Mouse in the House ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(A slightly expanded version of a story I posted in December.)
“How’s the room?” Clarice Herron asked, and as soon as the words were out of her mouth she knew she had asked the same question almost every day for the last three weeks.
“It’s fine,” Evan Rawley said, as he had said all the other times she asked him. “I’ve seen a mouse a couple of times but he doesn’t bother me.”
“Did you know we have a mouse in the house, Marvin?” she asked her husband.
“I asked you if you knew we have a mouse in the house?”
“What am I supposed to do about it? Drive off a cliff?”
“I’ll buy some traps,” she said.
“Don’t do it on my account,” Evan asked. “The mouse doesn’t bother me and I think traps are cruel.”
Marvin Herron put the folded-up newspaper aside and regarded Evan Rawley closely as if he were some kind of specimen he had found on the back steps. “You’ve been here how long now?” he asked.
“Three weeks yesterday,” Evan said.
“And how do you like it so far?”
“This is my first time away from home. I’m still finding my way around.”
“Are you homesick?” Clarice asked.
“A little, I suppose. I’ll have to get used to it, though.”
“How old are you, now?” Marvin asked.
“I’m twenty-three, sir.”
“Oh, yeah. I think you told me that before. And you don’t have to call me ‘sir’. I was twenty-three myself not so very long ago. Seems like yesterday.”
“Oh, brother!” Clarice said.
“Did you say something?” Marvin asked her.
“I said supper is on the table.”
She dumped the vegetables into a bowl and put the meat on a platter and carried them to the table.
As they ate, Marvin seemed more inclined than usual to draw Evan Rawley out. “If you decide you like it here and you want to stay for the term, we can give you a good monthly rate.”
“Yes, sir,” Evan said. “I appreciate that.”
“Now, what is it exactly you do at the university?”
“I’m an assistant professor in the English department. I hope to get a full professorship, but they tell me I have to do this first for at least two years.”
“When you’re young, two years seems like a long time, but it goes by fast,” Marvin said.
“The voice of the sage!” Clarice said and gave Marvin a wry smile.
“Do you have a girlfriend back home?” Marvin asked.
“Oh, no, sir!” Evan said. “I never seem to find the time for that.”
Marvin began talking about “when he was young,” and how different things were then. His first love occurred at only sixteen years. He thought he wanted to get married but soon discovered what a mistake it would have been at that age.
“When he starts talking about himself that way,” Clarice said, “he could go on all night.”
At nearly two o’clock in the morning, Clarice couldn’t sleep. She hadn’t done anything during the day to tire her out. She tried reading a novel and, while it bored her, it didn’t make her want to sleep.
Turning out the light, she pulled the blanket up to her chin and listened to the faraway sounds: a tractor-trailer truck out on the highway, a jet taking off (or was it landing?), a dog barking in somebody’s back yard. Everything so banal.
She couldn’t sleep and the reason was because she couldn’t stop thinking about Evan Rawley. He was so young and his skin so pale and unblemished. She couldn’t help noticing his muscular thighs and buttocks through his dressy pants, and whenever he flexed his arm, his bicep underneath the sleeve of his button-down oxford dress shirt was as big as a melon. His smile was sweet and shy and the way the hair grew on the back of his neck right down into the collar of his shirt was nothing short of fetching. She was a middle-aged woman, married for over twenty years, but her appetite for certain things had not diminished.
She got out of bed and, without putting on the light, slipped a bathrobe over her pajamas and crept up the stairs to the door of Evan’s room. She leaned her ear against the door and listened for any sounds. Figuring he had to be asleep at that hour, she put her hand on the knob, turned it, and went inside.
There was just enough light from the window to see Evan in the bed, sleeping sweetly on his back with his hands over his stomach. He looked just like a young prince. She approached the bed and stood there without making a sound. When he didn’t move, she touched his light-brown hair with her right hand and then, not being able to resist, began stroking it. So soft and tactile, just the way she knew it would be. She continued touching his hair and rubbing her fingers along the stubble on his cheek until he jerked awake, making a little gasping sound.
“What?” he said. “What’s the matter?”
He jumped out of bed and turned on the light. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Is anything wrong?”
She gave him a reassuring smile and shook her head.
“I was having a dream,” he said, “and I thought you were part of the dream.”
“I’ve been dreaming about you, too,” she said.
“What’s the matter? What time is it?” He looked at the clock and when he saw what time it was he groaned.
“I have felt a very deep attraction to you ever since the first time I laid eyes on you,” Clarice said.
“You are a most attractive young man.”
“You woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me that?”
“And not only that, but I’ve seen the way you look at me,” she said.
“What? No, ma’am! I haven’t!”
“I want you to know that it’s all right.”
“Haven’t what, dear?”
“I haven’t looked at you!”
“I wanted to tell you this: if you’d like to get better acquainted, I’d like it too. My husband is away from home a lot. I have plenty of time to myself.”
“No, ma’am! You’ve made a mistake! I’ve never had any thought like that about you!”
“You don’t have to be shy with me, dear,” she said. “I know these things are not always easy.”
“I don’t know what to say!”
“You don’t have to say anything now. Just go back to sleep. But in your waking hours think about what I’ve said.”
At breakfast, Marvin read the morning paper, as was his custom. Clarice filled his coffee cup and set a plate of food on the table in front of him. He set the newspaper aside, only because he couldn’t do two things at once. He was halfway finished eating when he looked at his wife and spoke.
“Where’s what’s-his-name?” he asked. “Our boarder?”
Clarice shrugged her shoulders and said, “He’s gone.”
“What? Gone already?”
“I went up to tell him his breakfast is ready. I thought maybe he overslept. When I opened the door, I saw he had left and taken everything with him.”
“Did he owe us money?”
“He was paid up through the end of next week.”
“I thought he liked it here!”
“I thought so, too.”
“What is the matter with people? He’s the third boarder that’s left in the middle of the night without saying anything.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “You just can’t figure people sometimes.”
“Maybe we’d better just forget about renting that room,” Marvin said. “It must be the mouse.”
“I don’t think the mouse has anything to do with it,” she said. “I’ll run the ad again and maybe next time we’ll find a young man who isn’t so skittish.”
Copyright © 2017 by Allen Kopp