mus musculus

By Ann Hart

The closet I sit in is dark and smells of cedar.  The electricity went off days ago and the candles, which were decorative and dim, only lasted a few hours. The hurricane lamp gave good light, its bright orange flame steady and true in its cut glass chimney. It was an antique, inherited from my grandmother.  For years it sat unused on the fireplace mantle next to Grandpa John’s pipe, dad’s high school baseball trophies and Uncle Peter’s Silver Star. The flame had been comforting in the gloom until the last of the oil ran out. Now there is only darkness.

In the not so distant past the room beyond the heavy, wooden door had been my parent’s bedroom. Each morning the rising sun had filled its lace-covered windows with warmth and light. Now, the white-painted casements are covered with pink rolls of insulation and left-over aluminum siding long ago stored, ”just in case.”  A few weeks ago I sat on the foot of the big four-poster bed watching my mother put on lipstick as she prepared for her day. A few days ago I had sat tensely on that same bed, alerted by the appearance of a pinpoint of light that my time in the room had come to an end and my time in the closet had begun.

The relentless sound of thousands of tiny teeth has been my only indication of time.  During the day, when most of them are sleeping, the sounds of individuals are more distinct. I can almost hear each little creature gnawing into the house around me, each little jaw macerating the wood, plaster and insulation to a digestible pulp. At night I sit with my hands pressed tightly against my ears; the sound is a roaring crescendo that peaks in the middle of the night and slowly dies off as they slink toward their nests, shiny eyes turned away from the rising sun.

People fleeing north stopped to fill water containers and confer over maps. They brought stories that seemed more like fairy tales than truths.  In voices that shook with shock and fear they told us about homes, farms, entire towns devoured. We began preparations — stockpiling water and food, reinforcing doors, and covering the windows. They arrived sooner than we had expected. I have been alone ever since.

As days pass rescue seems less and less likely.  I wonder if there is anyone out there to come or if I, in my solitary darkness, am the only one left. I know if I have any chance I must act soon. What does the world look like on the other side of the door? In these few short days have they destroyed every remnant of my former life?  Or will I find mother’s lipstick lying undisturbed on her dressing table? Grasping the knob I swing the door open, momentarily dazzled by the brightness in the room, and step across the threshold.

Ann Hart is a poet and writer working in Mahomet, Illinois. She enjoys putting non-English phrases in her work so people have something to Google.   She has been published in Silver Birch Press and Tomato Slices Anthology. She is the winner of the 2016 CUMTD Poetry on the Bus competition.

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