The Fat Mouse
From the short story collection - Once Upon
On the twenty sixth day a small slit in the door opened, revealing a bit of light surrounding a metal cup of water and a chunk of a bolillos, a hard roll. Samuel reached down and pulled the plate to himself, then pushed an empty plate back. For twenty six days, by his count, the routine had been the same. He marked the days by the feeding—one bread and water meal per day. He marked the weeks the same way. One day per week the plate contained boned salt fish; he wasn’t Catholic, but he decided to name fish day, as Friday.
“They want to keep me alive, but just barely.”
When he first arrived, he tried to speak to them through the slit, but there was never a reply.
His cell wasn’t tall, at least when he tried to stand he bumped his head, and could not fully stretch out. The first day in the cell he had measured the width and depth with his arms. There was only enough room for him to sleep in a fetal position.
He named feeding time as six in the evening, though he had no way of knowing. Sleep regulation was important, so he devised a method of dark time keeping. He knew that evening exercise and personal time had been exactly two hours—carefully managed by his drill instructors. He had always spent his personal time praying. Often it was the same prayer, built around the time schedule.
Samuel carefully tore the crust off of the bread, strained the water through the remaining part of the loaf. He drank from the plate and chewed on the crust. Then he stuffed the soggy bread into a mouse hole, which he had found in the wall.
“Sir Mouse,” he whispered, “the bread I saved for you again, I trust the Lord knows the favor you do for me.”
He did a series of sit ups and leg crunches, then knelt on the floor and did a hundred short pushups. He stood and made himself diagonal in the cell and did a hundred more. His foot touched a square trap door. Samuel laughed, “yes, foot, our escape is there, but beyond the flap is only a bedpan and a block wall. He knew that the pan was periodically emptied because a board sealed off the flap, there was noise, and then an empty pan filled the space when the board was removed. He had numerous times explored the hole in the wall, and came to no conclusion.
He finished his regiment of exercise and food, and fell on his knees to pray.
“Lord, I’m still here. I ask for nothing more that what you have provided. This I can do because I know you are there, and that alone is enough, because you told me you would be.”
His prayer continued with a routine of carefully worded phases. He used a combination of words, which he tried to remember from his days of training.
Then he sat with his back to the wall and recounted New Testament stories, attempting to put the verses in the right order. At approximately the same time during his routine, he heard a stirring from the mouse hole. He would just smile and say, “Thank you Jesus.” He then worked on Old Testament stories, even though he kept asking God’s forgiveness, because he had forgotten so much. Each period of work was measured mentally, such that he figured he worked four hours on each. The mouse was his clock.
Sleep was where his time was uncontrolled, but after each time he put his head down to sleep he woke and recreated his memorized Bible study from the period before sleep at least until his next issue of bread; thus he judged his sleep.
The twenty seventh day no fish came, no pan of bread, no cup of water. He sat staring at the doorway wondering if he had miscalculated. Finally, he heard the scratching in the mouse hole. He sensed that something entered the room with him, and then he saw the slot open and a fat mouse struggle to get through. He reached his fingers down and pushed the mouse from behind. When he did the entire door swung open.