(“I remembered also the pearl for which I was sent down into Egypt…”)
It was only the first night, yes, the very first.
You must understand that I only took the job because of the hours. I sleep. I mean, I sleep a great deal – during the day, because for whatever reason I can’t sleep at night.
Actually, I have a good idea what the reason is. I’m a fugitive – from myself. Yes: from myself. Oh, that sounds so melodramatic. However, it’s why I can’t sleep at night. How do I sleep during the day, then? I don’t have explanations for everything.
So, a nightwatchman’s position seemed a solution to my inability to work during the day, although I admit I wasn’t all that keen on the place: an animal laboratory. Beggars can’t be choosers, I told myself. I like animals, as it happens. Ah well, I told myself; ah well.
I entered the laboratory and started to turn the lights on. I hadn’t even finished doing so when I heard a little voice call out: ‘In these shadows you look surprisingly like one of my brothers! He was much smaller, of course.’
It was a voice not just faint, or quiet, but also high-pitched. A child’s, perhaps… or so I thought.
‘Where are you?’ I called out. I couldn’t see anyone, although I’d turned all the lights on now.
‘Over here, my brother… my almost brother! At the back, and to the left.’
I went there. There were only cages. Nothing else.
And then the voice came again… it came from one of the cages.
Only one cage was occupied… and it was occupied by a mouse.
‘Hello, my brother!’ exclaimed the mouse, its front paws on the uppermost bars so that it was standing.
‘I must have fallen asleep somehow! A mouse can’t be talking to me! It’s a dream, right?’
‘You’re asking a mouse?’
‘That does seem a little silly, doesn’t it?’
‘All right, as this is your dream, why don’t you describe what’s going on for me?’
‘Well, I’ve come to work, I have my work clothes on, although my work clothes aren’t really any different from what I normally wear… T shirt, jeans, an old jacket, socks and boots. I have a bag with a box of snacks and a bottle of mineral water…’
‘Any dark chocolate?’
‘Yes, as a matter of fact…’
‘…and a cheese sandwich.’
‘You eat the sandwich, but give me the chocolate. I need all my strength for what we’re going to do.’
‘Which is what, pray tell?’
‘We’re getting out of here!’
‘And why should I help you do that? I’ll lose my job, you know, and I’ve only just started.’
‘You’re my brother! You really look like him… only a lot bigger, of course.’
‘No one’s ever told me I look like a mouse before.’
‘There’s a first time for everything. Take it as a compliment!’
‘OK, but before we go any further, how on earth do you speak English?’
‘You think I should be speaking Japanese?’
‘No, I mean how are you speaking at all?’
‘I picked it up from watching TV and listening to the radio. Whenever a TV or radio was on in any home I stayed in, I’d listen and learn. It’s amazing what you can pick up that way.’
‘My head’s spinning! Let’s change the subject: why do you want to get out of here?’
‘Would you like to be stuck in a little cage? Would you like to be experimented on? They put horrible drops into our eyes that hurt dreadfully… they even inject cancerous cells into us… and, O, so much else! And all as experiments! You probably write experimental poetry… well, these are real experiments, and they’re painful, and they kill!’
‘How did you know I’ve written experimental poetry? And how do you even know about such things?’
‘Ah, a little mouse told me. No, come on, I was guessing: you look like you’d be the sort who’d write that stuff, and as for the rest, well, I listen to the radio and watch TV, as I told you. Ian McMillan’s my favourite for presenting what you call ‘poetry’. But then I’m a mouse, remember.’
‘I suppose it’s for a good cause, the experiments, I mean. Not experimental poetry… well, not necessarily, anyway.’
‘If you believe that, you’ll believe anything: you’ll be telling me next that there isn’t a God.’
‘Is there a God?’
‘Of course there is!’
‘But if you say there isn’t a God, is that a belief? Or simply a denial of belief?’
‘For an almost brother of mine, you’re not terribly bright. I don’t say that unkindly, needless to say. Of course it’s a belief – but an impoverished one!’
‘I can’t believe you really learned to speak English from listening to the radio and watching TV.’
‘Believe whatever you like. By the way, what do you plan to do when you grow up?’
‘Hey! I’m thirty-six, you know… Besides, aren’t you quoting from a film?’
‘And so, what do you want to do?’
‘What cheek! Besides writing experimental poetry, I have some ideas for short stories… For example, ‘Ghost of a Chance’, which is about how a chance event releases a ghost into the living world…’
‘Then there’s ‘The Loneliest Wombat’. It’s for children. I can even recite the beginning: “Wanda lived alone. She rarely left whichever hole she currently resided in, apart from when looking for food. She had no friends. Or rather, none that she saw any more.”’
‘You’ve memorised that! Bravo! But is that all there is of it?’
‘As soon as you entered the room, I had you pegged as a loner…’
‘And as a loser!’
