The Reality Check

Linda Hibbin

I practised the art of topiary on my dog.

I made a couple of B cup face masks. Quite pretty! I’m as old as Methuselah and embracing my eccentricity.

I turned a blind eye to a hair on my chinny-chin-chin. The safe distance rule of two meters was on my side but when it was long enough to be seen from the moon, I thought it was time to part company. It didn’t go without a fight.

Reality began to ebb and flow like waves on a beach. How many weeks had we been in lockdown?  I couldn’t remember. Not surprising. I forgot a lot of things these days. I lost a lot of things. They turned up in the most unusual places. Sometimes I forgot what I had lost.

People’s names slipped my mind, and I felt incredibly angry when friends said they couldn’t ‘do’ Zoom. For heaven’s sake! If I can manage it, so can you. Where’s your sense of adventure! Don’t you NEED to speak to other members of the human race?

When it looked as if teenagers were the sole occupants in my home, I started to do housework again, made my bed and washed the dishes. I had run out of clean teaspoons anyway.

Bread making became an obsession when flour and yeast were like gold dust.  The extra padding will take my lifetime to get rid of. Can I be bothered? Whatever! Built for comfort not for speed. I don’t even like cooking. Much.

I held unusually long conversations with the dog. Her head would tilt to one side trying to understand what I was saying, waiting for a familiar word to punctuate the sounds I was making. If she hadn’t been there what would I have done? Of course, talk to the house plants again. We had a lot to of catching up to do.

But.

Big ‘but.’

The day finally arrived when I came to my senses. A seismic event put everything right. All was well in my head. I was not going loopy. Isolation had not taken its toll. Lockdown hadn’t chewed up my common sense and spat it out as confusion. Thank heavens for that.

On this historic day I was busy crafting. Poppy was on the sofa despondently chewing toy giraffe’s ear.  She normally sat at the window watching the world go by, but her world had stopped. No people, no people with dogs, no cars, no planes. There seemed to be more birds, but she was canine not feline.

The squirrels had been breeding like rabbits and the babies had provided hours of entertainment.  We had watched them tumble around in the garden below. Pops scarcely noticed them now. They were older and their one aim in life was to find food and prepare for the cold spell ahead. Stocking up, panic-panic, pilfering from each other’s stores. Seemed familiar. I ordered 90 rolls of loo paper from Amazon.

‘Thump!’ against the window. Pops and I looked up in time to see a flash of black and white disappear off to the side as something small skidded down the glass. Can’t those perishing birds see the sticky-back bird shapes I have plastered all over the windows?

Pops and I looked at each other. Who would get there first? I’m no match for my terrier. By the time I had prised myself from my chair Poppy was scrabbling, doggy paddle style at the window trying to get through the glass to whatever was outside.

I peered through. My goodness! A mouse. Looking stunned. It shook its head, pulled cockeyed whiskers straight and rubbed a furry neck. There was a small mark there. Tut! Magpie.

I shushed Pops and slowly opened the window. Mouse looked over the edge of the windowsill, at the ground far below, gave a little shrug and didn’t resist when I closed my fingers gently around him.

In the kitchen I placed Mouse in the empty washing-up bowl. I was unsure about how skittish he felt, but he didn’t look as if he was in any shape to make a break for freedom.

The dog clawed my foot, let me see, let me see, so I put the bowl on the floor. The three of us studied each other. Poppy rested her chin on the edge of the bowl. Fascinated. Was it a puppy? Yes, she thought it was. She would mother it.

I thought, would she eat it? She’s not a brave dog and most definitely not a hunter. She prefers her food cooked and served in a dish. Mouse was safe. The fur would have stuck in her teeth anyway.

Mouse sat up on his back legs, made a little sound that sounded like, ‘hi!’ and rubbed his tummy.

‘Hungry?’ I asked. Mouse looked pleased.

A few biscuit crumbs disappeared so quickly they probably didn’t touch the sides, closely followed by water lapped up from a bottle top. Mouse yawned.

In the living room, I emptied craft stuff out of a shoebox and filled it with kitchen tissue before gently transferring Mouse to what I thought was a suitable bed.

Mouse looked annoyed. He thrust the tissue around, tore some into bits and dug about until he had made a small cave into which he crept, turning around and around until he was comfy. I peered in. Mouse dragged tissue across the hole. Even mice expect privacy.

Poppy curled up by the box and dozed, one ear cocked, on the alert. Excellent puppy alarm!

The evening passed. No sign of Mouse so Poppy and I went to bed.

