The emotions washed over the small, grey mouse as he sat on his haunches, his mind sifting through his earliest memories of her, the images hazy and indistinct, like an impressionist’s painting. Even as his memories grew clearer, they still seemed fuzzy and indistinct around the edges, like a half-remembered dream.
His first day outside. She kept a close eye on him, knowing he was often curious in ways that would get him into trouble. His siblings kept themselves amused, playing a game of some kind. He had tried to join them, but was told in no uncertain terms that he was too young to be tagging along with them, having just barely mastered getting around on his own four paws. He was upset, but she cuddled him up, told him that he would be growing up and joining them soon enough. She always knew how to comfort him, even though he still felt left out of the fun.
He smiled at the memory. In many ways, his relationship with his elder brother and sister hadn’t changed all that much. They did their own things, and they regarded him like an unwelcome reminder to them whenever he darkened their burrow tunnels. The rueful grin slowly faded as his mind drifted away from such thoughts, returning to his memories.
One particularly strong one caused a shiver to run through his body even as he barely brushed up against the edges of it. Images of a huge, hairy, black monster with furry, chitinous legs, glistening fangs and eight eyes like dark, shiny pools flash in his mind. Then pain, cold, icy pain that shot through his small body, making him numb. He shivered, curled up into a ball, but it brought him no warmth. He knew that his mother and father had found him and took him to Ages for medicine, since she had told him about it after it happened, but his memories after the pain were hazy, filled with unsettling images, and then darkness.
When he awoke, he once again felt that comfort surrounding him. Her scent. Her warmth. The sound of her voice as she soothed him, even though he could detect the strain of worry and exhaustion that ran through it. He hugged her tightly as he could, knowing he was safe from the monster. She hugged him back, and it seemed as if her tension had evaporated. Curled up together, he remembered a gentle kiss to his forehead.
He sighed softly, his breath visible in the cold fall air.
Many of his memories after that involved his father. Being taught to read, about the hugeness of the world beyond the garden they lived in, beyond even the farm and the forest, about strange phenomena like electricity, and how everything is made up of tiny little things called atoms. He was always so enraptured by the amazing things his father taught him, and the stories he would tell. His mother was often there, supportive of his eagerness to learn, though she often seemed bewildered by the things his father taught him. It would not be for many seasons afterwards that he would learn the reason why.
Sometimes he would make trips away from home, “to visit Mr. Ages,” he explained. One evening, he didn’t come home. Rarely, the weather, or the prowling cat would prevent him from returning that same day, but he would always be back the following morning, apologizing for being late to his worried wife. But this time, the evening was clear and warm, Dragon was asleep on the porch steps, and the following day dawned bright, clear and cheerful… but Jonathan was nowhere to be seen. His mother tried to be brave, saying perhaps something was keeping him at Ages. Another evening of restless sleep, and another bright morning passed, and still his father was nowhere to be found. Then one more night, and one more day.
On the third day, his mother left her children at home with Teresa in charge to go look for any sign of what had become of him. It was late in the day when she returned, exhausted, whiskers drooping, eyes bloodshot, and small streaks of damp fur below her eyes. He looked up at her, at first hopeful, but then with a sinking heart as he knew she hadn’t found him. “Oh Jonathan, what am I to do with your… with my children…” she whispered, as if speaking to herself.
She put on a brave face, then tried to explain matter-of-factly, that no one had heard from or seen their father, Mr. Ages was not at home, and the scent trail she had tried to follow for him led towards the woods near the farmhouse. Timothy didn’t need any further explanation, as both of his parents had warned him many times of the dangers lurking in the woods, to say nothing of Dragon’s prowling about the farmhouse.
He remembered Martin and Teresa’s disbelief, Cynthia’s confusion, and his mother trying to reassure her that things would be okay. Martin suggested that perhaps he was just late, and that he’d be back tomorrow. Teresa tearfully berated Martin for trying to keep everyone’s hopes up. Cynthia burst into tears as the two began to argue. For his own part, he stayed silent and retreated into the dark bedroom while the emotions of the others ran strong. He needed to get away, to be somewhere quiet, to be alone with his thoughts. But his thoughts were no comfort, his head was no comfort. His father was gone.
"Stop this!" The suddenly strong voice of his mother echoed even into the bedroom, putting an end to the arguing. More calmly she continued, "I know… I know this is hard for you. And maybe he will return someday. But he isn’t here now, and I need you, all of you to be strong, together, as a family…" He knew she said more, but he couldn’t remember all of it.
