Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mouse (Prose by Deborah)

I.
She had seen them before, children hunkered over in the middle of a sidewalk, or hunched on their elbows, butts up, hands busy, faces attentive. Blowing that odd yellowgrey dust this way and that. Dust half pollution, silt from cars humming a bodylength away. Half of it that same earth blown in from the desert south of Tehran, and slaked off houses on the way. Blowing it into piles, runnels, feeble towers, micro-architecture for citydwellers’ brutal shoes to annihilate.


A tiny tube in his mouth, the child was oblivious to the traffic-stuck taxi rider. Who saw that dust caked on his lips and cheekbones, powdering his hair. The tube like a fat spaghetti, that allowed for intricacies and arabesques in that most uncooperative medium. Had he learned the tube from watching an elder at his heroin ritual, she wondered. Gotten it from there, even. His wornsoft shirt flapped on skinny arms in a stifling blastoven breeze. She coughed away the dust, kept looking.

II.
These were no children, though. Men possibly thirty, miserable with no wives, or with them, their sex worn blatantly in their swagger, blissful, dumb. She with her imperfectly concealed light hair, normally a butt for this type, their leers, now going unnoticed. She relished the moment of obscurity, focused through the oppressive sunlight, took in the tableau.

The dry cleaner was away, still on siesta maybe, but business would pick up soon. They would need to finish their game. Whose nature she could almost, not quite yet, see. A child coming from the stores beyond wriggled free of his mother’s grip, came forward, as she did, shavings to a magnet There was laughter, of delight it seemed, or of someone-made-a-fool-of ilk. A flea circus, she thought, noting the small circle of attention, the minute reactions. The mother saw sooner, yanked the child homeward, veilwrap in her teeth, muttering imprecations or godforgiveusses.
A shallow box, a tiny writhing furry thing lay back, tail sweeping under it. On its belly a slit, like a vent but newly minted, mouth of rodent hell. The men gleefuly fingered down its paws, and held a dropper over it. Filled with dry cleaning fluid. Mindful of its poison stroke, careful to await its full effect, drop by dropperful they worked. A dark clot formed in her middle, nausea and anger in equal parts.

Theatre, she thought, or film, as they say here, that’s just film, or something played for an effect. So she was the effect, perhaps, that was her part, so though it seemed as though it could not be, that grown men could not be tormenting a small animal right there, there it was and there she was, the one-who-saw-and-had-to-say. It really was not her business how they got their gratification, she knew, yet no. Would the boys back home do it, if bereft of televisions, loinclothed gladiators, shoulderpadded aggressors, wives to knock on? Was she the emissary from a land of virtue, crossed her mind. Who had any room to talk, who had every right to--? No but just a bystander, surely, maybe not so innocent, who could say, speak out as anyone would but yet no one did.
No one did so it took relatively little time to do the righteous deed. Appeals to shamesense came easily, discovered late and exercised often. Hearing her clunky protest, the word torture as it came mangled out of her mouth, one of the men cried with overlarge how-can-I-help-it gesture, But Khanum! He was eating the clothes! And returned to his labors.

It really took only the time to scan the bent attentive backs, hear the raspy laughs, hear the little beast scraping and thumping, muffled squeaks. Her words were puny, laughable, separate from some other intent. Which drove her boots to the midst of the circle, all politesse aside. On their mercy mission, their gut justice jag. She gave them their papers, released their brute energy, said That’s right. And as she felt the volumes, bloated baby fingers, of mouse organs flattened, took a mental picture. Remembered the featherlike bones of a roast pigeon she’d eaten in Cairo once. Was glad for the width of her heels and the fineness of their construction. The way their edges met the ground. She felt under them the box turning, sliding; under them, small life ebbing. And walked on trembling, not looking back.

–Deborah Maier
Previously published in: Inkwell
©2001 D. Maier All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

Susan said...

Deborah,

The rhythms and cadences in this are complex and work well. It is strong - painful.