Elderberry Mice (A Story!!!)
Until they got into the elderberries. Now, it wasn’t that Jeri felt stingy about the berries. They fell out of the trees all the time during the season. Nobody could pick and eat, or pick and can, or pick and ferment all of them. More likely than not, somebody ended up tracking purple into the house. In fact, the first time she saw one of the field mice sitting in her garden, among the marigolds, azaleas and mums, watching her sit on the porch as it daintily munched upon an elderberry, Jeri said aloud, “More power to ya. Enjoy. Tell a friend.” She was kind of dismayed that, at the sound of her voice, the little creature immediately dropped the berry and disappeared, but, later in the week, she was pleased to see another (the same?) mouse, in almost the same place, enjoying another berry.
Their eating wasn’t the problem. Maybe problem wasn’t even the word Jeri used when thinking about it. The issue was the effect of the elderberries on the mice. At first Jeri thought the new color was a trick of the light, or even proof that she needed a new prescription for her glasses. But then one evening, as Mikkee, Temple and Jeri were sitting on the porch enjoying the breezes and the lush smells that came with them, Temple asked, “That mouse ain blue, is it?” Jeri stared, first at Temple and then at the mouse in question; Mikkee, without looking up from The Amazing Maurice, said, “Don’t be stupid.” But when she didn’t hear her momma respond in support, or at all, Mikkee had to look up, too --at Jeri, at Temple’s indication, and finally at the mouse.
“It is blue!” Mikkee conceded, “Or bluish,” ever loath to admit that her sister might be right. This mouse seemed to have changed its coat from velvet gray-brown to velvet gray-blue. And something else occurred to Jeri: during the entire conversation, in which neither Mikkie nor Temple had lowered their voices (because they never did), the mouse simply sat there, training its translucent, delicately-veined ears on them and wiggling its wet-paint nose. It didn’t flee.
“This is an interesting development,” said Jeri.
“We oughta catch it,” said Mikkee, putting down her book, as if she were going to leap upon the creature right then and there.
“Yeah!” said Temple, standing up. Of course, at this point, the blue mouse’s courage? curiosity? dissipated, and it darted into the marigolds.
“Awww!” said the girls, devastated.
“You need to leave it alone anyway,” said Jeri. “Leave all of them alone. How’d you like it if some huge person took you away from your family just because you were brown –so she could study you?”
“Awww,” said the girls.
The Elderberry Phenomenon changed the complexion of everything (not just the mice). Mikkee and Temple started leaving little piles of elderberries all over the garden, hoping to entice little blue creatures out into the open. Blue mice was the first thing Jeri thought of every time she went outside. The second thing she thought of, obviously, was the kittens.
And then the matter was settled. One evening, while the family sat in the living room, watching An American Tale, Merlin appeared with a gift which he laid at Jeri’s feet. It was a blue mouse.
“Awww!” said the girls, devastated.
“I knew this would happen,” said Jeri. “Oh, well. Such is life.” Mikkee, wiping her eyes, gingerly picked up the little creature and put it in one of the plastic containers in which the Szechuan Inn delivered take out. The three of them had a quiet little ceremony in the back yard that evening.
Shortly after the “amen,” Temple gasped. Staring at Merlin and Nimue, who were frolicking among the clover under the moonlight, she whispered, “Those kittens ain blue, are they?”
Dear Jesus, brother, bless the single mothers who have made up their minds to answer the tough questions --as best they can.