Mom once had a sweet gray and white cat named Mouse. Mouse had lost a ton of weight, and Mom had become too ill to take care of her, so Lorin and I brought Mouse to the vet. A mass was found on her belly—the vet believed it was cancer–and we opted against surgery, as Mouse was quite old. We thought it kinder to have her put to sleep. That was in March 2011. They kept Mouse frozen in the veterinary hospital morgue until Mom could pay her respects. They cleaned her up and brought her out in a shoe box with a towel wrapped around her.
Mom stroked Mouse and said to the vet, “She’s so clean and healthy-looking. Thank you for taking such good care of her.” I believed she had found closure.
Shortly after Mouse’s passing, I bought Mom a stuffed animal cat at the Hallmark Store. She looked remarkably like the original Mouse. Mom was thrilled with her and placed her on her dining room table. She said, “This is just how Mouse used to lay on the table, and these are her markings.”
Mouse I – photo by E. Herd
(Note: pseudonyms are used for the nurses)
Fast forward to 2015. Mom still has the stuffed animal Mouse, actually Mouse II—the original disappeared at her first nursing home. Mouse II sits on the bed in her room along with Snoopy and a teddy bear, but she doesn’t call her “Mouse” anymore. She calls her “Sheepy” and other names.
The real Mouse is on the loose, a wild thing, like Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.
Over the past couple months, Mom has asked if I’ve seen Mouse, and said she went missing for days and returned with had a gash in her leg.
One night when I called, Deidre the nurse said, “Who’s Mouse?”
I told her the story of Mouse.
Deidre said, “Okay. One night I found your mom crawling around on the floor in her room calling ‘Mouse, Mouse.’ Now I understand.”
Mom told me last week, “Mouse went away for three days during the blizzard, then she came to the window. I needed tuna for her, but I didn’t have any.”
I said, “Ask the nurse for tuna, she’ll feed her.”
“Okay, I will.”
“She’ll be okay, Mom. She’s gone away before—she’s resourceful.”
This is true. Mouse was an adventurer. When Mom was living on Holland Avenue in the Bronx in the late 90s, Mouse slipped out via the fire escape one Memorial Day and didn’t return till the 4th of July. She was spotted in the courtyard by Mom’s friend and neighbor, Carmen, and brought back home.
When Mom told me she had seen Mouse at the window, I thought of the ghost of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, rattling at the window, haunting her lover Heathcliff. Mom’s happiest memory of the trip to Europe she took with my dad was visiting Brontë country, the Yorkshire moors. She brought back a sprig of heather and placed it under the glass cover of our antique coffee table, which is now in my home.
Mom owned a magnificent illustrated version of Wuthering Heights from the 1940s, which was severely water-damaged when our house flooded after Hurricane Irene. She had inscribed the inside of the book with this passage from Emily Brontë’s poem, “The Old Stoic,”
In life and death a chainless soul, with courage to endure.
When I visited Mom yesterday, James, another nurse. told me about Selena, a resident who makes sounds like a cat.
He said, “When Selena makes the cat sounds, your mom turns around and asks for Mouse. I tell her, ‘I’m giving her some tuna,’ and all is well.”
And so it goes. The circle of life continues. Mouse’s intrepid spirit endures.