It started with a gizzard. A young mouse followed a dark striped squirrel excitedly chattering of a place he knew with grain and plenty of it, no one else knows about it, the squirrel said. He was wrong and the mouse became breakfast for a trio of crows; a moment before his fate was decided, the mouse realised why the others left their nests only at dusk or night, his friend the squirrel had called them old-fashioned and the mouse had laughed along; a quarter of the moment before he could see his terror reflected on the shiny beady eyes of the crows, the mouse realised another vital truth, the squirrel had disappeared.
The dogs found the gizzard and fought over which one of them will make a snack of it. It proved too tough to tear easy; someone whistled and they ran to it leaving their find behind. The gizzard lay gathering dust and dirt securing its place until a new home could be found, but the spot it presumed unobtrusive turned out to be farthest from the same, a young master thought it perfectly suited for a well. A water diviner hired to confirm this thought, agreed with him, praising the new landlord’s acumen before him, whistling and rubbing the new coin in his pocket while walking away from him. The gizzard fell into the well as water filled it and started losing its edges into the same water that the young master proceeded to pronounce as the sweetest he had ever tasted.
The young master, the new landlord to the tenants spotted across the hundred acres he now owned, was not a particularly young man, nor was his wife; the community though thought them so because they liked the way this couple looked; they liked how straight his spine stood and how her hair shone like burnished wood. The dogs were hers and all that she took when she left her home and ran away with him. Had the community known of this they might have reconsidered and regretted how eagerly they appointed the young master and mistress as new pillars of their community; for they were a people proud of their values.
A third of the gizzard was now in the water.
The vicar seated at the head of the table proclaimed it a sign most blessed. This water speaks of the goodness that lives here, he said. Everyone raised their glasses and said, hear hear.
A second third of the gizzard was pining for the home lost to it now. It sat with the last third of the gizzard at the tip of a narrow nick in the well’s wall. The mouse it shared room in always cried for a friend, the other mice never wanted to be friends, they knew the stories he didn’t and the warnings they held: never trust the white, the clean, the pure and the free. The mouse kept crying until he met the squirrel, once he had a friend he didn’t care about the rest, he twirled his cream white whiskers and skipped about his way behind the squirrel and his bushy tail.
The last third of the gizzard was trying its hardest not to lose its corners; in a last-ditch effort it gathered all its strength and pushed towards its limits left; in this push the gizzard unlocked a long-hidden almost-forgotten memory. Three months after the vicar’s visit without anyone supposing it a change was slowly ravelling across the small community, their pillars were weakening and dust was gathering at their feet. The master and the mistress were no less affected, a strange something pulled at the corners of their lips, their eyes kept unseeing or was it finally seeing the other before them. This something was understood for the first time by a mother mouse when she lay dying. Her children and their children surrounded her. Their whiskers, white and trembling to know the answer to a question mulled over for so long it had taken the form of an heirloom almost. Ah, she sighed, the milky fog in her eyes cleared, she cleared her throat, they inched even closer. And then she died. In time the family forgot the question and the mother, accepting the things that stood as the natural order. Even the dogs weren’t spared by it; they were brothers from the same litter, and now they couldn’t be let out together, every time they were, they were at each other’s necks trying to tear the other to pieces.
The mistress was beginning to find the master unbearable. She could stand him only when he was away. If he wasn’t and in front of her, she tried her best to busy her hands and eyes, anything so long as she didn’t need to look at him; for when she looked at him she didn’t see the man who once swept her off her feet, she saw a rat and when he spoke, she didn’t hear the words, she saw his whiskers twitching, his teeth nibbling on the last tether of her affection.
The master too was finding it hard to be around her. Her hands, her feet looked webbed and clawed to him, if she reached for him, he flinched, if he saw her move from the corner of his eye, he flinched, if she or her hair or any part of her body even grazed him ever the slightest bit, he flinched and scrambled for the door.
Somehow it never struck them, the master or the mistress or any of their neighbours, that they were in the midst of a wave most unreasonable, it was as if they had forgotten that they once felt different about the other.
This that you give you will always get, said the creature to the mouse when she met its eyes, she stuttered a protest but it had presumed right, she did hate it and as the nature of hate went, for no reason why. Even when you don’t give, you will always get, it repeated when it trumped and won the round.
They were at a card game, the owl, the ferret, the mole, the mouse and a strange squat creature with legs a pair shorter than the other, the players. The mouse, a mother far removed to the one whose gizzard continues to propel this story, didn’t even play, it was only at the owl’s insistence that she sat at the table. The others laughed it off, still she dared ask the creature, what it meant, it gave her a fierce scowl and scuttled off without a word.
It wasn’t a rat that the mistress saw in her husband, but a mouse, a dirty brown, white-whiskered, little mouse, some may say a harmless little mouse others may still shriek and wail.
It started with a kitchen knife placed at the edge of the island, an admonition about how precariously placed and dangerous it was, a rejoinder about how dire a certain someone was; the gizzard had completely broken down by now. It started with the water muddling them just as the mouse did then, over and over she obsessed, just as they did days before the incident. It started a fight and led to a death, the master was gone and the mouse was about to, when she realised who the fourth player was, and what it meant; a god or a devil of a god, and the white, a sign of what the mouse and the men will trigger in time.
Nina George is a writer from Kerala who enjoys plotting stories to tree barks among many other things.