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A Tail of Town & Country

I was sitting in the kitchen, thinking about making a supper of the bread and cheese in front of me. I was alone, as I had been every night since Martha passed away, an empty age ago. I have often thought of moving somewhere more convivial instead of rattling around in this big, isolated, old, cold, damp farmhouse. Especially since Martha died here. But it’s where we had so many happy times together, and I’m not getting any younger, so here I stayed here, gradually fading into the stone walls.

Anyway, there I was by the kitchen table inwardly reminiscing about meals we’d shared, when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye, over by the pantry door. I turned towards the activity, but only caught a flash of something small shooting across the flagstones, heading behind the big oak welsh dresser.

With patience learned through hard practise, I sat immobile watching where I thought the flash had taken refuge. My virtue was rewarded. A small wavering of the shadow showed something was emerging along the skirting from behind the dresser. After a couple of false starts, something crept out tentatively, looking around for any sign of danger. The “something” was definitely a small house-mouse. How it got up here all that way from the village is a matter of conjecture. It probably inadvertently hitched a ride on a delivery cart up from the village, with driver and passenger equally unaware of the other. I doubt if it could have made it overland with all those predators on the lookout for a tasty morsel in the depths of winter; and the weather has been bitterly cold too.

Its cautious creep turned into a headlong dash as it hugged the skirting back towards the pantry. Once there, it stopped again and looked around. Then, curiously, it turned towards me, almost as if it knew I was watching, and sat nonchalantly washing its face and whiskers. Ablutions complete, it turned and squeezed itself under the pantry door, its tail giving a disembodied wiggle before it followed its body out of sight.

I went through a series of emotions in a couple of heartbeats. A stunned surprise at its very existence. An indignity puffing up at its impertinence in invading MY home. An anger rising at the thought of it stealing MY food. But above all, a warm, if wry, amusement bringing a smile, the first for a long, long time.

And so I decided to be tolerant of the little interloper, for a while at least. That night I slept soundly.

The next day I began the process of making friends. A little bit of chocolate goes down very well with a house-mouse; as does cheese, bacon, and beef dripping. I used these titbits to lure her (I had this feeling it was a female) out towards more sensible food. I placed this food a little bit further away from the pantry every day, not a lot; just a few inches, but progressing steadily towards me at the table.

Then I started moving around while she was concentrating on her food, little by little, and never towards her. The first time I tried it, she bolted and didn’t come back for a day. But she seemed to have thought it over and decided I wasn’t that much of a danger. And anyway, the food was good. Whatever the reason, she resumed her regular meal times.

From there I progressed to approaching her. Again, patience and chocolate overcame her initial trepidation, and inch by inch, the gap between us shrank. Until that magic moment when she took a small piece of chocolate directly from me, moved a few steps away, and sat and ate it; and then came back to me for more.

It had taken most of that long hard winter to win her over, but the satisfaction was immense. The rewards from then on were even better. It would be laughable to suggest that a little house-mouse could replace Martha, but, Margaret, her name now, is doing a fine job of easing the pain. She’s a source of company, amusement, and a very, very good listener. Especially at night while we lie curled up in our bed and she cleans my whiskers as I recount the goings-on of old in this farm. Life’s worth living again.

23rd October 2004

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