Image by Rowan Briggs Smith
Two years in which a man living as a virtual recluse pretends to be a scientist on the verge on an important discovery (and only a little mouse for company)
The mouse chirruped like a bird, stood
upright, appalled at the masturbation
going on above the sheets. Its hands
were the hands of a tiny T-rex or a gossip
clutching an invisible purse. Since seclusion
snapped around you, blueprints tiled
the floors like maps with their faint, scratchy
detail, your pants piled up in the corner
like a fairy tale clock. Satisfaction seldom
attained but you identified every small bliss,
the progress, of course, and the amity buzz
from the generator: a kind
of companionship. You discovered a red
with a good, floral finish, had it delivered
in crates with hexagonal spaces. The walls
were lined with Proustian cork; it kept at bay
the captious witch who slipped scraps of concern
through your letterbox despite her own incivilities:
crunchy applause from the TV and juicer,
the occasional Minnie Riperton whistle register.
The appliances broke down in quick succession,
one by one, over the course of a few days,
a steady attrition of household convenience,
an Agatha Christie long weekend
where you opened the fridge to a troubling smell,
a spider tank mildness. Water crawled from
the freezer, left a tideline, wavy and banded
like agate. Nothing to do but take tub and spoon,
slump to the kitchen floor and play at Jackie Mason –
I’ve heard of soft scoop but this is ridiculous!
Your big toe pressed against the dishwasher
hoping it would resume its cosy churn, free
the dirty plates from stasis. From the floor's
cold dominion you smelled peppermint
and lemon, a small dash of urine.
You read somewhere that two years was the average life span of a mouse. Its twitching disturbed you nonetheless. And its dun fur which seemed too domestic – the colour of a single lost moccasin or one of those serious envelopes which smell slightly of vomit. So you scooped it into a shoebox, made a rare foray outside. You eased it out onto a patch of the local cemetery, tried to conceal it from the birds with damp leaves and fern. Said a few words.
You wanted to pay this courtesy. As a scientist you'd spent a good deal of time thinking about animal cruelty. Putting aside caged experiments, you considered man's instinctive satisfaction at a creature's befuddlement. The drunken bop of the bluebottle when sprayed. The imagined double-take of vermin in response to an ultra-sonic ray.
When you were slumped in the kitchen, sploshing your spoon around in a caramel puddle, you assumed the POV of a mouse. The angles of the countertops loomed like German Expressionism. You cast your eyes over to your laboratory: so gleaming and shipshape when not in use. Bell jar and Bunsen, a tray of silvery kit laid out like a Kim's Game.
If you were a villain you would be named Dr Oleaginous, a caped thing come to call, opening your medicine bag like an accordion. Some kind of aesthetic quirk like a spectacular overbite. Long shadow of hand extending against the wall.
Louise Peterkin is a poet from Edinburgh. In 2016 she was a recipient of a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust in the poetry category. She is the co-editor, along with Rob A. Mackenzie, of Spark: Poetry and Art inspired by the Novels of Muriel Spark (Blue Diode Press, 2018). She is an assistant poetry editor for The Interpreter's House. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including The Dark Horse, The Glasgow Review of Books, Magma and The North, and her first collection of poetry, The Night Jar, is out now, published by Salt.
Rowan Briggs Smith is currently studying for A levels in Cambridge. Her painting has been exhibited at the Royal Academy and longlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize. See more work on Instagram @rowanbriggssmith and at www.rowanbriggssmith.co.uk.