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writing for godot

A Mouse Has Left the White House

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Written by Carl Peterson   
Monday, 24 December 2018 10:13

 

Henry had accepted the truth.

Henry perched on the railing of the infant president's crib.  The baby was sitting up--fitfully, no doubt only briefly, unconscious in sleep on the mattress below.  The baby seemed cross.

Henry was born at about the same time this strange baby came to live in his house, and then one of the new people who arrived with the president-baby's retinue saw Henry's father scurry across the carpet, then somebody put out poison, that's what Henry's mother said, and Henry's father disappeared.  Not long after that, just as Henry was learning to take care of himself, Henry's mother disappeared.  Soon after that Henry stopped encountering other mice.  He assumed that they were all dead, his mother had told him that these things had happened before, and they could happen again.

At first Henry had assumed that he and the infant president were of about the same age cohort--that they would share a certain chronological perspective and perhaps they could build a relationship on that basis.  Everyone else in the house seemed so old!  But after a while Henry noticed that none of the baby's interactions with other people appeared to form what people and mice tended to call "a personal relationship," and Henry despaired of ever becoming the baby's friend--a friendship that Henry had hoped would help him to survive in his own house.

One day Henry overheard two people whispering in the hallway.  One of them said the president had just turned 71 and together both made vocal signs of amazement, laughed very abruptly and briefly, then scurried off in opposite directions.  Henry felt like he'd been kicked in his little stomach.  71?  The baby was 71?  A friendship with such a being would not just be difficult--it was impossible!

But mouse years and people years are calculated a little differently.  After a people-year or so as Henry managed to survive and work his way well into his mouse life-span, he developed a maturity of outlook that for some reason had always eluded the infant president.  And that maturity enabled a relationship between Henry, a White House mouse, and the infant president, although the president never became aware of the relationship, and never knew that the little mouse who shared most of the president's meals--or at least that portion, more or less large, that reliably fell to the floor while the infant president dined--was doing the work of two to maintain the mouse-to-president relationship.

Night after night, day after day, Henry shared the president's meals and watched television with him, as the baby stood in his crib, clenching the rail with one hand, eating with the other, reacting emotionally and loudly to the noisy voices, and the variegated, ever-shifting bright lights of the screen.  Henry always sat just out of sight on the carpet under the president's crib, and whenever the baby cried out Henry could be pretty sure that some food was on its way down to him.

At first, Henry couldn't make heads or tails of what was happening on the restless screen, but over some months Henry began to understand, and at the same time he began to realize that the infant president did not understand.  Nauseated, Henry began to suspect that this defenseless child did not correctly apprehend anything.  Henry threw up a little under the infant president's crib.  He had had a sudden vision of long knives covered in blood.

The baby did not seem to understand that the adoration that had put him on top, and that he had commanded like a ringmaster, was beginning to turn now that he was no longer useful to the jackals sitting on the lion and tiger stools in the background, and the clowns who had helped him to fan the applause had taken away his baton:  One of the clowns, in smeared clown make-up, said, He was a god but now he is gutless! And soon the jackals would come down off the stools to pursue the ringmaster.  There was no jackal-tamer in the circus!

Henry knew that the president had always needed protection--that was the one thing the baby's intuitions were correct about--he knew that he needed someone to protect him--by himself he was perfectly defenseless.  He was a baby after all!  Henry, who had matured and become wise in the nearly two years since the infant president had come to live in his house, was nearing the end of his life; he was certain of that as he felt time ticking down in his body.  But the baby, what about the baby?  Was there anyone in the world who really cared about the baby?

One night just after the television had made it clear that the infant president was doomed, Henry came out from under the crib and looked up at the foreshortened president, standing on his chubby bowed legs, leaning against the crib bars.  Henry waited patiently, his eyes were wet.  He waited for several minutes then squeaked to get the baby's attention, but through the din of the television, his squeak went nowhere.  At last, the infant president looked down and his eyes focused on Henry, and his eyes met Henry's and the president gazed directly at Henry for several seconds, and Henry believed for a moment that he had made the connection that he had wanted to make, but the infant president suddenly squalled.  Henry scurried reflexively away from the crib a few feet, then realized that the baby was squalling at the television, and Henry's existence had not registered at all with the infant president.

A week later, Henry perched on the railing of the infant president's crib.  The baby was sitting up, fitfully, no doubt only briefly, unconscious in sleep on the mattress below.  The baby seemed cross.

It was time for Henry to leave his home, the home of his parents and grandparents, and the home of his ancestors going back over 200 years and thousands of mouse-generations.  Henry hopped down onto the baby's domed stomach, scampered up across the baby's unhappy face, to the top of the president's head, sparsely populated with colored hair.  Without any feeling of sentiment, Henry paused for just a moment.  He gathered his legs under him, and sprang into the air--surprisingly spry for one nearing the end of his life--and landed quietly on the carpet below.  Henry made his way downstairs and let himself out through a hole in the back wall of the White House.  The night air was cold and bracing.

 

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