The Paris Review

Diary of a Country Mouse

JESSE BALL

THURSDAY, 10 DECEMBER.

Giles shows us the sample mice and I am, as if for the first time, overcome with joy. Perhaps when I was a child I had feelings like this—but not in many years. I look, for instance, at a small gray mouse, smaller than the others, and it is as if I am seeing (anything) for the first time. He moves among his neighbors so swiftly and yet without error—as if on a track, as if held up by threads from above that prompt him. For reasons I cannot yet fathom, the edge of the enclosure is of great interest to the mice. I suppose there are no such edges in the so-called natural world. No one, not even we, are ready for them (though they are upon us). He sniffs there at the edge and his nose moves with almost impossible articulation.

—What about life expectancy? asks an older woman to my right. She is possessed of a red knit hat and appears concerned. How long does a mouse live? she asks, and her finger draws twitchy circles on her leg. The attention of the group coheres. This is a common concern.

Giles is quick to quash the worry.

—The field of LSRE (Life-Span Research Estimation) tells us with great confidence that the perception of time varies consistently with the species’ parameters. In layman’s talk, a mouse feels it lives as long as a turtle.

—You can’t lose the years you’re entitled to, says a man on the other side of the enclosure. It’s in the brochure, you can check it out yourselves later. There’s no way you can lose any of your God-given time. It’s a gain, a win-win.

It’s a win-win. People say it to themselves quietly. It’s what they want to hear and now they’re hearing it.

FRIDAY, 11 DECEMBER.

A cold day. Putting some things away in the shed, I cut the side of my hand and I am reminded once again of the intransigent rudeness of my physical position, that is, my position as a human being. I never have wished to be one. I never chose it. For decades I have worn this really quite elaborate clumsiness like a hair shirt. Can we not say I was perhaps always bound for a different shape?

SUNDAY, 13 DECEMBER.

Sitting out on the veranda with my wife and daughter. We talk about the possibility of a going-away party.

—A going-away party. A going-away party, my daughter repeats.

—Like an Irish funeral, my wife adds.

The wooden ornaments of the porch strike my eyes as coarse, as all too human. What could we have meant putting them there? The sun is setting and I believe it must rain all through the night. In fact, the rain

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