A Gentleman's Guide to Mice

Jim ripped open a bag of shredded cheese, yanked out a handful of the stuff, and shoved it into his blazer’s inner pocket. A diminutive woman gawked. “I like your scarf,” he told her. “It reminds me of the shits mice make when you kill them and their muscles go slack.” She scurried away.

Jim returned the bag to its shelf. Otherwise there would have been 38 bags and 39 was a friendlier number.

He sidled over to the meat. I am a ninja! he thought, and stuffed a brisket down his pants so fast the security cameras would never catch him. Behold my stealth! He backed up and pressed himself against a rack of chips, arms outstretched. A mother and her child turned into the aisle. “Mommy,” said the child. “Let’s come back to this aisle,” she said.

Jim envisioned himself crouching atop one of the long Target Superstore shelves, waiting for his chance to strike. He darted down the aisle and emerged in bath- and kitchenware. Two salesmen were talking, backs turned. Jim reached for his throwing stars but couldn’t find his pockets: the brisket was heavy and had weighed down his pants, leaving his belt around his thighs and condensation dripping to his ankles. He yelped. Though he enjoyed the breeze, the knees were no place for a gentleman’s trousers.

“She just walked away,” one of the salesmen was saying.

“Shoulda porked ‘er first,” said the other.

“Shown her our Bedroom section,” said the first.

“Excuse me,” said Jim. “Those baskets are misaligned.”

They turned. The one whose bedroom section had no customers had wispy cheek hair. He shrugged. “Can I help you with something?”

“Yes,” said Jim. “Those baskets are misaligned.”

The other salesman, the critic, had scissors tattooed on his wrist. “Can I help you find something?”

“Yes,” said Jim. “I am looking for those baskets to be aligned.”

Wispy-cheeks rolled his eyes and went to fix the baskets. Jim named the remaining salesman Inky.

“You look uncomfortable,” said Inky. “Perhaps I could interest you in one of our lovely cushioned office chairs?”

Jim imagined the sound the brisket would make if he sat on it. Spruelch. He felt clammy. “I’m normal,” he said.

Inky cocked his head.

“I feel normal, I mean. I mean, I am normal too. But I feel normal. A chair would be uncomfortable. I mean, I’m sure it’s very comfortable. There’s no reason it would be uncomfortable. But I’m normal so I don’t need a chair.”

“I see,” said Inky. “A mirror then?”


Jim stood in front of the mirror, fingers tracing his sideburns. His hair looked sharp, he thought, gelled into place like a gentleman.

“Hullo,” he said. No, that didn’t sound right.

“Hi,” he tried again. “Your eyes remind me of my great-aunt’s after her surgery.” That would never do; Amber was a surgeon. Of course her eyes would look that way after surgery.

“Amber,” he said, “your name reminds me of dinosaurs. Would you like to picnic? I like you and I like picnics. The kind in fields with blankets, not the kind with picnic tables and ant hills. But if you like picnic tables I will do that too.”

“Okay Jim,” Amber would say. “I like you and I also like picnics. The blanket kind.”

“I’ll bring quiche,” Jim said, “in a 12-inch pan. And 32 ounces of sweet tea.”

“Is that enough?” he heard her ask.

“It’s a picnic. Of course it’s enough.”

“What if other people want to come?”

“It’s a picnic,” said Jim. “Who else is there?”

No, that was wrong. Jim started over. “I like you like I like dinosaurs,” he said. “Except you’re not a dinosaur. Dinosaurs are big. And you’re not big. Unless I was a mouse, then you would be big. But I’m not a mouse, except on Tuesdays.”

“A sexy mouse,” she would say. “I want to hear you squeak.” She grabbed his collar across the table and mashed her mouth against his. He didn’t even mind the irregular stain the wine would make on his sweater as their violent love sent their meals flying. He stuck out his tongue. He could feel her teeth. He writhed with the sensation of her flesh –

“Jim,” said Julie. “Jim. Jim. Take your tongue off the mirror.” She rested her head on his shoulder.  “Jim. I need you to stop so we can go home.”

Slowly Jim leaned back and pulled his tongue back into his mouth. He imagined Julie walking into the restaurant where he had Amber already half-clothed, skin a beautiful splotchy pink like the curtains at his mother’s house. Julie would be with another man, and they would be angry at each other, and Jim would have to do his own laundry.

“What’s that smell?” asked Julie.

“Don’t take my cheese,” Jim said. “It’s for later.”