MOUSE • by Fiona Murray

The small soggy furry lump had lodged itself firmly in the crack between tiles. Shannon stood silently watching over it. She had recently been watching a lot of spaghetti westerns and had been struck with the idea of becoming a man, or a cowboy, or both. She could hear her mother in the kitchen. Her father, the man of the house, was asleep in the front room.

Shannon’s mother swung open the front door and stepped firmly onto the porch, her neck with pink and patchy skin the texture of wet cardboard. It was the last day of the school holidays, and she was busy getting the house ready for the coming week.

“We should put it out of its misery.” her mother announced.

She came back with the shovel and the mother and the girl both stood there for a while.

“Do you want to do it?” she asked the girl.

There was a streak of a dare in her eye, with an involuntary twitch of her left eyelid catching her off guard. Shannon was unsure if her mother saw something in her abilities, or if she was just sick of always bringing down the shovel herself.

Her mother went back inside to cook dinner including frozen peas and old potatoes. The girl stood for a long time, running her hand up and down the handle of the shovel. Then she sat and looked closer at the mouse. Its eyes were bloodshot, its fur was matted with some indiscernible liquid. A small puddle formed near its foot, the tiny toes trembled loosely like the wispy seeds of a dandelion in a slight breeze. She could almost make out the toenails.

Shannon’s hands were sweating; she wiped them on the front of her jeans, touching the belt she had borrowed from a friend. She liked the way it looked. Soon her T-shirt would be replaced by a plaid button up shirt, as soon as she found somewhere that sold them. But before then she had to start at the Catholic high school.

“Have you done it?” called the mother from the kitchen.

Now she heard the challenge in her tone. Then the sounds of her father waking up, some coughs and groans, and she heard him open the cupboard door. Then the boots clomping.

The bell from the church nearby sounded to mark evening prayers. Shannon hadn’t realised how quickly the last day of holidays had gone. She had her uniform ready to start the next day — a dress and blazer. She had not tried it on yet.

The bell sounded again, reverberating around the empty spaces in the porch with a pitch that seemed to touch into her skin. She wiped the sweat away from her forehead, into her mousy brown hair that she couldn’t wait to cut short.

Again, the bell sounded, and the boots of her father thumped rhythmically towards the door.

With one quick movement, more forceful than necessary, the mouse was gone.

Fiona Murray lives in Sydney where she is a writer and social worker.

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