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Saturday, February 8, 2014

In passing. By John von Daler

                         The mouse felt the warmth from the pantry through the open door. It scurried through from the garage and found a hiding place behind the quietly purring freezer.
                 A man and a woman walked through the pantry with their suitcases. The man closed and locked the door to the house and opened the garage door. Then he and the woman got into the car, backed out, closed and locked the garage door and drove toward Newark airport.
                The mouse took a nap by the warm motor of the freezer. Then it went hunting for food. There was none.


                I had said goodbye to Dad at Grand Central and walked over to the port authority. From there I could get a bus to Princeton. At least that was what I had told him. Actually, I took a local bus and got off after only about a half an hour. I was going to spend the night with Sally at her house close to the Palisades. Her parents had left on a vacation.


                The mouse did not give up the food search immediately. It inspected everything within reach, but the pantry was small, the doors solid and close-fitting. Soon it tried to gnaw on the rubber fittings at the base of the freezer, but it made no headway. Then it slept again.


                Sally showed me around. We walked through the house barefoot on soft carpets and stopped to make a drink at one of several built-in bars. We clicked open and shut the long curtains in the living room and I got a glimpse of a formal garden filled with Greek statues and lush greenery. From the bathroom, you could see the same view from the huge sunken tub and we decided to take our drinks with us while we soaked for a while.


                The mouse woke up and approached the door to the garage. It crawled slowly along the bottom looking for openings back into the world it knew.


                We got a little drunk and all steamed up and then we got playful. Sally jumped out of the tub and dared me to catch her and soon we were running wet and soapy through the house, in and out of each and every room.
                "No, not there," Sally said as I touched one doorknob. "That's my brother's room."
                "Sure hope he's not home," I said and sprinted past her through the upstairs hall.
                "He's not ... all" she said and hesitated in front of the door. "I want you just to have a peek, though." I retraced my steps as she opened the door slightly and I caught a glimpse of the usual paraphernalia, baseball mitts, posters with athletes, a neatly made bed, a bookshelf.
                "He died two years ago."

                The mouse moved away from the door and found a resting place in the middle of the floor. It lay down slowly and fell asleep in the open.


                "Two years? Why isn't his room cleared out?"
                "Mom and Dad want it this way," Sally said and then looked at the wall by the door. Her pale back was slightly bent over, her thin shoulders hunched downward. Her shoulder blades stuck out in the back where the skin looked too thin as if it hardly could contain what was inside her body, slight as she was. I reached out to hold her and she turned and mashed her chest against me. She kissed me with a kind of rage, baring her teeth against my lips. A moment later she shoved me against the wall on the opposite side of the hall and then abruptly breaking the embrace ran down the stairs. I followed ten steps behind.
                "Let's eat something!" she shouted and ran through the kitchen toward a door on the other side. "There's probably a pizza in the freezer..." And then she turned on the light and came to a halt. She looked fragile from behind.
                "Look at you," she said and squatted on her bare feet. "Now see the predicament you got yourself into." She picked up something carefully from the floor and walked toward me. I watched her coming with her hands cupped in front of her, thinking, She looks all different now, every part of her that I had wanted to see seems ordinary, too innocent, like a little kid in the shower at a summer camp.
                "We've got to feed it something. See! It's all worn out and skinny." She came close and looked up at me. "We've got to save it from dying." I was so used to seeing her in a short, tight skirt and a blouse or halter, her sunglasses pushed up on her forehead, pink sandals on her feet, her toenails deep red. I had only guessed at what was underneath; now that the guessing was over I felt not lust, but a feeling of protectiveness. I put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Get an eyedropper".
                Later when we had filled a shoebox with cotton, fed the mouse warm milk from the eyedropper, and eaten a pizza ourselves, we went to bed and warmed each other like a married couple that had been together for decades.
                "Why do they keep the shrine going in your brother's room?" I asked as we lay looking at the ceiling.
                "They, really, really love him, I guess. Especially since he died."
                "Does that bother you?" I asked.
                "Hmmm", she said, "I'm tough," and gave me another of those ferocious kisses. We were both quiet for a long time. Then we fell asleep.
                The next day the mouse was dead. Sally dumped it and its shoebox into the garbage can, put on a tank top, a mini skirt, and her sunglasses and drove me down to Princeton in her convertible. As she kissed me goodbye at my dorm I tried to take off her sunglasses, but she pushed my hand away and with a little wave drove off. 

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