Tuesday morning I found a dead field mouse. It was in the shed where I keep my bike.
My breath caught on the sharp edge of the morning bustle. This mouse is here for me, I thought. I set my bicycle aside. I pulled a leaf from the earth and stooped beside the mouse, ready to pick it up by the tail.
But the mouse was still breathing.
The movement of its breath astounded me. Such an inconsequential thing: a millimeter in, a millimeter out. My whole world of Important Plans vanished into thimble-sized lungs beneath a swatch of gray fur. I squatted in the shed watching the deepening sleep of a small, small creature.
I picked it up. It weighed nothing. A tissue. A pamphlet. I set it out on the wooden ledge in the sunshine.
The lilacs have begun to open above that ledge. Can a dying field mouse smell lilac blossoms?
I wept to watch the mouse so close to death. Not a river of tears. Just a fountain turned on and then off again. I wept on my bike ride to school. I wept later in the day, three or four times. Thinking of it now, I still could cry.
When you’re about to get married, you spend a lot of time smiling. Monday morning we put the invitations in the mailbox.
When you’re about to get married, you find yourself hurrying between Important Plans at dizzying speeds. After school on Tuesday I had a voice lesson to teach, then a dress fitting, then dinner with Jade.
Meanwhile time stood still on the wooden ledge. No scavengers came along, not even the ants. On Wednesday afternoon the mouse looked much the same as Tuesday morning. It had stopped breathing.
I took my landlord’s shovel from the shed and laid the mouse to rest.
Many years ago I killed half a dozen mice, when they took up residence in a kitchen I hardly remember. We used those merciless old-fashioned traps. I can’t recall what I did with the bodies.
Tuesday’s field mouse lies in the earth under the birdbath.
Between all the smiling and the hurrying, much in my life is coming to an end. My years at Stoneridge. My residence in my beloved apartment. My singleness. I cannot bury these things. I cannot watch them take their final breaths beneath the lilacs.
It takes two minutes to dig a grave for a mouse. Not everyone would bother, of course. Perhaps that’s why the field mouse came to me. As I returned the shovel to the shed, the rain began to fall.