toothpick to dot black on his canvas. The blue-haired girl’s wrist twirls and dances to the words of her paperback. I pack my bag and leave.

Forest From the Trees


“Sixteen years of persistence.” His old eyes scanned the horizon: treeline, lab coats, and punchy fingers poking at handheld devices.

“The first tree, over there, it’s a maple. Only one in the park.” He smiles, “We had the very same one in our yard. As a boy, it seemed larger than life. And just like life for little boys, we climbed it, got scraped up by it, tamed it, stuck it with nails and plywood, and claimed it our own.”

“Did you have such a tree, growing up?” His eyes never leave the trees. Periodically, he taps his leg with one finger, as if recalling something in those memories he’d rather keep buried.

“Sixteen years. Hard to believe all that time has passed. But we’ve done well enough. A lake, trails, wildflowers, 1,776 trees—a coincidence. By the time we’ve opened, we’ll have doubled that number.”

He surveys his trees, his lake, and his trails.

“Look! Over there!” He points to a frozen deer. “We’ve done well enough.” One of the labcoats rushes towards it, arms outstretched, and the deer turns and gallops through a tree. He laughs and applauds the spectacle.

“I suppose that’s one issue we’ve yet to figure out. Certainly a fence should fix it. See that though? We’ve even fooled the animals.”

He picks up a stick and draws a line in the dirt.

“The ground, that’s real. We’ve shipped earth from all corners of the United States. Even buried some arrowheads here and there for added authenticity—er, they’re real, too. Well, crafted in a factory, but real stone.”

“Thinking of taking a stroll? It calls to you, doesn’t it? It does, me. Have you ever walked a trail in the rain? Snow? Would you like to? Just a turn of the dial. Temperature, too. On these trails, cold and snow aren’t correlative. You won’t even get wet when it rains, if you’d like it to. Wonderful, really.”

“I know what you’re thinking. The point is moot. These trees don’t give off oxygen, they can’t make more—we do. But the experience, the experience is total—a digital arboretum. Don’t you see? The real trails, they’ll be smoothed over. They’ll get paved. They’ll fell the real trees, replace them with cement walls, and those inside will wish they weren’t. This place? It can’t be paved. It can’t be built upon. If you so wish to leave, you need simply choose one direction and run through it all. If the land is sold, we simply move it all to the left some, or to the right. You understand my point.”

“People long for escape, yes? Whether it be in the wilderness, or the internet. We need a place to go, to be understood, to be silent, heard, to hear. Our experience is a strange one, wouldn’t you say? We may not offer seeds, or fresh air, but we can give our visitors the illusion they long for. It’s only as deceptive as any other escape.”

“And in 100 years, it’s possible these are the only trees to immerse oneself in anymore. It could very well be that, by then, we’ve all moved to Mars. I only wish I could see that far into the future, to prove myself wrong. But our trees will welcome whatever unfortunate souls come here looking for life.”

“It sounds almost sinister. I sound defensive, my apologies.” He taps at his pants. “I’ve dealt with many investors, businesspeople. I’ve had to state my case to people who look to bottom lines, profits. It leaves a bad taste. Imagine, this experience for free? One day I hope to allow true freedom, but the investors insist an entrance fee.”

“Once opened, it’ll be twice the size it is now; over 4,000 trees. I’m personally designing over 10 trails. Our engineers are working wonders, and we’re only limited by our imagination. I’d love to have the bees up-and-running by then, but they’ll likely come as an update.”

“Four nations have already shown interest in what we’re doing here. In 100 years, we could have parks all over the world—when we’re all on Mars. Incredible. The businesses can keep taking what they will, and we’ll still have preserved our natural world in some form.” His smile slipped, his eyes slid to this shiny square-tipped black shoes, and he lost himself for a moment to a head full of digital trees.

“It’s not perfect. I mean, it’s not the perfect solution. But it’s the best I’ve got. I truly love the outdoors, you should know. I loathe what’s coming. Do you read poetry?

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Yeats. I think of these lines often.”

“Tell me, what do you think when you look upon all this? Does it unsettle you? Are you moved instead by what may become? That this may very well be what remains of our natural splendor? Pre-emptive, and hopefully for nothing.”

The sun begins to set over the trees, some tips glitch and appear to the left of their trees. Labcoats gather in these areas and take notes, punch figures into their devices, and carry on into the night.

In silence, the two men sit and watch the last crystals reflect off a lake. Recorded crickets begin their symphony, and the labcoats walk the trail, single-file, with their eyes scanning for inconsistencies.

Out of the darkness, light shoots into the sky and bursts to color.

“This was not my idea, I should tell you. The investors thought it’d offer a little something more to guests. I find it tacky and outside the scope of our work here.”

Halfway through the display, the fireworks freeze in the sky. A loud boom stretches into the night, stuck in explosion, and pierces the ears. After a moment, they disappear from the sky.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle.”

“Same poem.” He smiles.

“Part of me hopes this exists only here, as an oasis; maybe as a cautionary tale. Though I fear I may be asked to build many, many more.”

He draws circles in the dirt with a stick.

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

“I must leave you now. I suppose I should get some work done today. Six months until we open. There’s much to be done. Investors to please. That sort of thing. Would you like some free passes? Leave your email address and they’ll send them to you.”

He kicks up dust as he walks, his shoes now in need of a shine. Just as darkness overtakes him, he turns around once more with a smile that pierces the night, “Six months! Remember! And twice as big! It’s not at all as complicated as I’ve made it, you’ll see. A true marvel. A real experience. You won’t believe your eyes!”

“After all, what’s left to do but enjoy what should rise in the wake?”