There is a mouse in my toe and he comes out at night and whispers in my ear all the better ways I could have done everything I did that day. And there is no negotiating with this mouse—the mouse is right and needs to be listened to because if he isn't I might go to sleep feeling comfortable and maybe confident and I just wouldn't know what to do with myself.
I used to see mice in my grandfather's house. I used to think they were refugees, hiding from foxes that treated the forest as their own, so I stayed up all night and used a spoon to set off the traps my grandmother set out and after they snapped I ate the peanut butter bait. In the morning my grandmother said they must be little ones, too light, and my grandfather gave me a watered-down shot of whiskey to numb my toothache. He smiled more in the mornings when no mice were in sight.
I killed the mouse that lives in my toe once. He got sloppy late one night and climbed into my yawning mouth and was mashed in my numb teeth and I brushed myself of him the next morning. But I've bad days since. Days when I've woken up on my living room floor, fully clothed, wondering who turned the thermostat up to ninety. I bet it was that mouse. I thought I killed that mouse, but maybe I was blackout drunk . . . for a month.
I used to share a house with a girl. She set out traps when that house had mice but didn't have the constitution to look when they snapped, so I put the dead things in a bag and took them to the trash and was met with a kiss when I came back inside. We split bottles of wine until we decided we needed our own and then we switched to liquor and one time the trap behind the stove went off and didn't quite kill the mouse. I pulled out the stove and saw the mouse spasm in the space behind the stove and wall. I said I didn't know what to do and this girl came and crushed the mouse with her boot. A few months later I threw up into the river during a float trip and she spent the night in a separate sleeping bag the rest of weekend. When the trip was over she told me that was the last time and moved in with her mother.
I bet it was that mouse. I thought I killed that mouse, but maybe I was blackout drunk . . . for a month.
I didn't think I was all knees and elbows until this mouse told me I was. And I didn't believe it until I tripped on the stairs and spilled my coffee on five strangers and they weren't happy and I said, I'm sorry, it's just that my ankle is an elbow. Two of the strangers smiled and I liked those odds, two out of five, so I kept saying it. Sorry, I don't have that paperwork finished but, you see, my knuckles are knees and just can't hold a pen. No, I'm not avoiding you, it's just that my jaw is a shoulder and I don't know what to do about it. And now I have a hard time standing, well, getting out of bed.
Sometimes the only thing I want is to fall asleep so tomorrow will be here now, but I wonder if tomorrow will be just like today and why care if there is no difference except there might be a difference. It's all a gamble. I guess I'd be more willing to put money down if it weren't for that mouse. I might alternate beer and coffee for the next couple hours just to see who wins. That mouse will come back anyway.
I met an exterminator in a bar and showed him my toe.
He's back, I said. I've seen him.
The exterminator didn’t say anything to me but whispered something to the bartender and I got kicked out. I heard that mouse squeak every other step the whole way home. That squeak sounded like the clerk at the beer store, the one who knows my name and where I’m from and that I prefer saisons to IPAs, or maybe the squeak was that clerk's voice. I don’t remember. It sounded like the cracked skin on the back of my heel, the fold at the bottom of my gut, and the shake of my hands when I'm sober.
Andy Myers lives in Springfield, Missouri. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Rougarou, Lime Hawk, and Gigantic Sequins.
Illustration by Caytlin Kuszeswki