Souris

There is a man sitting in profile at a small rough table in a small tough cabin. The window behind him is deep blue with black tree shadows in the mid-distance. Inside, the cabin is filled with warm light, orange pine paneling, old oak furniture, a well-filled, but small bookcase. The man has a lot of hair. His head is covered with longish curls, a little shot with gray. His beard is long but neatly trimmed. His lips show unnaturally red and wet and soft surrounded by the coarse black hair.

His eyes are blue and ½ closed. He is tired form a long day but he can’t remember in any detail what he did since the sun woke him at dawn. His body is stiff from sitting and he looks out the window and notices for the first time that they day is over, now he has to get through the evening.

Hunger suddenly pulls on his leash and he pushes away from the table and stands a little unsteadily and blinks at the piles of yellow paper, covered in pencil scratchings, (“writing” he sometimes called it, when things were going well, “hieroglyphics,” when he was overwhelmed with words that came so fast he couldn’t read the scribbles later, “pencil scratchings,” when he was anxious and depressed). The yellow papers cover the side of the table where a friend might have sat, if he was expecting someone for dinner. He picks up the tablet and reads the last few sentences and with a disgusted snort he throws the tablet onto the pile of papers to keep them in place. He wishes he could remember to number the pages so he didn’t have to struggle to keep them in order. He pushes at the top layer of paper slightly, then he forgets this thought and walks into the part of the room with the stove and refrigerator. He opens the old refrigerator and pulls out a ½ pound of thick sliced bacon from the meat drawer. He peels 4 greasy strips off the slab, lines them up and cuts them in ½ so they will fit in the frying pan. He scrapes the bulk of the mornings drippings into an old red coffee can set on the back of the stove, puts the heavy cast iron frying pan on the burner and lights the flame with a white tipped match that he struck on a piece of sand paper taped to the cabinet door next to the stove. The heat turns the cloudy residue of fat left in the pan into a clear oil filled with small flecks of bacon glaze. He pours this into the red coffee can and arranges three slices of bacon in the frying pan. As they shrink while they cook he puts the rest of the bacon in the pan. The cooked bacon goes on a paper towel to drain. He gets two eggs out of the refrigerator and cracks them into the bacon fat. He had the exact same meal for breakfast.

Somehow lunch had passed him without stopping the flow of pencil onto paper.

As he mops up the runny egg yolk with the last bit of bacon he hears a thumping and scratching in the wall behind the stove. His stomach churns at the sound. He knows he has to do something about the noises but he hates killing things.

Souris.

Misery.

Mice.

Somewhere he had heard that the word souris was French for mouse and was also used to denote misery caused by many small but intractable irritants. He consults several dictionaries but cannot confirm this usage.

With the obsessive neatness of a sailor he washes his plate and fork, dries them and puts them away in the cabinet. He drapes the dishtowel over the faucet to dry. He leaves the bacon fat in the pan to cool overnight. Someone had told him that bears were particularly fond of bacon fat so he keeps it in the red can in the cabin instead of taking it out to the trash with the other garbage. He’s never seen a bear near the cabin, no tracks or damage that might even suggest bears, so he feels like an idiot taking precautions. He mutters to himself that he is a silly old woman fussing about bacon fat. Then he corrects himself; a silly old man making sure he wasn’t attacked by bears.

The evening stretches ahead. He doesn’t want to go to bed yet, it’s too early and if he falls asleep he will wake up before sunrise and lay thrashing around until light. But he also doesn’t want to start a fire because there will be the trouble of going outside to collect some wood and kindling, then kneeling on the cold bricks in front of the hearth, and assembling the wood, put the match to it; nurse the flame and then sit with the fire until it could be put to bed.

He thought about taking a walk but the path to the lake was too dark, there was no moon, he would stumble on a root or lose his way. The white dust of the road solved that problem but he still sat at the table.

He knew his apathy was a comedown from the intense writing he had done during the day. He stretched and bent back and forth, cracking his back, dropping his shoulders down, lifting his arms over his head then swinging them back pulling at the muscles in his chest. Trying to reverse the hunched over, pulled together, posture he spent the day in while he filled the yellow paper with pencil marks.

He thought about burning the yellow papers on the table. Pile them up in the fireplace and set a match to the whole mess without reading any of it. It wasn’t a strong temptation, just a little thought in the back of his mind, easily ignored.

Unlike the mice in the walls.

Were the little creatures messengers of his unconscious? Is that why he didn’t kill them? He had invested them with power over the space between the walls, he had surrendered a closet to them, hoping they would take the space and stop bothering him. He knew better of course. Given a warm spot and enough food they would reproduce until there was no food left and their warm spot was fermenting with feces and urine.

Anything but that. It would be easier to read the text on those yellow pages than deal with the mice. That was a cop-out. He was ashamed of himself that he thought he had to bully himself into reading his work, but he also knew that if he read it while it was still new he would hate it. It wouldn’t match up with his imaginings. Sometimes writing was like trying to catch a half remembered dream, events might carry weight, a huge feeling of significance, but when read are simply a pair of boots sitting under a table, a wine glass with a dried pool of red wine glazing the dimple where the stem joins the bowl. Significant things but without the context of a dream they are the ordinary stuff of life, no big deal.

He was practiced enough to avoid reading right then, he would read a book. The dictionary was still lying on the table so he picked it up and started reading at random.

Souris. He had picked up the French dictionary. Mice. That made him hear once more the scratching in the wall and smell the faint ammonia of their nest. What was he avoiding?

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