The Seeing-Eye Mouse ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
Bandy was the only blind squirrel in the neighborhood. He had been blind since his youth when he was attacked by a dog and thrown against a large rock for dead. Since that time he had had an unnatural fear of dogs and the men who brought them into the woods to hunt and kill.
Blind though he was, Bandy had learned to get along quite well, mostly with the help of his seeing-eye mouse, whose name was Marcel. The two of them lived together in Bandy’s snug little nest in the fork of a tree high off the ground, where they were safe and happy. Marcel helped Bandy collect the food he needed and Bandy gave Marcel a home and kept him from being alone, as his entire family had been swept away in a flood when he was still just a mouseling.
Winter was over and spring just commencing. Bandy and Marcel had been down to the river, where they had sat beside the water all morning long breathing in the smells. Bandy snoozed in the sun while Marcel sat beside him and knitted a sweater and kept an eye out for danger. They were on their way back home and were almost to their tree when they came upon a lady squirrel, a stranger to the neighborhood. She wore a traveling hat with feathers and carried a bundle. She was looking all around as though trying to decide which direction to take.
“You lost, lady?” Marcel asked.
The lady squirrel gave Marcel a big smile showing all her teeth. It took him a moment to realize she wasn’t smiling at him but at Bandy.
“Bandy, darling!” she said, taking Bandy’s paw in hers and ignoring Marcel.
“Who’s there?” Bandy asked. He titled his head back as if he could recognize her by her smell.
“It’s Sally Cato,” she said. “From long, long ago.”
“Sally Cato,” he said. “Sally Cato from the home place?”
“That’s right!” Her eyes glistened with tears.
“Well, my good Lord!” he said. “What brings you here?”
“Why, I came to see you, of course!”
“Well, I’m must say! I’m almost speechless. I never expected to see you or anybody from the home place ever again.”
“You’re not really seeing me?” she asked, turning her head to the side to show her skepticism. “Are you?”
“I want you to meet my companion and my best friend,” Bandy said. “His name is Marcel. He’s a mouse.”
“Charmed, I’m sure,” Sally Cato said, looking down her nose at Marcel.
“Likewise,” Marcel said. He could barely keep from snarling.
“You must come up and have a drink,” Bandy said. “I hope you can stay for supper.”
“I hope I can stay for more than that!” she said with a tinkling little laugh.
When the three of them were in the nest, Sally Cato looked around with an appraising eye. She went from room to room, opening doors and drawers. “My,” she said, clasping her paws together, “you do have a snug little home here!”
“I couldn’t wish for better,” Bandy said.
“This is such a tall, sturdy tree! You’re so high up you don’t ever have to be bothered by those frightening creatures that roam through the woods trying to kill us.”
“They’re called humans,” Marcel said.
“That’s why we chose this spot,” Bandy said. “Marcel and I built the nest together. We’ve lived here ever since. How long ago has that been, Marcel?”
“A long time,” Marcel said. “I don’t remember anything before.”
“Happy, so happy!” Sally Cato said, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
Marcel made a pitcher of martinis and after he had served them Sally Cato launched into the story of her life since she and Bandy had last seen each other at the home place.
“My mother died when I was still in high school and my father remarried,” she said tearfully. “I never got along very well with my stepmother. After she tried to kill me three or four times, I ran away from home. I stayed with friends whenever they would have me, drifting from place to place, never having a nest of my own. I was lonely and unhappy.”
“Poor kid!” Bandy said.
“I met this guy at a party and we hit it off right away. His name was Frank. I didn’t know anything about him but I agreed to marry him as soon as he asked me. Well, that was a huge mistake, let me tell you! He had already been married two times and he had a bunch of kids that he expected me to take care of as if they was my own. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his mother lived with him and, let me tell you, that old lady was a nasty piece of business! She treated me like I was some kind of a hired girl or something. She never stopped yapping at me all day long—do this, now do that!—while Frank was away working. I couldn’t take a nap or listen to the radio or do my nails or nothing. I had to restrain myself to keep from strangling her.”
“I think I see a pattern her,” Marcel said.
“I was all set to leave Frank and that’s when I met Dwayne. He was as dull as dishwater, nothing at all like Frank, but he didn’t have a mother, thank goodness, and I felt safe with him. I divorced Frank and married Dwayne as soon as the law allowed. We moved into a lovely little nest and in that first year I gave birth to a litter of six babies. Dwayne was so happy he wet all over himself.”
“Are you sure it was happiness?” Marcel asked.
“Everything went along well for a while and then Dwayne was killed by a hunter one day just without any warning at all. One minute I had a husband and six kids and the next minute I just had the six kids. I wasn’t equipped to support and raise them on my own. I left them with a cousin of mine—temporarily, of course—and came west. I told them I’d send for them just as soon as I found work and settled in a nest.”
“Gosh,” Marcel said, “everything except the hounds snapping at her rear end.”
Sally Cato dried her eyes and downed a martini before continuing. “I went down to the home place but everybody there had either died or moved on. I heard about your accident.”
“It wasn’t an accident,” Bandy said. “I was attacked.”
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Marcel said.
“We all have our troubles, ain’t we?” she said.
She finally dried her eyes and they had a pleasant dinner, during which Bandy asked her where she was planning on going next.
“Wherever the wind takes me,” she said.
“Would you like to stay here with me and Marcel for a few days until you decide your next move?” Bandy asked. “You can sleep in the spare room and we have plenty of food.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you out none,” she said.
“We would love to have you. Wouldn’t we, Marcel?”
Marcel spit a glob of food into his napkin and had to get up from the table to go to the bathroom.
