The other night in group you told everyone that you knew I was a better writer. That the work you held in your hand, that you’d read the week before, was full of potential and awe. That you knew I could do better. You knew it. But how did you know? You’ve never read anything else I’ve written. Unless you’ve managed to stalk me online and find something else I’ve posted and decided the ten minutes I took to spend words like dollar bills at a strip club produced better results than the endless hours I spent on fifteen double-spaced pages. How could you know?
It didn’t bother me until 3:28 a.m., near the time demons torment their mark in derisive language to insult their godliness. There was a sound, faint, but clear. Like two sharp teeth clicking down on bottom chompers with wire stuck between. I realized it was a mouse with You’re a better writer tattooed down its back, gnawing at the amygdala at the base of my brain. My hands flew to the back of my head to brush the mouse away and during the transition I knocked the glass of water over on my night stand. It soaked my new Neil Gaiman book and I swore out loud at the dark because you just had to tell me you knew I was better.
Now shaking from the epinephrine release I scrambled up from the bed side and stomped into the bathroom to get a towel. The noise I made from my grumbling was enough to wake her but my wife groaned when I turned the light on to wipe up my mess. Then I knew you’d really gone and done it because you upset her and there was nothing I could do to save you from that. Underneath the covers she’d pulled over her head she mumbled something about putting some clothes on and because I sleep naked I dragged on some sweatpants from the floor behind me.
As I bent down to blot up the water from the carpet I saw a thin pink tail dash under the bed frame. My head turned upside down as I peered between the dust bunnies to see two beady eyes glaring back. There was a mouse, different than the first, with Failure written across its forehead. I scowled at the creature before I was surprised by a “eep eep” sound somewhere across the room. Rather than stand like a normal person I pressed my body up and posed in downward dog so I could see between my legs what had made the sound.
There was another mouse, up on its hind legs, with Pen Life inked down its belly. As though it were a thug rodent fresh from writer’s prison. I swear it flashed a gang sign. Surprised I tried to stand and hit my head on the table by the bed. The lamp fell over and what water was left in my glass spilled out onto my back. More mumbling came from under the covers but I couldn’t discern the words across the California king. I laid on the floor with my mouth pressed against the carpet fibers and coughed from the hidden specks of dust I’d managed to stir up.
I wondered briefly if this is what Hunter Thompson felt like when the bats flew at his head in Fear and Loathing. Then quickly shook the thought away when I felt a tickle on the bottom of my left foot. I flopped like a fish out of water and found yet another mouse sitting patiently between my feet. This one was brown and turned to reveal Uncarved Block shaved out of its fur. After a moment it did a series of back handsprings across the floor to meet the other mice. And there were more. Try Harder and There Is No Spoon were among the other tattooed phrases.
The mice climbed up on one another to form a pyramid of acrobatic rodents. Like a gross, furry little cheer squad. At the apex of the triangle a dark gray mouse, with long white whiskers, looked at me and I found myself waiting for it to speak to me as Gandalf to Frodo. Then the overhead light clicked on and I collapsed into a fetal position fearing a comet had crashed into our bedroom.
“What on earth are you doing?” my wife asked. I lowered my hands away from my face and winced back at her through the combined 240 watts of glow.
I felt my eyes go wide. “There were mice, they were trying to tell me something!”
“What the hell are you talking about? It’s 3:45 in the morning.”
“The mice!” I shouted. “I’m a better writer, she said so.” I stated it matter-of-factly while scanning over where the mice had organized.
“The mouse told you that you are a better writer?”
“No, the instructor in group. She said she knew. How could she know?”
Holding her face in her left hand with her right arm crossed in front my wife said, “You’re dreaming. Jesus, get back into bed and go back to sleep. No more melatonin for you.” Then she clicked off the light and marched back to her side of the bed. I crawled on the floor, taking one last look under the furniture.
Before laying my head down I felt inside the pillow case to be sure nothing else would chew on me. The adrenaline crash was already taking hold. My eyelids were like weighted canvas that draped down to shift me into darkness. I reached over to fumble for the light switch on my lamp and clicked it off. I still wanted to know what made you think you knew I could be a better writer. But the exhaustion had now caught up to me and the want was a little less. Just before I fell asleep again I said to my wife, “I think we should get a cat.”