Let’s Say I Am, a children’s short story by Richard Jones

A holiday read – 12 Days of Stories, Day 3: a prize-winning mouse’s tale

Illustration: Belinda Evans

Illustration: Belinda Evans

 

Let’s say I am a mouse. I’m not a mouse. But let’s say I am. What sort of mouse would I be? I’ll answer for you. I’d be a brown-haired field mouse who likes books. I think you’ll agree with that. I see myself now, sitting at your bedside, reading a book ten times my size. You turn the pages. I read out the words. Afterwards, I curl into the tiniest mouse ball and sleep in a hollow on your bed. I notice how careful you are when you roll over.

*

In the morning I am the first to hear the cry. ‘Mouse! Mouse!’ The cry wakes you up. You look for me but I have gone. I am under the bed. ‘There’s a mouse!’ It’s your mum. She’s in her dressing gown. You try to look surprised. ‘There’s a mouse under your bed!’

*

Let’s say this is a film. If it is a film, it will have a soundtrack. Perhaps the soundtrack is the sound of a heart beating. The sound means different things. If we see the mouse and hear the heart, we will be scared for the mouse. We will watch the mouse, thinking, the little mouse cannot get away! This little mouse is trapped! What is the little mouse going to do? If we hear the heart and see your mum, we will think, the woman is scared of the mouse! The woman is in danger! That little mouse might not be so little!

*

But it is not a film. The only heartbeat you can hear is your own. You watch your mum start pulling things out from under your bed. A box of dressing-up clothes. You think, I haven’t worn that for a long time. ‘There it is!’ says your mum. ‘There’s the mouse!’

*

The last time this happened things did not go too well. Let’s say I am a memory. As a memory, I am full of shadow but you can just about make me out. I am a happy memory that has turned sad. If I was a leaf, which I’m not, I would have turned a beautiful colour on the tree.

*

‘Get a box!’ says your mum. You are only half awake. This means that you don’t really know what sort of box your mum wants from you. You stumble across the bedroom and pick up an old shoe box.

‘That will do,’ says your mum. ‘Empty it!’ Inside the box is a glove, a spinning top and a small microscope. You think, I know where the other glove is!

*

Let’s say there is a chase scene. A chase scene puts your mum behind the wheel. She swerves down a little alleyway and pulls out into the middle of the road. ‘Careful Mum!’ you say. ‘I’m an expert!’ says your mum. ‘Hold tight!’ The car accelerates. There I am, up ahead, on a bike. I pedal like the wind. I go up onto the pavement and down onto the road. I manage to flip my bike up onto a wall and scoot along the top of it. I do all the tricks you really shouldn’t do if you are on a bike. Then I drop down behind a fence and you drive past me. I see you pointing the other way on purpose.

*

I hide in the roof of the house. Because we have said that I am a mouse, we can imagine a little chair, with a little bookcase, and maybe a table and other mousey things. There is a crack in a brick, which is like a window to me, and through it, on some nights, I can see the moon passing in its journey across the sky. When I see the moon, I think how far away it is and how close. Its light fills the crack in the brick and it is as if the light has been built into the house.

*

Last time this happened, everything got packed up. Clothes from your cupboard were tipped into a bag. The fish tank was wrapped up. The chest of drawers was taken apart on the floor. ‘We can’t risk it!’ said your mum. ‘This is a house with a mouse.’ You liked the way the words began to rhyme.

*

Up in the roof, I listen for the sounds of packing. Let’s say it is a tune. It is the kind of tune you might hear playing on the radio next door. There is no start to the tune and no end. You don’t even like it. But you have noticed that you are humming it. You even moved to the rhythm once or twice.

*

Last time, I followed you. Let’s say I was an owl. I stretched up into the sky and watched the van down below. All your things were in that van. I circled around it high in the sky. I watched it squeeze down narrow country lanes. I saw the trees grow heavy with summer branches. I floated down to where it stopped. You dragged a bin bag with a pillow in it. You were thinking, I hope this is a house without a mouse.

*

Let’s say this is not happening. Let’s say we are all sitting around eating cake. Let’s say I am still a mouse and I am eating cake with you at the table. What a great day! Maybe it’s your birthday! Let’s say that. The icing is delicious! And instead of ‘Mouse! Mouse! Catch that horrible mouse!’ we hear, ‘Read us a story, Mouse! Do that trick with your tail!’

*

Some people don’t like mice. It’s not their fault. Maybe they liked them once. Maybe they grew tired of finding tiny mouse poos on their clean carpets and polished floors. Maybe, one day, they couldn’t find something that they wanted and put the blame on a mouse. Mice like cheese. If someone is looking for cheese, maybe mice are to blame if cheese can’t be found. But if someone is looking for something else, something bigger, something like, say, a golden crown, a magic stone, the source of eternal happiness and life - well, then, leave the mouse alone! Mice have nothing to do with it!

*

But, as I say, I am not a mouse. Last time, you reminded me of this. I had finished reading. I was just about to roll myself into a ball to go to sleep and you said, ‘Why do you have to be a mouse?’ It was a good question. It woke me right back up. I am thinking about it now in the roof of the house. I am staring through my crack in the wall. If I had not been a mouse, I would not have been chased from the house. And I am not a mouse.

*

I do not want you to pack up your things again. Last time, I dropped down into your garden with the moon. I watched you unpack. Your mum was dancing between the windows. The windows were all lit up, you see. How happy you were unpacking! You spun round and round. Your mum held you. Let’s say I am the light that bounces through the glass. At one moment, you pointed outside at the shadow of an owl.

*

This is a house without a mouse. I can see that. That’s how it should be. You can’t start every day with a mouse hunt in the bedroom! You can’t spend your life hunting mice with wooden spoons! Remember how your mum used to carry that wooden spoon around? It was a large spoon. It reminded you of pasta. But your mum was looking for mice. Bowls were balanced on chair legs. Saucepan lids were about to fall. I had to be careful. Let’s say I had to be a jewel thief, dressed in black. I rolled under laser beams and between sliding doors. One day, your mum caught me and drove me out into the countryside and let me go. I came back.

*

Mistake. When I came back, it made it look as though there were more of me. Can you tell the difference between one mouse and another, after all? I should have thought of that. So let’s say there are more of me. I am in all the houses of the world. Are there enough wooden spoons with which to chase me? Where can I go to lay my head?

*

I hide in the roof. I watch the light darken in my window. I worry about the sound of packing. Let’s say I am the worry that we share. You come to look for me. Your hands pull you along floorboards effortlessly. You are brave and strong. You shine a torch into the corners. A pile of old blankets glimmers. I am going to miss you. You call out, ‘Mouse!’ I do not answer.

*

I am the silence that greets you. I am the house without a mouse. That’s something I can give you. I am the sky over your head and the ground under your feet. I am a leaf on a tree. You will find me. I am all the time you have spent looking. Listen! There are stories in the wind. I am the wind that rushes forward and folds back upon itself. If you feel the wind, you will say, ‘I must get out my kite. It’s a red one.’ But I am none of these things. Please let’s just say that I am.

Let’s Say I Am, which recently won the Caterpillar Short Story Prize, features in the current issue of The Caterpillar, available in Easons and select bookshops and newsagents around Ireland, or at thecaterpillarmagazine.com. Illustration by Belinda Evans (www.etsy.com/ie/people/bagardevans)

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.