American Fancy Rat & Mouse Association

This article is from the WSSF 2014 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.


Twelve-Hour Friend

By Heidi Stephenson, U.K.

I called you Pip, because you were so small, so perfect. You had the tiniest hands I’d ever seen; You picked up my offered nut-shavings so delicately. Your ears were like the petals of a white pea flower, Your eyes, bright, like blackcurrant berries or sloes. You had a bow of whiskers, like a fairy’s cello.

I’d gone to get wood from the log-pile; And found you instead—an injured wood mouse. Nerve damage to your back legs, which you dragged behind you; A trickle of blood from an invisible wound. So I picked you up gently, in the palm of my hand. Carried you upstairs, away from the cat,

I set you down on the softest pillow. Went down to grate red peanuts, birdseed, bits of cheese, To fill a bottle top with water, to crush strawberries. You were hungry; you ate as if there was no tomorrow. You were thirsty too, and you drank and drank; Although you kept losing your balance.

I knew those legs meant trouble, But somehow you managed to use them, to scratch your face; To rid yourself of some irritating mite. You looked at me straight in the eye; shy, but grateful. A gentle trembling, but you knew you’d landed safely. I’d never felt so much love in one moment; your’s shone.

I rang the wildlife hospital near Salisbury. The woman sighed when she heard the word paralysis. Told me to find an old shoe box, an ice-cream carton, To line it with shredded toilet paper, Something soft, and comfortable. To make sure you had food and water, quiet.

She spoke about bananas and other fruit; But my mind was drifting. She wouldn’t take you in; I was to ring her in the morning, If you made it through the night. I can’t do anymore than you’re doing, she said. Spare her the journey.

She knew, but I’d set my mind on hope; I prayed that you would make it. By seven you’d collapsed, Against the sliced grapes, in that carton. I couldn’t leave you there, abandoned, alone. I picked you up, set you down on the pillow beside me.

I gave you Reiki, into the early hours of the morning. You drank it in, knowing I was making my best effort. But your breathing became short and laboured, rasping. You cried and whimpered with the pain; with realization. It broke my heart like nothing else, to see you suffer. I prayed for them to take you now, to be merciful.

I thought about every mouse tortured to death by crush sadists; About every mouse lying broken in a trap, in a laboratory cage. I thought about Mrs Tittlemouse; How Beatrix Potter had been an ardent anti-vivisectionist. I thought about the idiocy of women screaming at such innocence. About how the only real pest is the human being.

And I felt the tremendous privilege of being with you; Such a rare honour, to bear witness to this passing. When I woke in the morning, you were gone. Your tiny body still warm, so very recent. You’d struggled to get closer; died on the sheet beside me. Your legs splayed out behind you—reaching out.

I buried you: digging the ground with a pudding spoon; In the ivy-covered place, where I’d found you. I thought about how much fuss we make of our own deaths; Of how little consideration we give to the passing of animals: To the lambs, chicks, calves and pigs; to the foxes hunted for fun. I thought about what an injustice that was; what an arrogance.

I lay you down on a lining of dried bamboo leaves, Covered you with beech, with broken flower heads, a feather. I scooped the loam with my hands, and filled your fresh grave in. And I marked your place with a heart-shaped stone, Which I’d found in the forest that morning; A special tribute to my twelve-hour friend.

Ed. Note: Heidi is a British-based animal campaigner, animal lover, and writer. She had a rare experience with a wood mouse whilst animal sitting for friends in the New Forest. *

July 13, 2017