Well then, now seems as good (and perhaps a better) time as any.
It was a winter’s day, the day before the day so many know as Christmas and Allister had moved far away from his family.
Allister sat at his window and looked outside at a frozen world. Ice had crawled up and over the fence and crept up to the edge of the window. He could see his mailbox had been sealed shut. And Allister imagined all the important letters and cards trapped inside, desperately wanting to get to Allister and express their season’s greetings. But, instead, they would be forced to share their messages and greetings with the other cards and letters in the solitude of that frozen box as the world headed toward a new ice age.
The world can seem big and empty when you are far away from what you know.
Inside his home, a fire popped, crackled, and hissed the cold into a retreat and left the place warm. But, outside, Allister’s home had attempted to cry, had dripped tears down its roof that were meant to hit the ground and create a chain reaction of watery melting. But, the tears were held in place in icicle form. And, though some of them were very close, none of them had reached the ground.
Allister sat and bathed in the warmth of nostalgia. He looked to his lonely Christmas tree and saw all of those that were not there with him. A father. An uncle. A mother. An aunt. Grandparents. Cousins. It was warm there in his memories and it was easy to stay there and let them steep. One could even stay there for a lifetime. In fact, it was possible that Allister had resigned himself to do so. But, we will never know for certain because Allister heard a scurrying.
It was in the walls, at first. Yes, in the walls! Then- no wait! It was under the floorboards...and...in the walls again...in the ceiling...walls...floor...walls...mantel!
Yes, the mantel. There it was, standing upright at the center of the mantel. A mouse, poking its nose into the air and basking in the glow from Allister's fireplace.
And, just like that and so very abruptly, Allister was pulled from the past into the present. He did not lunge so much as trip. And, as he fell, the little mouse scurried back into the walls...the ceiling...walls...floor...walls again...ceiling...walls...and out from a hole just beneath the window. A hole so small that, had Allister not tripped and landed face to hole with it, he would never have known it existed.
And, out of the hole, poked the pink little pink of the mouse's little nose. And, soon after, came the mouse. It was the first full glimpse Allister had of him. He was tiny. And he was a mouse. Those were generics. The specifics were that his hair was sandy and well-kept. His eyes were hazel with the tiniest of twinkles in them. His ears seemed bigger than a mouse's ears should. His underbelly was a lighter sand color than the rest of his fur. And his whiskers curled up at the ends as if he had waxed the tips for a night out on the town.
Oh, and one more thing. He walked right up to Allister and touched his nose to Allister's nose. Looking into the tiny hazel mouse eyes, Allister felt for a moment that it was an apology as much as it was a greeting. That moment soon passed, though. Allister did not have time for it. He had memories to get back to. So, Allister made a fist and tried to pound the mouse. But, from his disadvantaged position on the floor, the awkward jerkiness was enough to trigger the little mouse's flee instinct. And, so, it did. It fled.
Allister waited for some time. He was absolutely quiet. So quiet that he could hear the world outside continue to freeze. And the fire poppped, crackled, and continued to hiss. But, there was no scurrying. Allister pushed himself up from the floor and stood. He walked to a drawer, pulled out a trap, stuck cheese in it, set it next to the hole, and waited and waited and waited and patiently waited and fell asleep on the couch closest to the hole.
Allister tended to fall asleep when he was patiently waiting.
His dreams were filled with sepia-tinted memories and giggling and presents and carols and family and, late that night, Allister heard the snap of the trap springing into action. There was a clear and visceral thud to it that rang of reality. But, the sound was off in the distance and Allister continued in his slumber until the sun woke him.
When Allister opened his eyes, it was Christmas morning. And, there on the pillow, was his only gift. It was the piece of cheese. It had been carefully placed, without a bite in it. And, next to the cheese, standing upright, was the little mouse. There was a flash of a moment where Allister thought that the mouse was mocking him. And the mouse must have sensed that because, in that same flash, the mouse was gone.
And Allister had felt ashamed for his flash of insecurity. He had seen terror in the mouse's little hazel eyes. And, what's more, there was hurt in them. It had only been the flash of a moment, but if you had been there in that moment, you would have seen the hurt. The cheese had been brought there as a gift. The mouse did not know that the cheese was once Allister's or, what's more, that it was Allister who set the trap. The mouse simply saw cheese and decided to give it to Allister. It did not even know that the trap was a trap. That became all the more apparent when Allister retrieved the trap and saw that the tip of the mouse's tail had been clipped off by the trap's iron bar.
All day, Allister could think of no one and no thing except that littlest of little mice and how its little feelings had been hurt- how his little tail had been hurt- how it became more and more obvious that the little mouse was alone, too.
Allister longed to hear scurrying. In the walls...ceiling...walls...floor...walls...anywhere. But, nothing.
So, Allister went back to his window with every intention of dipping back into the deep well of holiday memories. But, when he got to the window, he was held back from dipping. The previous night, snow had fallen and covered the ice. But, what kept him from dipping into the well was not the surprise of snow. The mailbox had been opened. And tiny footprints led from the mailbox to the house. Allister stepped back to his couch. He was stunned. His mind was filled with half and quarter-finished thoughts like, "what-," "I don't-," "why-," and "how?" And Allister sat on the couch and put his head on the pillow to fall asleep.
Allister tended to fall asleep when he was stunned.
But, before dozing, he put his palm under the pillow for positioning. And he felt paper. He felt envelopes. He sat up and threw the pillow aside and there, carefully set, were all his letters and cards from family and friends. Another gift from his little friend. And still no scurrying. Allister did not know what to do next. So, he walked to the kitchen to make a sandwich.
Allister tended to eat a sandwich when he did not know what to do next.
He opened his breadbox and there, nestled between two pieces of bread, was the mouse sleeping away its shivers.
Allister pulled the top piece of bread (it had been whole wheat) up and tucked his friend in, before closing the breadbox.
Allister gave but one gift that year. He gave the mouse a room in his house (the breadbox).
And the mouse, well, he began to sew (oh, yes, the breadbox mouse could sew) a gift for Allister that had every intention of becoming a sweater but would eventually settle on being a mitten.