She lifted the lid of the first and inside was the tiniest of her mice, the youngest. Her name was Binky. She was curled up, small and weak, amongst pink baby cloths with her eyes shut.
Paula’s older brother, Charles, approached and peered in at Binky. “She stinks! Let’s give her a bath!” he said, and disappeared into the kitchen around the corner.
He returned with a Tupperware container of warm sudsy water, plopped her in, and with one of the cloths began to rub her wee head. Binky squeaked in protest.
“You have to wash every part,” said Charles, and proceeded to rub the mouse all over.
“You’re hurting her!” said Paula. And when he wouldn’t stop, the mouse squeaked again.
“That’s too rough! Don’t!” said Paula, hitting him on the arm. But it was too late. Paula began to cry.
“Oh, shut up,” said Charles. “You’re not a baby anymore.”
With a wincing face, she scooped up Binky and held her to the light. “You have to have hands gentle like a breeze, or you’ll hurt her.”
She examined the mouse. “Aww, poor thing.”
“I don’t see any owies,” said Charles.
“They’re not the kind you can see,” said Paula, “They’re the worser kind.”
Charles shrugged then carried the bath container away.
“Oh, Binky, why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you bite him?” she said. She lowered her into the box, covered her with the remaining cloths, and put the lid on.
There was commotion inside the second box. Paula tried the lid but it was stuck. How many were in there and what were they doing?! While she heard rustling and the scratching of feet, vague and fragmented images emerged in her mind. Images of flesh and fur and tails. It made her feel as if she were choking and locked inside a hot, fog-filled and crowded room.
She pushed that box aside and opened the third one. Inside was a mouse, larger than the first, whose name was Alien. He wore an outfit, a yellow shirt and blue pants. Paula smiled.
Her other brother, Henry, snuck over. “Why does he have clothes on?”
“’Cause they look nice,” said Paula.
“He doesn’t need ‘em on.” He picked Alien up by the tail and swung him into his other hand.
Paula inhaled sharply and froze. “Oh no,” she whispered, “Oh no, no, no.”
“Come on, little guy. You’re just so cute. I can’t get over it.” He pulled at the mouse’s shirt.
“Henry,” said Paula, “I want his outfit to stay on until he gets a playmate.”
“Aw, I just wanna look at his fur,” said Henry, and tore off the shirt. When he tried for the pants, Alien bit him hard on the finger. Henry cursed then dumped him into his box.
Paula picked up the shirt, put the lid on, and ran to get her mother’s sewing kit. It took much longer than she was hoping, but she managed a rough stitching job and put the shirt back onto Alien who sniffed and looked around tentatively.
She put the lid back on again and pulled the fourth box over. The lid came off easily and she looked in at nothing which, at the same time, was a very big something, a giant invisible mouse. She had read about this one when she was doing a school project on cruelty to animals.
This one had been seized and taken to a secret drawer wherein her captor stuffed pieces of cotton ball into her mouth, then tortured and violated her with various objects. The mouse survived, Paula knew that much, but she couldn’t finish reading about it for she was in anguish.
She knew it wasn’t really her mouse, yet there it was in the fourth box. She picked up the imaginary animal by its tail and threw it out the window, but it scurried back in and that’s when she realized she couldn’t deal with all those mice by herself.
Paula stacked the four boxes in the corner of the living room and waited expectantly for ideas of what to do next.