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He is ideal in every sense of the word. Ruggedly handsome but not overly beautiful, he comes from a well-to-do family and has excellent manners. His clothes fit him perfectly and he chews with his mouth closed. He goes on dates that his parents approve of with girls who think of marrying him.
He threatens one of them when she tells him he is drunk. He rapes her.
He spends the next ten years of his life in federal prison without bail. He is guilty as charged. He is surrounded by walls. His best friend is no longer a Golden Retriever named Bailey – his best friend is now a 37-year-old transvestite dying from AIDS. He grows thin, loses his faith, and watches those around him hang themselves with stolen electrical cords and slice themselves with shards of glass. He forgets everything he learned at Harvard Law School about the system, and he remembers everything he forgot on the playground at school. Elementary lessons – how to share, how to say please, how to stay alive. He stops believing in heaven. His voice grows quiet, but it hardens into a poisonous, sharp, defensive eloquence with which he tells authorities to “f*** off”. He learns to hate his family – not because they are free, but because they think they are. He sleeps on a stone; he eats on a stone; he lives in a stone. His heart is a stone.
He is a stone when he sees the mouse. Only his eyes move, following the diminutive body as it inches its way around the cold walls of the room. He does not know how it got in. There are no holes in the stone. He stares coldly as the mouse progresses toward him. He has not touched another living being in months, and the prospect frightens him. The mouse could sit on one of his fingers. He is afraid he will squash it. The mouse, entirely unaware of the hulking giant curled on the low bed, noses searchingly toward the darkness underneath, searching for something – an implausible crumb of food, a way to escape, a potential death trap. He can now hear his own heartbeat. The less he tries to breathe, the louder it gets, until he is sure the mouse will hear it and panic. The mouse grows closer, steady like molasses. It looks up abruptly, its black eyes cutting into his. He freezes. The mouse freezes. Only the infinitesimal silent sounds can be heard – the ventilation system, the shift of an inmate’s blankets next door, someone snoring a few cells over. The mouse nearly disappears into the blackness of the room, but he can still see it shuffling nervously, indecisively, stationary in time. Their quiet staredown ends abruptly as someone bangs into the other side of the wall, near the mouse. It goes skittering under the bed and the man flinches.
He sits there perfectly still until the mouse reappears. One loud moment and it will take years to come back out, he thinks. The mouse retreats against the wall, staring again. The man – ever so slowly, all the while looking into the mouse’s sad, romantic eyes – leans forward and stretches his hand toward it, inwardly begging it to come closer and see how lonely they both are. It does. Millimeters at a time. After a century of heartbeats, the mouse examines his hand and sees there is no food. It is a trick. And goes skittering away again.
The man’s hardened eyes shine and his brow knits. He retreats back into himself and, like a rain on a planet he once knew, he begins to weep. He bites his trembling lip and his eyes melt with tears. He is so angry at the mouse. Then he becomes so angry at himself for being angry at a mouse and crying about it. A sob wracks his shoulders. He snatches at his blanket, kneeling, then slides violently onto the floor, grasping blindly for the mouse. His shoulders shake; dark, silent tears roll down his neck – the mouse convulses with fear at the man’s groping, heavy movements that clang and his hallow gasps that come from deep within his broad, cavernous chest. His face twists with grief. The mouse shakes. The man shrinks into a fetal position, spies through his tears the terrified mouse, and lunges at it, deeply offended by its fear. Though the mouse is quick, the man’s pain is quicker, and the mouse cowers in a corner as the man’s callused, flat palm comes flying at it. There is a sickly, thick noise.
Horrified, the man retracts his hand from the corner.
He does not open his eyes. Instead, he screams. A tortured, hateful noise escapes from his lips and grows into an earthquake of sadness. His cry echoes around the cold room and into the hall, piercing his heart with its eventual death. The pounding footsteps of two security officers return his cry, and the door to his cell bangs open. The guards stare breathlessly at the man shriveled on the ground in a blanket, tears streaming down his face and blood on his hand. The blood alarms them. They do not know whose blood it is. The man’s shoulders shudder, and he hides his face, ashamed at his behavior but angry with death. One of the guards steps forward cautiously, puts out a hand to either comfort the crying man or detain him – the guard himself is not sure which. The hand grazes the shoulder, and the crying man shoots to the wall, as terrified of humans as the mouse was. The guards speak to him but he does not hear. He lunges for the ignorant open door, his pupils wide and blurred by tears, and the guards are knocked against the doorframe by his violent departure. They fumble with the appropriate tools to apprehend him, shouting at the man bolting down the echoing hall. The younger guard brashly grasps his gun and aims. He pulls the trigger just as the running man slows, turns, and throws his hands out to catch the empty air in front of him.
There was blood on his hand. Now his hand is nothing but blood. The bullet stings as it ravages his fingers and wrist, cleansing his bloodied palm permanently. His face is spotted with bits of himself.
He is silent. He stares at the mangled stump that used to end with his hand and sits down, slowly, carefully, still staring at the blood pouring like tears down the remnants of his golden forearm .
Then he collapses, his legs stuck forever in the criss-cross applesauce style of children and Indians.
He is ideal in every sense of the word. Cumbersome to carry away, but not overly heavy, he comes to the morgue in a nice, sharp container and has been practically untouched. The cold chamber fits him perfectly and he provides a nice, clean case for them to examine. He goes to a graveyard that his parents approve of, and nobody second-guesses burying him.