‘Hey, do you want me to help you or not?’
‘Would it help matters if I said you seemed like a highly successful person?’
‘I don’t suppose so.’ I sighed. I knew the inevitable was going to happen. ‘After I’ve picked the lock on your cage…’
‘You can pick locks?’
‘I’ve done a few more things in my life than write experimental poetry and work as a nightwatchman. So, after I’ve picked the lock and released you…’
‘If you want to know where this mouse is going next, that depends on you, doesn’t it?’
‘I’ll lose my job.’
‘What will I do then?’
The mouse looked at him steadily.
‘We’ll go off together. We’ll have adventures… and fun. My name is Marmaduke, by the way.’
‘I… I… I…!’
‘Couldn’t you leave a little note saying, “We did this, not your nightwatchman”, and sign it ‘The Animal Liberation Front’?’
‘Yeah, but what about me? Why didn’t I stop them?’
‘There were too many of them. OK, let’s add a PS: “There were fifty of us. And we’ve taken your nightwatchman hostage. Expect a ransom note in a year or two.”’
‘It beggars belief, but I can’t think of anything better, due to my head swimming!’
‘Write your note, and let’s get out of here!’ exclaimed Marmaduke.
We went back to my little flat, my rather humble… no, OK, squalid little flat in South London. But we knew we couldn’t stay there long.
Marmaduke was not impressed by my… humble place. For example, he inspected the cupboards in the kitchen. ‘Cans, cans… rows of cans… canned soup, canned meat, canned tomatoes, canned fish… cans!’
And then I remembered my former philosophy tutor, Gwen. She’d recently written to say that her husband Andrew had died. And she’d said I was welcome to come and stay any time I liked.
She was in Bridport. Which is in Dorset.
So Marmaduke and I took the Weymouth bus. ‘How much for one, to Bridport?’ I asked the conductor.
‘Two, actually’, said Marmaduke, who was in my coat pocket.
‘Make up your mind, son – for one or two? And why the silly voice?’ the conductor said peevishly.
The journey seemed to take forever, although altogether it can’t have been more than three hours, including a fairly long wait somewhere… I was too out of it to notice where.
And when we reached Bridport, we had to get a taxi from the town centre.
I’d become a little apprehensive. I mean, despite our recent correspondence, I hadn’t actually seen Gwen in quite some years.
I rang the doorbell. And the door opened.
Gwen was much as I remembered, only older… tall, slim, stylish… long hair, now grey… good looking… so good looking, I’d always thought… a small cigar in her hand.
‘Hello, Gwen’, Marmaduke said. ‘We’re home.’
‘Ah, I’ve been dreaming about you both! And now you’re here.’
We were talking over drinks a little later, Gwen with red wine, me with white, and Marmaduke with water.
‘Time and eternity are not opposites, at least in the sense of being within the same system and on the same plane’, said Marmaduke. ‘Space and infinity can be seen in the same way.’
‘That’s.. ah, interesting’, said Gwen.
‘You didn’t get that from watching TV!’ I said.
‘OK, who said that?’
‘No idea. I was eating some dark chocolate I’d rescued from a mouse trap, so I missed the opening credits. And then I was… well, I’d rather draw a veil over this, but it involved the missus. That’s how I missed the closing credits.’
But after going to bed, and after a long sleep, I woke… woke to find Gwen’s bungalow in ruins, and Gwen gone, and Marmaduke nowhere to be found. Were they ghosts? Am I haunted? A cold wind blew through the ruins, and dust and cobwebs were everywhere. A beam collapsed, and then another.
No. I hadn’t really woken at all.
It was a dream… and perhaps… a dream of a film I’d once seen?
And now I really woke.
‘Dear me, you have slept a long time!’ said Gwen. ‘It’s lunch time now.’
‘And I have a special treat’, said Marmaduke. ‘Dark chocolate! Well… courtesy of Gwen.’
Oh God, I must be still dreaming, I thought.
I pinched myself.
Gwen and Marmaduke were still there.
Ah well, I thought, it could be a lot worse… in fact, it couldn’t really be better.
Home. I was home.
‘You know, I think I’ll write about our adventures together.’
‘What will you call it?’
‘How about “The Mouse that Soared”?’
‘Ha! Good – but I have an improvement for you.’
‘ “That Mouse Who Soared”.’
‘No, I have an improvement as well. Call it “The Mouse and His Half-Brother Who Soared’”, said Gwen.
‘So be it!’
But I didn’t. Because Gwen had another idea:
‘No, I think you should call it “Marmaduke and I”.’
And so I have.
© David Miller 2023
A beautiful, inspiring tale. May every Marmaduke find a proactive brother or sister for the same! These atrocities have to end.Comment by Heidi Stephenson on 12 March, 2023 at 9:38 pm