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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2090236
A mouse reflects on his father's lack of bravery.
Word Count 2000

It was odd to be in a room full of people who all seemed to look up to my dad like he was some kind of hero. A part of me wanted to see him through their eyes just for a moment. But I knew I never would. I knew my father too well, the side of him they never would know, and for that, I’m grateful. Life can be hard enough without the additional strain of family humiliation to bare.

You see, mice aren’t particularly known for their heroic feats or even for having a strong spine. If you’ve ever noticed when we’re spotted, we tend to freeze…that’s good old mousey fear, right there. I’m not ashamed to admit it, it’s in our DNA. But my dad, my dad takes it a step further. He goes beyond freezing in fear and not performing heroic acts to the point of performing acts of cowardliness.

The other mice are looking up to my father right now because he brought home a mouse trap filled with cheese. They see this as a brave and worthy act. In fact, after the numerous rounds of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow,” it was suggested that we name today in honor of him. But I hardly think my father is on the caliber of Mickey or Speedy, even if he weren’t such a coward. He’d simply be a mouse, that’s all, nothing more. Unfortunately, he’s much less.

Let me back up and give you a few examples of my dear old dad’s cowardliness. First, there are just the little things in life. My mom makes the decisions about whether we will eat leftover breadcrumbs or the apple core for dinner. Oh, she’ll ask dad, but he’ll never give a straight answer, simply deferring to her “better judgement.” Admittedly, he’s not wrong about this, but still, be a man, as the saying goes. (Yes, we say that too because, well, ‘be a mouse’ isn’t particularly encouraging.) Then she’ll ask him when he’s going out to find more food. The life of a mouse is, more often than not, about finding the next meal. But he won’t answer anything useful, hemming and hawing and talking about life being full of choices. Ultimately, either she will have to send one of us kids, or she’ll simply take a peek outside to make sure the coast is clear, then she’ll shove him outside and bar him from coming back in.

I’d like to give you a detailed account of one of the excursions where he and I went out together in search of food. More accurately, he was shoved out of the door and refused to go anywhere, so mom talked me into going along to watch out for him. As I went outside, he tried to push past me and slip back inside, but mom prevented him from doing so. I twitched and sniffed my little mousey nose, checking for anything out of the ordinary, then I scurried to the nearby flower pot to begin again. My father, suddenly noticing I’d left his side, or more correctly, left his backside since he’d push his way in behind me and was quietly pressing mom to let him back in. Realizing she wasn’t going to let him back in and that I, now his security blanket, had left him, he shrieked and scampered to catch up.

He stood panting, pressed against the side of the pot, eyes wild, like you’d expect from a cartoon mouse on Saturday morning, not the patriarch of a healthy brood of fourteen. Then he saw me searching and about to make my move when he “accidentally” stepped on my tail, preventing me from running to my next hiding spot. I quietly berated him for his mistake, but he continued standing on my tail, oblivious to the fact that not only was he preventing my next move, but he was hurting his eldest son and, if I may say so myself, the greatest asset to this family, outside of my mother.

Eventually he relented and I stood there rubbing my sore tail while he caught his breath. For my own safety, I decided wait, give him a heads up, and we would travel together to our destination, a trashcan that is often overflowing on Tuesdays and Fridays. I prepared him, or so I thought, but when we were just about to leave, he said he needed to tie his shoes tighter. The funny thing is, he wasn’t wearing any shoes. Yet, he leaned down and retied each of his four shoes, securing the knots in a double knot, then pulling up his imaginary socks, with me harassing him to hurry all the while.

Finally, he’d run out of excuses. He’d tied his shoes that he wasn’t wearing, he’d checking his breath (I’m not even sure why), he’d peered out to ensure the path was clear at least a half dozen times (though I’m convinced he wasn’t looking far enough out to even let his nose get a good luck, let along his eyes), he’d stretched every conceivable muscle, he’d taken a sip of water from his imaginary canteen, he’d taken several sips from his very real flask, and gotten into his runner’s blocks for the fastest possible dash. Then we ran, finally. The next spot was so close, there wasn’t even time to get to fully speed, but he was panting again. I wasn’t sure if it was the terror or all the preparations he’d done to make this little jaunt which had worn him out so. Either way, he was wearing me out.

