Mouse

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
January/February 2006

Nadezh Mulholland

Roey looked sulkily into her bedroom mirror. She turned around, scrutinizing her nose from every angle, but whichever direction she faced her nose, slightly resembling a ski slope, looked the same to her. It wasn’t that Roey actively disliked the way she looked; just her nose. When you got down to it, she was actually quite pretty, and she knew it. Her flowing, fiery red hair could not match her personality better. Next came her favorite feature: her eyes. Dark brown, nearly black, and combined with her hair, they gave her an almost magical look. But, being human, she always saw the worst in herself and could only focus on her nose, her other features becoming unimportant and of no consolation. Roey sighed in frustration, feeling a little guilty. How could she be so shallow? She had much bigger problems to deal with than her looks. She made her way over to her bed.

Out from under her white bed with pink trim, which she was about seven years too old for, she pulled a large book. It was thick and heavy, bound with leather. The pages inside were yellow with age, but being no expert, she could put no number on its years. The writing was not from a computer or a typewriter, but written by hand, with ink and quill, she imagined. There was no name, no one to take credit for all the work they had done. Strangest of all, though, Roey thought, was that there was no title. She had checked over and over through the whole book, but no miraculous change occurred. The cover was that of the type of book Roey would have expected to be engraved with gold letters, but that was not the case.

Mouse reading in bed

The writing was not from a computer or a typewriter, but written by hand, with ink and quill

Roey climbed into her bed and pulled the covers up. She opened the book and could hear the stiff binding crackle as a small trickle of dust came down on her. The discovery of the nameless book had been exciting. There was a minimal amount of books in Paristile. People referred to them as books, but in Roey’s mind they barely qualified. Pamphlets, a historic account of the formation of Paristile, a book of laws, dictionaries, and thesauruses—they weren’t books, though, merely resources. Roey’s definition of a book was something that made you think, made you question, made you wonder. None of these could even begin to make your mind work in the way that her new-found treasure did. Although she loved to read, this was a rare opportunity. It was usually herself and her writing she had to rely on for a bit of creativity.

Roey had no idea how she could have overlooked the book so many times, but perhaps it had not always been there. Two nights ago, as she had been climbing into bed, she saw its unfamiliar spine mixed in with a pile of a few other so-called books on her bedside table. How it got there was beyond her. For some reason she decided not to tell her family. Mainly this was because she didn’t want to deal with the inevitable questions from her parents that would follow her vague explanation. “How old is it?” and “Where did it come from?” She felt strange answering questions on a topic she hardly knew anything about.

But maybe the questions were what she longed for, what she wanted so desperately to hear. Her sister, Mouse, had been born with insatiable curiosity. You could see in her eyes the longing to explore the world around her the day she was born. Her name was actually Marguerite, but Roey had started calling her by the pet name she’d come up with years ago. When Marguerite was little she always wanted to know what was in cupboards or on counters, and so she would poke her head in like a mouse. Now the bedroom in which the seven-year-old should be sleeping was empty. Instead of her cozy bed, Mouse slept deeply in a hospital bed, with no certainty of waking again. Roey couldn’t bare to face her absence, and mentioning the book to her parents and not being immediately flooded by questions from Mouse would be too much. She would have to truly acknowledge the fact that her little sister may never come home.

Roey could never forget a particular day, about two years ago. The memory of Mouse brought a smile to her face, in spite of everything. It had been Mouse’s fifth birthday. Roey could see pure delight on Mouse’s face as Mom brought in a beagle puppy She had never expected such an amazing surprise, and Roey, looking at the huge grin on the little girl’s face, was ecstatic seeing her sister so happy. Mouse had always been grateful for what she had, Roey knew. The littlest things, Mouse had always acknowledged, and it didn’t take much to earn her trust, her love, her gratitude. She had always admired how open Mouse was, never judgmental; Roey wished she could accept everyone that way. But Roey realized that all this happy memory meant now was that Mouse may never smile again. Roey had pushed these thoughts out of her head many times already, and once again attempted to shake them from her mind. She tried to tell herself that it wasn’t an issue, everything would be fine; the book was here now, that was the important thing.

Roey replaced her dreadful feelings with the words of the book-with-no-name as she began to read. She was able to make out most of the handwritten words without difficulty. As the setting was described, Roey painted a picture of it in her mind. It seemed no different from her own world of Paristile, with nothing particularly distinguishable from any other place.

