When I saw the mouse in the guest room, I shrieked louder than I cried today. The shriek startled us both. The mouse bolted, jumped high in the air and then scurried away someplace. I don't know where, because I scurried away someplace too. It's been the worst day of my life but all I can think about is how big his ears were and how high it jumped for such a little thing. It seemed impossible.
I'm pouring myself a sherry in the kitchen. I know you'd disapprove. It’s only four o’clock in the afternoon. But my nerves are shot. Truly. What a day. I'm so sorry love that I've done this to you. I want to say sorry to you over and over again, but I know you wouldn’t understand. There's no point, it would only upset you. You'd get confused. You might shriek as loudly as I just did.
It had an air of a survivor, that mouse, which I could relate to, and dark black-hole eyes that seemed to suck light from the room. How did that little bugger get into our guest room? I don’t know, and right now, I don’t care. I guess I've heard scurries about the house sometimes but always just assumed it was a branch from a tree grating against the side of the house. What’s to be done with the little rodent? You’d know what to do.
You always knew what to do. Be it sorting out practical things or comforting me when I was upset. It's what drew me to you in the first place, your kindness. After we met at that ballroom dance at the town hall, all I could think about was you. I felt insecure like I might not be good enough. But as we courted, your love soothed my insecurity. Recklessly, I fell in love. But I trusted you, and you never let me down.
And today I betrayed your trust. Didn’t I, love? I know that I did. It seemed like a nice enough place. The staff were friendly, and they seemed half-human. Frazzled but with enough heart left to care, maybe changing residents out of dirty clothes and pads quickly. And the facility was clean. You had a lovely view over the courtyard. There was an apple tree in the middle. What a funny place to have an apple tree! But I know you can look at that and maybe that will mean something to you. I don’t know.
What was I supposed to do? Your good humour meant looking after you was easy. Odd things would happen from time to time, like the car keys being put in the fridge, but it was as comical as it was concerning. But then you got worse. You forgot your manners. And being confused is frightening. Your shouting was just your way of expressing it, I know that. But when you wandered down the street in your pyjamas and the police had to drag you home, I knew it had become too much.
I take a long swig of sherry. It tastes good. Maybe a bit too sweet. I seem to have developed a taste for bitter lately. There’s a faint scratching upstairs. The mouse must be back. It’s bizarre but I’m happy there’s another soul in the house tonight. Having discovered a mouse, I should be worrying about whether there’s more of them, whether we have a vermin-infested house that will never sell if I want to downsize. But that scurrying noise, it just makes me think: that’s my little mouse with the big ears.
Maybe he’s hungry? There’s a bag of grated cheese in the fridge and I take a handful. Grated cheese, a bugbear of yours - have we become too lazy to grate our own cheese? I have, that’s for sure. Cheese in hand, I creep up the stairs. The floorboards creak in tune with my joints. Back in the guestroom, with a neatly made bed and wall pictures that never made it into the main house, I place the cheese onto the wooden floor just beside the bed leg. I could sit in one of the two cushioned chairs, but instead, I make a comfy nest in the corner with pillows from the bed. I sip sherry and wait. It'd be good to see that little mouse again.
My heart shrieks and I think, more than anything, I’d love to see you again. I mean, as you were. Maybe five years ago, before that disease took you from me. I can picture you now, with your short grey hair and cleanly shaven face. You could never sit still, always tinkering with things around the house, in your cheap shorts and paint-stained top. I don’t know if I can bear to see you now. When you don’t even know who I am anymore and just keep asking for your Mum. She’s long gone, love, we buried her decades ago. But you don’t remember that like you don’t remember me.
Such a complex thing, memory. Who knows how it really works. I get them to play your favourite music, to try and give you some comfort, maybe stir some old memories. Is that just wishful thinking on my part? But then, you do have the odd moments of clarity. Like when you remember Mike or Louise for a moment.
You had one of those moments of clarity today and it's the only thing that's keeping me sane. You turned to me suddenly and said, “It’s alright, Geraldine.” That's all you managed to say but it meant everything to me. I'm sure you meant so much by that. That you were alright in there, that you weren’t suffering. And that leaving you there was the best thing for you and me.
A tear trickles down my face and I lift the sherry to take a sip. I look up to see my little furry friend nibbling at the cheese and he’s looking right back at me. Just like you love, there’s no way for me to know what he’s thinking. But he’s eating and he’s keeping me company. One survivor to another. Just a few paces away. And I think he agrees with you. It’s alright.