Mostly because he was curled up in a ball, trembling and sobbing a little. He knew he was a runt of a mouse, not nearly as strong as his older siblings, and even Cynthia seemed like she’d soon pass him up. Other mice, even his siblings would tease him about it, his mother worried about it, but his father… his father was always so proud of him, when he picked up reading and learning so rapidly. There was nothing he relished more than the approval of his father when he applied his mind to reason through some difficult problem.
And now he was gone. And he felt so small.
"Timothy?" He felt his mother’s gentle paw against his shoulder. Sniffling a little, trembling a little, he looked up into his mother’s eyes. She reached around him to gather him up into her arms. She said nothing, just cradling him close for now, while he slowly let his tears run dry.
"Father… father’s not coming back," he said, when they finally did.
His mother looked down to him with sad eyes before finally shaking her head.
"I’ll miss him," he said, swallowing hard.
His mother nodded. “As will I.”
He nuzzled into his Mother’s fur, and his ears twitched slightly as she began to hum a familiar tune. He remembered the lyrics from the many other times she’d sing it to him:
Dream by night, wish by day,
Love begins this way.
Night’s a friend with love to send,
Each new day.
Bless your heart, bless your soul,
Let your dreams come true.
Future songs and flying dreams
Wait for you.
Love, it seems, made flying dreams
So hearts could soar.
Heaven sent these wings were meant,
To prove once more, that Love is the Key.
Love is the key.
As you wish, as you will,
Dream a flying start.
Love and care, the power’s there,
Trust your heart.
Trust your heart.
Timothy opened his eyes, finding small streaks of tears had dampened them, as the memory of that day often had that effect on him.
He sighed softly, wiping away the tears.
There were many other memories he had of his mother. Her caring for him when he was sick, leading ultimately to their discovery of the Rats, and his father’s relationship to them.
His longing to find out more about his father led him to eventually live with them for a time, learning all that he could from them. Not just about Jonathan, but of all the knowledge they had obtained from humans and had learned for themselves through experiments of their own. Unfortunately, he learned perhaps more than he bargained for.
He shuddered. The Rats had long ceased to be a pleasant memory for him.
Naturally, he visited his mother as often as Jeremy was available to make the trip during this time. Each time he returned, he could detect additional patches of greying fur, a growing slowness and frailty to her gait, a cracking in her voice as she spoke. His older brother and sister, Martin and Teresa, had long since moved out to start families of their own, but Cynthia remained with her to care for her. The two became very close, he knew.
Shaking his head, he looked down at the more recently disturbed patch of earth nestled against the leeward side of the stone in the garden. Above it, carved in the stone itself, was crude, barely visible writing. He didn’t need to read it to know what it said; he had carved it, after all. He swallowed, his eyes glistening as he reluctantly allowed himself to remember.
It was during one of his last visits to the Rats that he received word of her passing, during a chilly grey fall day much like the one he now found himself in. He remembered the moment Nicodemus had informed him that Jeremy was waiting for him with important news about his mother. He remembered that an icy ball had formed in the pit of his stomach, and he dreaded what he knew the news must be, but still he held out hope that it would be something different. He felt himself crumple to the ground when Jeremy delivered the news in uncharacteristic reverence and solemnity. But he didn’t cry. Numbly, he accepted the crow’s offer to take him back home, where he met Cynthia and Teresa, who had gathered there before him. Cynthia was inconsolable, and Martin was nowhere to be found.
He ran inside the burrow, finding a very familiar mouse curled up in thick blankets, apparently asleep. But the room was far too cold and still, and the only breath and warmth to be found was his own.
There were few words exchanged as he helped Teresa carry the lifeless form out of the burrow, and, with little ceremony, they buried her beneath the stone. Timothy had inscribed these words above the spot they had buried her, using a piece of metal to scratch them into the rock:
Timothy leaned down to gently run his paw over the rough stone, patting it gently. If he could, he would write so much more than that simple epitaph. He had spent most of a day on it as is, pausing every so often as he was taken by a bout of tears. It had been nearly dark when he joined his sisters inside their cinderblock home for a night of fitful rest. It would end up being the last night any of them spent there, as far as he knew. Cynthia woke up several times in the night, crying and sobbing. In the morning, Teresa offered to take her to Mr. Ages, who had been supplying her with medicine to take to her mother for the last few months of her life. From what he knew, Cynthia had ended up staying with him and learned the art of healing from him. Teresa… there, he had no idea. She had her own family to tend to, he supposed, but they didn’t keep in touch.
He would find out soon enough.
He stood, drawing his cloak around him for warmth, and slowly turned from the gravesite. He gave one final glance back at the stone before shouldering his knapsack and walking away.
Nothing remained but the mists and the cold.