Roey must have dozed off at some point. As she was reading, she was engrossed in the words, the only words she could really lose herself in, but at the same time a part of her was still slightly aware of the real world surrounding her. Suddenly all that was gone. The paint of her light pink walls she’d chosen when she was only five, her wooden bed, her dresser, all disappeared. She was no longer reading and instead was standing on a busy block.

Roey turned to get a better look at where she was and saw right away that she knew the area very well. She was standing in the middle of the busiest block in her heavily populated suburban town, filled with noise and activity, as always. Roey’s favorite store was to her left, and on her right was a cafe she and her friends liked to go to after school. Suddenly a voice came from both everywhere and nowhere. She looked around, confused. “Roey, turn out that light right now. It’s late and you’ve got school in the morning.”

Roey woke with a start. No, not woke. Now everything was back in place, just as it had been before. But now she was also sitting up in bed and holding the book in her hands, and her father’s voice was calling her back to reality. She couldn’t have been dreaming. She’d been in the book! That was it, the only solution. She couldn’t believe it, but she had to, she knew. She was excited and a bit frightened by her discovery.

“Roey Caylow! Don’t ignore me, I said turn that light out!” her father’s voice called.

Mouse hospital bed

She saw her sister’s button nose and smiled; she’d always loved that nose

Roey sighed. “I am!” she called back. She reached over to her bedside table to turn her light out and placed the book back under her bed. During the night, there was nothing to stop her worries for Mouse. In her dreams there was nothing to push out the dangerous thoughts. Images of Mouse, small for her age, lying alone at night in the hospital, haunted her. She didn’t want their visits to end so early, she wanted to stay with her delicate raven-haired sister. Although Mouse was currently unconscious, Roey had begged her parents to let her stay in the hospital all night, but they had not permitted her to. They had responded to her pleas only by saying that even though this was a tragedy there was no use throwing their lives entirely off schedule when Mouse was in no state to be able to tell the difference. Upon hearing this Roey had run up to her room and slammed the door in a fit of angry and desperate tears. Roey tossed in her sleep as she dreamed of this memory, but there was nothing she could do.

Roey woke in the morning. She hadn’t slept well, but even so she was already dressed when her mom called up to her from the kitchen. “Good morning, Roey Get up, it’s 6:45 and we’re going to visit Mouse this morning!”

Roey brightened at this news. She wanted to get in as much time with her as possible before school started, so she hurried to get ready as quickly as she could.

At the hospital, a nurse saw Roey, her mom, and dad enter the waiting room. She recognized them and led them to Mouse. The nurse turned the metal handle and opened the heavy wooden door. Inside, Roey could smell the clean white air that hospitals always seem to have. She took it in subconsciously, but that wasn’t what she was paying attention to right now. She saw her sister’s button nose and smiled; she’d always loved that nose. Her black hair wasn’t light and curly as usual, but tangled. This didn’t mean much normally, but for Roey it just meant even less hope.

Roey saw it as if it were happening all over again. She saw her own waving hand, and the little girl bouncing gleefully across the road to meet her. And then the car. It swerved, trying to avoid her. It was too late. It skidded. And that was it. The doctor assured them that she’d gone into the coma immediately, so she didn’t feel any pain. That was not enough for Roey. She just wanted her sister back.

She went through the day in a bit of a daze. She couldn’t remember anything, but then again nothing in particular really happened. That night she once again pulled out the book from underneath her bed. This time, even though she did not understand it all, she knew what to expect in reading the book. She began to read where she had left off the night before.

Roey was back where she was the first time she’d found herself inside the book. She started walking towards her home. She arrived at the front door the same purplish-pink color you might expect to see in a romance movie—Roey had gotten no say in the color choice—and walked inside.

Hanging on the coat rack was Mouse’s once bright red scarf that was now beginning to fade. She’d gotten it when she was born. Below it on the welcome mat were Mouse’s fuzzy blue boots. Roey saw, out of the corner of her eye, a gray mouse scurry by. It was small, even for a mouse, just as Mouse was small for her age. It had smooth fur and a playful, daring run, as if it wanted to take in all the information it could, always with more to learn. In that moment, Roey knew that everything would be OK. Mouse was going to be OK—she didn’t question it. Her parents had been right: things would be back to normal soon.

For the first time in weeks, she could sleep all through the night. When she woke in the morning the book had disappeared as mysteriously as it had gotten there. Roey could never explain it, but somehow it was not one of those things that requires an explanation.

Mouse Nadezh Mulholland

Nadezh Mulholland, 13
Evanston, Illinois

Mouse Jessye Holmgren-Sidell

Jessye Holmgren-Sidell, 11
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

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