Marion Graham’s Mouse: a John Dunn story

“When I was in Toronto and saw the middle of December pass by, I decided right then and there to leave the city and come home to Almonte. I got back last night.  You’d understand, wouldn’t you, that a person who has always had Christmas  at home, and I’m home in that class, well, we like to have plenty of time to get ready for the great feast.  I’ve got ten days.”

“There’s no joy for me in driving in winter time any more.  So I’m thankful for our good taxi service.  A very nice man met me at the station in Carleton Place and drove me right to the front door of the house, and he was kind enough to carry my luggage up the steps to the door for me, and he even asked if I felt strong enough to go on from there.”

“You don’t get considerate attention very often these days, so I assured him I would be all right, and that I would just turn on the kettle and make a cup of tea, and get back into my usual habits in my own house in my own way.”

“I opened the front door and set down the baggage at the foot of the stairs, and then turned towards the kitchen and flicked on the ceiling light.   What’s this?  I stood stock still.  Distinctly I saw a mouse scurry.  It scurried under the kitchen stove.”

“Well, I tell you, my blood went into a boil.  Indignation raged through me.  My kitchen is no hostel for a mouse!  That mouse annoyed me deeply, and, even though I was all alone in the big house, the rage upset me only.  Minutes later, like a July shower, it had spent itself.  I poured the tea.”

“You’d appreciate this too, I know.  It’s just that to me tea is a social institution, much like a handshake.  Its full strength is directed to another person.  Can I offer you a cup of tea?  Will you take tea?  Oh, my dear, a person cannot nurse rage with a teapot full of Earl Grey steeped the full four minutes.”

“That mouse, I thought.  After all, I told myself, it’s really a very small creature, isn’t it?”

“Of course it is.  Other thoughts followed that start.  The mouse is in this house because it’s fiercely cold outside this December.  December is winter in the Ottawa Valley, and that makes demands on our readiness to extend hospitality.  And you know as well as I do that hospitality is not only lodging, but food too. The virtue of hospitality is holistic: it demands the full treatment from you.”

“Well, heavens, can I profess to be a Christian,  alone in this big house, and knowing it’s minus fifteen outside with ten days to go before Christmas, and knowing there’s a mouse under my stove?.  So if I permit mouse to linger under the stove, I know I’m responsible for feeding the hungry as well. The beatitudes, you see, they can’t be denied ten days before Christmas.”

“Now, I thought, Robbie Burns had a run-in with a mouse one year as Christmas neared in Ayrshire.  And he found a sudden rage too before conscience spoke to him about the reputation of the thieving mouse in the oat field, and Robbie listened carefully, and he said to the mouse:

“What then, poor beastie, thou maun live:

“A daemon icker in a thrave’s a sma’ request:

“I’ll get a blessing wi’ the lave

And never miss it.”

“A sma’ request.  Oh, my goodness.  Hospitality, I knew, could be managed.  Easy. A few flakes of oatmeal, fine ground oatmeal, could be for protein for mouse to start the day.  For lunch, a crumb or two of cheese, the very old crumbly kind, with the rind on it, President’s Choice for a mouse.  Then to top off a substantial evening meal of two flakes of oatmeal and two crumbs of mouldy cheese,   what better for dessert than a raisin.  Gourmet style.”

“I uttered a prayer that the Author of All Life might bless my good will to His creature, the one He created with the whales and turtles and alligators and all, wasn’t it on the fourth day?”

“As for accommodation, well, let me tell you, I was not going to chase Mr. Mouse out from under the stove with the broom.  It was coming close to Christmas, and something was telling me that the mouse is all alone too.  Well, at least, you’ll pardon me for hoping the mouse is all alone! “

“Right then conscience struck again: Look here Marian Graham, it said, you can’t mean that last remark — that’s sexist!  You should be ashamed of yourself.  Shame on you, my dear.”

“Nevertheless, I thought: it’s kinda nice to have a man around the house.”

“So you may readily understand that my mouse had a wonderful Christmas holiday.  Oatmeal, cheese, and raisins every day.  Sexist or not, hospitality doth have its place, and I’d never want it to be said that someone knocked at my door at Christmas time only to be told there was no room in the Graham Inn.”

“My sympathy for the mouse extended right through the holiday season.  But, I decided then that Mr. Mouse would have to set out on his own, because, well, a mouse was never intended from the fourth day of Creation as Genesis tells us to be an inside creature.  Outside is the place for a mouse, and my mouse was on Remand day after day.  I wondered about catch him, knowing that a trap would injure him.  No way could I accept that.”

“Fortunately I read about a device, a thing called an Environmental Catch Basin.  No, not a big one at all, but only  big enough so that if a mouse stumbled and found himself  inside, well, when that happened, this Environmental Catch Basin  would drop a sign that said “Take Me To Some Friendly Place.”

“That did it. I got one of this kind of friendly traps at the Co-op.    It was ten days after Christmas, and they weren’t very busy at the Co-op, and were able to take plenty of time to show me how the thing worked.  I remember too that it was close to Little Christmas, and the weather brisk, cold, and clear.  I set the Catch Basin the night before near the kitchen stove, and in the morning I had mouse in the cage.  I decided hospitality had to go all out for him, since this would be his final meal under aegis.  That’s a Greek word, isn’t it?  Surely, I’m glad to see you nod.  Anyway that meal, the last for Mr. Mouse consisted of peanut butter on a graham cracker.”

“When he had finished, I got into winter coat and winter boots, and carried the Environmental Catch Basis with the mouse inside, licking the last of the peanut butter off his front paws.

Over to the Spring Bush we went.  That, you know, is a friendly place.  And there I let him out.”

“And do you know what?  The very next day the neighbourhood cat came round the steps at the front yesterday of my house.  “Oh, you wretched creature,” I scolded, “Deceitful sphinx-face, I know you.  That’s a leer I see in your whiskered mug, ugly puss.”