Station by Rita Collins

Where is the mouse hole and who is the mouse? Surely there is more to life than scrabbling back and forth with a few stale crumbs in a dreary existence.

You probably think of a mouse hole as a barely discernable puncture. A bothersome blemish at the base of a wall. Most days it probably wouldn’t even catch your attention. Except when you happen to drop a 20Kč coin and it rolls around and around and around on the kitchen floor. The way a coin does. Mocking you. You lumber in an ungainly fashion trying to catch the coin, grasping at its diminishing circular trajectory. Finally, the coin tilts just enough, wobbles, and then falls flat, waiting for you. You bend over to pick it up, pissed how long it took to rightfully reclaim your 20Kč. Pissed because there are too many things going wrong from that Chinese virus and the office shutting down and…  And then you notice the hole, right where the baseboard joins the floor. A tiny hole with a few crumbs in front.  Very tiny crumbs.  Peering closer, you suspect the crumbs are from your morning’s toast because with Julia moved out why bother to use a plate. The errant 20Kč coin nestled in your pocket is forgotten. And there’s nothing you can do about Julia. So sensibly your pissedness moves on to the mouse.  Or rather at the effort to trap it.

Never enough light and too many people. Tourists feel uneasy walking through. Blasé locals know how to hold purses and backpacks. One shop window is jammed with shoes, another with a tangle of underwear, pajamas, and t-shirts. There’s a shop selling nuts, another sells cigarettes and newspapers. An Asian woman winds up plastic toys she sets racing in circles to attract buyers, their mechanical noise screeching off the tunnel’s walls.  Ah yes, the walls. Would you like me to describe the dull grime, old posters peeling off announcing mediocre concerts, an empty shop window covered with disintegrating newspaper?  Or the floor scuffed by thousands, millions of feet that scrabble back and forth from the train station to the larger shops?  Cigarette butts, candy wrappers, gum, spit.  Really no one needs this. We walk quickly to get through, slightly alert for a pickpocket or brought to dull consciousness by a penitent asking for change. No lingering. We don’t make eye contact. Our purpose is to endure the space just long enough to get from here to there. We don’t look at floor or walls. We glimpse the stairs ahead. See daylight. See a gigantic piece of cheese. Remember being there, having a drink with Julia, looking out over the city.

There’s the mouse hole and the irritation having to find a trap, set it before going to bed.  And going to bed alone because, crazy Julia moved home to live with her frigging mom for no good reason. Then waking sharply from a dream in the darkest part of the night to hear that flat smack. Other sounds follow. Of course, the mouse isn’t going to die instantly. Those cheap traps aren’t designed that way.  You lie in bed alone waiting until the night’s quiet returns.  But sleep is gone. Do you deal with the carcass now or in the morning?  Would it be better to dispose of it when only partially awake? Or tomorrow when you feel in charge of life, righteously tossing trap and mouse into the garbage bin? Like morning would put you in charge of anything.

Myší díra.  Mouse hole. Those rumblings aren’t feet tripping in the kitchen trying to catch a 20Kč coin.  No, those rumblings come from trains; the screech of their brakes unnerving yet muffled enough by meters of concrete so the Asian woman’s toys still take precedence. But the shudder felt from every surface? That comes from trains pulling into, leaving the Brno station up above, the station where you dropped Julia when she left for her mom’s. The shudder amplified by feet surging through the tunnel and those dashing to catch a train. Movement. Like the coin, like the trap springing shut on its victim, like you shuffling through the mouse hole towards that piece of cheese.

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