by Kate Finegan
I never tell my mom about the boys. I never tell her I was one of them.
One of those boys — rascals, scoundrels, she sounds like a black-and-white movie — who snuck mice into school before the morning rush, smuggled in through boxes, backpacks. We released them — into vents and trash cans, tampon bins in bathrooms. The mice didn’t want to go; I had to shake them out, lift them by their tails. They squeaked.
Mom boils potatoes without water — forgets to pour it in. It isn’t the first time she’s forgotten — the teapot, the coffee maker, a can of condensed soup.
Her memories don’t want to go. They claw and cling inside her heart as synapses shake them out.
Mice. She sees them on the news, tuts when the newscaster says they were disposed of.
There was a three-legged one inside my box. It stood crooked; I forced it out regardless, in service to my senior class. The boys.
“In my day,” she says, frowning as she bites into a charred bit of potato, “we filled the classrooms with balloons. The teachers were so angry — old Miss Harper yelled so, I can still just hear it.”
I nod, watch mice run from her ears, nose, and mouth. I shake my head, shut my eyes. The mice disappear, but I hear little feet scurrying, see one slip under the fridge.
“Miss Harper was my third-grade teacher,” I say. “The one who made me scrape gum from the desks.”
Mom smiles — “Of course” — but a tail slips from her lips. She sucks it back without a blink.
I don’t mention that kids did that while she was teaching — that the janitor let them in, that they piled all the desks up on the lawn, and that she laughed, and she loved it, the popping of balloons.
The next day at school, the boys are riding high; all anyone can talk about is mice.
“Called in ten exterminators,” one says.
“In hazmat suits,” says another.
“You’re so stupid,” a girl says.
“And cruel,” says another, but both of them are smiling.
All day, I hear squeaking, pitter patter of small feet, and remember waking up in a sea of round ears, pink noses, pointed and probing, how I swatted them like flies and felt their bones break beneath me.
Every one whispered a memory that wasn’t mine — a memory my mom had shared.
In the morning, water whistled in the teapot.
“I dreamed of mice last night,” Mom said, and I told her she was only dreaming.
Kate Finegan recently published the chapbook The Size of Texas with Penrose Press. Her work has won contests with Thresholds, Phoebe Journal, Midwestern Gothic, and The Fiddlehead, and been runner-up for The Puritan’s Thomas Morton Memorial Prize, shortlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize and Synaesthesia Flash Fiction Prize, and longlisted by Room. She is assistant fiction editor at Longleaf Review. You can find her at katefinegan.ink and @kehfinegan.