In the morning I awoke to the pain of Poppy’s claws digging me out from under the duvet. Sharp yaps, quick, quick, bouncing off the bed, onto the bed, off the bed, quick, quick, all is not well, get up, get up, yapper, yap!

Cursing, I followed her into the living room. Mouse was no longer in his box.

Oh, no! On hands and knees, ouch, round the floor, mousie, mousie, where are you, mousie, mousie, my poor knees, come out you little monster.

Yap! Mouse appeared.

Mouse had evolved overnight from a regular mouse to a rather dapper Oscar Wilde individual walking upright on two back paws. He sauntered into the room whistling a tune, a piece of kitchen tissue flung over his shoulder. He looked damp. Well I’m blowed, as my dad used to say. Mouse had bathed in the shallow puddle left after the shower had been used.

He looked at me expectantly.

‘Breakfast?’ He looked pleased.

I must google and find out what mice eat, I thought, as I sprinkled dried oats onto a small plastic lid and refilled the bottle top with water.

Poppy was crossing her legs needing to visit the garden, so we left Mouse to his meal.

When we got back, our guest was happily picking out oats and dunking them in the water before eating them. Then he climbed onto the sofa and curled up on a cushion. Poppy’s cushion.  ‘Humph!’ Pops nudged the cushion with her nose. She sniffed the creature and gave it a tentative lick. Mouse opened his eyes and gave my pooch a ‘look.’ The sort of look I had given my kids when I was cross. Poppy sighed and retreated to the other end of the sofa. Mouse’s ‘look’ was far more effective than mine had ever been!

Life began to go off kilter.

The routine, such as it was, began to revolve around Mouse. He did un-mousy things. Funnily enough I wasn’t surprised. Nothing surprised me in these ‘unprecedented times.’ It seemed quite natural that mice did press-ups, ran mini marathons around the edge of the carpet and practised Tai Chi on the windowsill in the early morning sun. I timed his runs, massaged his back and groomed his coat as requested. Mouse was condescending and constantly praised me. I kept quiet.

Mouse liked to watch the daily briefing from 10 Downing Street. One day the Prime minister was rattling on about this and that, when he suddenly jerked, looked down and shrieked. I looked at the screen closely, caught a movement at the bottom of the lectern. A flick of a long tail. A mouse. The Prime minister stuttered about something or other, tossed his notes to the Chief Medical Officer and hurriedly left the room.

Ah,ha! So, our intrepid leader was afraid of mice. Mouse was grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Later we watched the evening news and saw the President of the good ol’ United States of America addressing the nation from the steps of the White House. He suddenly started to twitch his legs as if something was crawling up inside his trouser legs. A mouse scurried away. The First Lady quickly donned a face mask but not before the world saw her smiling broadly as bodyguards escorted a twitching President off the scene.

Well! Bless my socks, as my grandma would say! Two world leaders afraid of mice. That would not do their street credibility much good. The chances of securing votes were rapidly disappearing down the drain.

The three of us were glued to the television in the days that followed.  It was like playing Where’s Wally as we searched live broadcasts for signs of whiskers and tails.  It was a competition to see who could find the mouse at indoor events, outdoor events, magazine programs, political debates, cookery shows, games and reality shows. Mouse won every time!

One evening Huw Edwards was presenting the day’s events on the BBC 10 o’clock news. He was oblivious to the mice running along the set behind him. I was curious about one thing. Why, in these ‘unprecedented times,’ was there no mention of mice on the television, the radio or the internet. The man in the street had nothing to say and there were no newspaper headlines shouting out to the population that we were being taken over by rodents. Very odd, I thought, but I didn’t dwell on it.

The following day we were looking for tell-tail (ha ha) signs of mice on ITV’s Loose Women. News flash. The Prime Minister and the President of the good ol’ United States of America had both suddenly resigned and were going to grow cannabis in California. They had discovered that they were distantly related and wanted to spend time together, ‘chilling out.’ (Oh, yeah!) Life was too short to play the politics game. Apparently.

During the ad break I had a light bulb moment. Something momentous hit my mind, like a thunderbolt and a flash of lightening illuminated the truth … so briefly that I couldn’t quite put my finger on it … but …. how could I have been so dim?  

We had been brain washed … how?

Subliminal advertising …. you sure?

Confused words … a jigsaw of images … mice … no mice … invisible mice!

A foreign power celebrating victory … sneaky as mice … taking over the world …

Hang on! How come I could see Mouse?

Mouse?

What mouse?

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