Eventually, much longer than it should have taken us, we reached our destination. I was right. There was much to be had at this wondrous location. We relaxed a little, chatting as we snacked and picked out the very best to bring back home. It was a time that I would have very much liked to have looked back on, if it hadn’t been tarnished. We spoke of nothing serious, but everything real. We were a father and a son again, as it should have always been. He even got silly, acting out a small play using a toothpick cane and a bottle cap top hat. I laughed harder than I had in a very long time. I relished that time we had and wished it could last, but I knew it couldn’t. We had to get back. I later realized that perhaps a large part of why we had such a great time was he was delaying the inevitable return trip. He didn’t want to go back, risking ourselves, carrying food, making the trip back far more dangerous than the trip over. But as the time passed, it was getting closer and closer to dinner time, a time when the people come home and let their pets out for exercise and bathroom breaks. This was a time that was to be feared, avoided at all cost. Yet, my father, in his own fear, was causing us to be smack in the middle of it.

I cajoled him, pestered him, and even threatened him. He always just wanted to stay a little bit longer, as if he was the child and I was the adult. Eventually, I decided if I left, he’d follow, too afraid to remain out here alone. I said packed up some of the food for him to carry (knowing he’d follow), packed up my own, and said good-bye. He pleaded for just a little more father-son bonding time, but I didn’t relent. I poked my nose out, sniffed the air, checked for vibrations with my whiskers, used my exceptionally beady eyes to check the darkest corners, then set out, well, tried to set out. I realized immediately that my father had once again, set about to foil my plans. He’d grabbed a hold of the sandwich that I was holding and, through that, held me in place until I spun around and caught him in the act. Practically yelling, I didn’t want for him to apologize, nor did I check again, giving him another opportunity to prevent my movement. I simply set out as fast as I could, making a bee-line, or in this case, a mouse-line straight for the next hiding spot. In a panic, he ran after me, leaving his part of the meal.

Did I mention that my father was a coward and not at all useful, even in comparison to your average mouse? I wasn’t kidding. He simply couldn’t overcome his fear. I left him in that spot, went and retrieved the food he was supposed to carry, and placed it on him myself, the set about ensuring the next leg of our journey was equally safe, and hopefully not equally frustrating. As expected, he followed, stepping on my feet, tail, and basically running over the top of me at each stop. Annoyed, I looked forward to returning home.

We were on our last leg when I smelled it…that neighborhood orange tabby—the one who was most commonly the reason for any narrow escape and most not so escapes, that occur in the area. The rotting scent of tuna on his breath carried in the breeze. I let my whiskers tell me the direction and I estimated the distance—both between the cat and us and between us and the hole before ever poking my head out. I knew I had to play this cool because my father wouldn’t perform well if he knew what was up. Luckily, he was panting too hard and looking too terrified to notice the obnoxious scent wafting through the air. I knew I just had to keep his attention and hope the door wasn’t locked when we arrived.

I told him we were making the last leg and complimented him on how calm he’d remained…a lie, but what’s a little white lie among little brown mice? Then, prepared, we darted out. Then that’s when my dad saw him…the orange behemoth. The cat wasn’t even looking in our direction, but my father shrieked in terror, drawing the cat’s attention. Next, he dropped the food he’d been carrying. I can’t really blame him for that, I suppose, now that the cat had spotted us. Though the cover of a partial sandwich might have fooled him given cats aren’t really known for their smarts, at least not this one. But, as we neared the entrance and he screamed for my mother to open the door (again, I can’t really blame him, but he wasn’t helping matters, as all this screaming was causing the panic to raise in me as well), anyway, all the while as he ran and screamed, following closely on my tail, he did the suddenly did the unthinkable. He grabbed my tail and pulled me backward, yelling, “Eat him! Eat him! He’s fatter than I am!” With this move, he was able to get traction and overcome my lead, beating me to the door which my mother had just opened. The cat didn’t even have time to pounce before we were gone.

Do you see now, why I’m quite surprised and know there must be more to the story when my father returns home with a trap full of cheese just in time for the friends to arrive? Mom had sent him out to get something special, but none of us expected him to return in such a grand splendor and carrying such a bounty. After all, this was very uncharacteristic of him. One might think that perhaps that experience had helped him overcome his fears and, ashamed of his behavior, had come to realize it was time for him to take a more active role in the household. But I doubt it. I love my father, I do, but I think it was the trap on his tail that suggested to me that this wasn’t a heroic effort, that he was still a coward, if only a lucky one.
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