In two days Sally Cato had made the nest her own. She rearranged all the furniture, hung some frilly curtains, and, with a kerchief tied around her head, cleaned the place from top to bottom. She told Marcel she wanted to break him of some of his bad habits, such as picking his teeth and grooming himself at the table. She absolutely forbade him from entering the nest without making sure his shoes were clean. All these things Bandy accepted with his usual good humor.
Soon Sally Cato decided that she and Bandy should get married. She hadn’t had very good luck with her two previous husbands and, truth be told, she liked the idea of having a blind husband, one she could control at all times. She had known Bandy almost her whole life and had always liked him in a way. He wasn’t terribly exciting but, then, there’s always a tradeoff. Maybe she had already had enough excitement in her life and was ready to settle down to a quiet life of domesticity. She might even have more kids if it was in the cards.
She began to try to get Bandy used to the idea that they didn’t need Marcel. When they were married, she would do all the things for Bandy that Marcel had always done.
“And, anyway, I don’t like mice,” she said. “It gives me the creeps having one in the nest. You and he are different species. It just isn’t right that the two of you should be living together, sleeping in the same room. There’s already talk, whispered insinuations.”
“What kind of talk?” Bandy asked, shocked at the suggestion.
“Figure it out, big boy!”
“I’ve never cared what others think. Marcel and I have always been very happy living together. We’re very compatible. If others don’t like it, that’s their problem.”
“Nevertheless, I think the little fellow has to go.”
“Where will he go? This is his home. It’s always been his home.”
“That isn’t my problem, is it? It doesn’t need to be your problem, either. Just tell him he has to go.”
Bandy refused to put Marcel out of his home. He would concede to Sally Cato on almost every point, but not on that one. Sally Cato was not to be deterred, however. She decided to have a talk with Marcel herself and tell him he just wasn’t wanted or needed anymore. Wouldn’t he rather be with his own kind? In a place where he was wanted? Without a word, Marcel produced the deed to the nest stating that he and Bandy were equal owners on into perpetuity. She would have grabbed the deed and torn it up if Marcel hadn’t been a little quicker than she was.
She seemed to have resigned herself, at last, to the reality that Marcel wasn’t leaving. It was going to be Bandy, her, and Marcel living in the nest forever. She toned down her carping, at least until after she and Bandy were married, and seemed to be making a genuine effort to get along with Marcel. She started calling him “dear” and smiling at him whenever she caught his eye. Nothing she did would ever make him like her, though.
One evening after supper, when it was just getting dark out, Sally Cato said she was having a terrible pain in her stomach. She didn’t know what was wrong, but it must have been something she ate. She went to bed and covered up and moaned as if she was dying. Bandy was concerned. Marcel was delighted.
She said she had had such attacks before and all she needed was a certain kind of medicine from the drug store. She wrote down the name and sent Marcel out to get it. He didn’t like going out at night all alone—there were many dangers in the forest—but he didn’t know how he could refuse. He put on his coat and hat and set out.
He had gone only a short distance when he heard a slight rustling sound. He looked up just in time to see an enormous owl dropping out of the tree toward him. He had just enough time before the owl landed on him to remove himself and run inside a fortunately placed hollow log. The owl lighted on the log and picked at it with its claws for a while but, realizing there was no way to extract the tantalizing fat mouse without a major expenditure of time and effort, flew away. Marcel waited a half-hour or so to make sure he wasn’t being tricked and then ran home as fast as he could.
He hoped to find Sally Cato dead, but she was much improved. She was sitting on Bandy’s lap giggling like a young girl. There was no sign that she had been terribly ill just a few minutes earlier. When Marcel opened the door and walked in, she nearly choked on her laughter and stood up, pulling her skirt down over her knees as if she had been caught in a naughty act.
“How much did you pay the owl?” Marcel asked quietly.
“I said ‘how much did you pay the owl’?”
“Why, whatever do you mean?”
“You sent me out on a false errand and you arranged for an owl to get me. How much did you have to pay the owl?”
“Is this true?” Bandy asked.
“Of course, it isn’t true,” she said. “Why, the very idea!”
“One of us has got to go, bitch,” Marcel said, “and it’s not going to be me.”
“Bandy, are you going to let that little son of a bitch speak to me that way?” she said, hands on her hips.
The next morning at the breakfast table there was a strained silence. Sally Cato refused to look at Marcel or acknowledge his presence. Bandy’s brow was furrowed as if he was thinking or had a terrible headache. Marcel chewed his food with gusto and slurped his tea extra loud because he knew Sally Cato didn’t like it.
“Read me the headlines,” Bandy said to Marcel, handing him the newspaper.
Marcel took the paper, swallowed his toast, and was just about to commence reading when there was a loud knock on the door. Sally Cato, mistress of the manner, went to the door with a little sashay and opened it to reveal two squirrels in trench coats and fedoras. They flashed their badges at Sally Cato and introduced themselves as police detectives.
“What is this about?” she said with a huff of impatience. “Are you selling tickets or something?”
“Are you Miss Sally Cato?” one of the detectives asked.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to come along with us, ma’am. We’ve got a warrant for your arrest.”
“That’s ridiculous,” she said. “I haven’t done anything.”
“Then you have nothing to worry about,” the other detective said as he stepped forward and clapped the handcuffs on her.
She could be heard screaming and swearing all over the neighborhood as the police detectives took her away.
Bandy turned to Marcel at the table. “Are you behind this?” he asked.
“I swear I’m not,” Marcel said. “I don’t know any more than you do.”
“Well, good show anyway,” Bandy said.
Even though it was still only breakfast time, they got out the bottle of brandy and made a celebratory toast.
“Ding-dong, the witch is dead,” Marcel said.
“You’re terrible,” Bandy said, but he couldn’t keep from laughing and being glad.
Copyright © 2012 by Allen Kopp