I was 12 the first time I saw a mouse in the wild. And by wild, I mean the storage area of The Kitchen Experts store where my father worked. It was an interesting time in my life. My father and I were between homes, as we had been asked to leave our previous apartment, and for reasons I was too young to understand, we had yet to find a new one. Because of this, I spent a lot of time with my father while he was at work. I never minded it though. In fact, I looked forward it, because even in difficult times, he had this magical way of turning everyday life into an adventure.
Given the amount of time I spent there, The Kitchen Experts became as comfortable and familiar to me as a second home; and for good reason. The front of the store was a wide open showroom featuring several different kitchen designs. It was a simple yet elegant world where I could loose myself and pretend to know what it felt like to own such charmingly beautiful things. I loved to run my hands across the cool marble counter tops, indulging in fantasies of luxury and ease. It was my quiet calm; the enduring embodiment of strength in a world of perpetual struggle.
The back of the store could be accessed from the front showroom, but also from a door in the alley behind the store. This was how I usually entered when I came to see my father after school. The door lead into a hallway lined on either side with dusty shelves holding various building materials and equipment. Just beyond the hall was a door that led to a dimly lit storage space that had been converted into a exceptionally small living room with a pull-out couch, built-in kitchen, and tiny bathroom. This was where employees could relax and take their breaks. It was also where my father and I were now living. I had brought a friend from school by one time to show her our tiny hideaway. I expected her to marvel at the adventure that had become my life, but the look on her face stunned me back to reality, and cracked the bubble that surrounded my confidence. I didn’t bring her back a second time.
To pass the time between school and bed, I often brought my homework and books into the hallway outside of our makeshift apartment. I was a lover of unusual spaces, and it was more appealing to spread out among the ladders and sawdust than to stay glued to the 14″ TV stashed on the shelf in front of the pull-out couch. It was here that I felt most comfortable. I didn’t mind sitting on the dirty floor, in fact I often sprawled out on my stomach, chin tucked into one hand, book in another. Interestingly, it was this very position that brought me face to face with fear, and left me paralyzed in its wake.
I was half dozing, half reading when I felt something shift in the air around me. I glanced over the top of my book and froze. Two dull, black eyes stared hard into mine. I began to tremble, my breath coming in quick, shallow gulps. My skin prickled with fear, and my body turned to lead. Eventually I managed to let out a strangled cry that brought my father running. He found me sprawled helplessly on the floor, pinned unmercifully beneath the harsh glare of a tiny brown mouse, not two feet from my head. I wasn’t sure how the standoff could end in anything other than my own death, but my father’s loud and unexpected laugh was enough to shatter the creature’s brazen stare, sending him running into the shadows.
After that, my father decided I needed to start spending more time outside, and we eventually moved into an old farmhouse that belonged to a friend of his. It was temporary until we found a place of our own, and that was a good thing, for although we now had a house with more rooms than we knew what to do with, we didn’t have a working furnace. Unfortunately, with winter fast approaching, this wasn’t a problem that could be laughed away this time.