By Molly Weisgrau
I am dating a man who takes apart mice for a living. In the name of curing Alzheimer’s, or autism, or albinism. He sits on my living room couch and sticks his fingers inside me and tells me that he pinches their feet to be sure they’re asleep before embalming them alive and sometimes he dreams the mice live in his mattress and chew on his toes at night and could we go to my bedroom.
Everyone has their saddest season and mine is summer. Sadness in summer is clinical. When it gets really bad, I walk to the park in the evenings after my shift at the pizza place. As a kid, their pizza was my favorite because the cheese pulled off in strings just like the kind the Ninja Turtles on TV ate. I sit on the swings, think about how the mice die, like Jesus, with their hands and feet already nailed to a slab.
I get home and realize I locked myself out of my apartment. I consider calling my mom, just to check in, to tell her how unfair it is that I ever had to leave the womb, but she doesn’t answer so I call him instead, and he comes over and we lie on the lawn and he holds my hand and his fingers are rough and peeling from playing guitar in a local band that’s always about to release their first album and will I come see them perform this weekend.
After the mice are pumped full of formaldehyde, he cuts through their skin with scissors as tiny as the ones my mom uses on her eyebrows. Then he opens the ribs pair by pair like a blooming rose and prods the heart and it’s still warm under the filmy coating of his rubber gloves.
He’s driving us to the lake to have a picnic and I ask him what happens to the ones with a bad heart. He tells me they all get incinerated eventually and I watch the way his gut bounces against the seatbelt across his lap and I think about how boys aren’t taught to suck in their stomachs and I wonder if he thinks about me as he stands at the sink washing mouse blood off his hands and in that moment I hate him.
“I haven’t felt joy since I was ten,” he says, handing me a beer.
I sit on a blanket on the muddy beach and we watch a group of teenagers do backflips off their pontoon and he kisses me once they’re out of sight.
“Are you feeling something now?” I ask.
“I’d like to feel more,” he says and rolls on top of me and the metal edge of his watch knocks rhythmically against my head and I put his earlobe in my mouth and imagine swallowing his diamond stud and keeping it lodged in my chest. A droplet of his sweat drips onto my face and I wonder if the swallowed stud would show up on an airport X-ray and will I flip onto my stomach and will I come for him.
The summer air is as hot and wet as dog breath and often smells just as bad. I swear the moisture seeps into my bones and turns my blood to goo and maybe that’s why I can’t move when he gets too close. He has a row of scalpels on his desk that he uses to cut the brains into slices as thin as tissue paper that light up with deformities under his microscope and when I feel his hands on my skin I wonder if he’s searching for the disease bred into me too.
He keeps cutting, until he can peel away the mouse’s skin from its head and saw a little hole in its skull to get to what he’s really after. He sends me pictures of brains lined up in plastic cups. They look like candy, like pink jelly that would pop in my mouth. He calls it surgery, not euthanasia or sacrifice or slaughter and I think about the bodies with their deflated heads and I wish I could bury them all in their own little grave with a sprig of baby’s breath in their mouth and they could become earth again, but of course there are too many and soon all the dirt would be mice.
My mom has me over for lemonade in her garden. A honey bee hovers around the sweating yellow pitcher and the bee is so small and soft and delicate and I want to pet its fuzzy back with a single finger and tell it that it deserved a better lot in life than ripping out its own guts defending itself.
My mom takes my face in her hands. “Cheer up,” she says. “Everything is in front of you.” And in that moment with myself and the honey bee I know that she’s right.
We are locked out on the lawn again and his fingers are in my hair and I wonder if my flesh and lust and purpose can be reduced to the firing of synapses and whether that makes it better or worse that something so warm can make me so sad. I whisper in his ear and ask him if he will love me gently tonight and he pins my arms down at my sides and I watch the heat ripple on the horizon and listen to the golden hum of the cicadas and feel the dirt caking underneath my fingernails and all of it is mice.