"Mother!" yelled Teresa yelled from the other side of the house.
"What is it, Teresa?" answered a voice from a not-so-nearby room. "I’m just about to head out to get dinner."
"Mother, come quickly," yelled back Teresa, "come and see what I found!"
With a sigh, Mrs. Brisby headed towards the back of her cinderblock home while listening to the sounds of her three other children rushing into the room to see what was going on as well. They each reached the doorway and scrambled inside before she had even passed halfway through the warm, brightly-lit front room. She wasn’t in any particular hurry, though she was curious as to what Teresa was so excited about.
"Look what I found!" Teresa said, just as loudly and shrilly as she had when Mrs. Brisby had been on the other side of the house. All of Jonathan’s things had been wrapped in a bit of cloth and put into the corner of her small room. The only other furnishings were her bed and a small cabinet. A small window allowed minimal light. She had periodically spent time in this drab room with her husband’s old things and just remembered, but those times had become few and far between. She had often wondered if she was just learning to accept Jonathan’s death or if she was beginning to forget him.
Among Jonathan’s things now sprawled out on the floor, were some new items she had never seen before. Teresa pulled from this pile an old, leather-bound book as big as both of her paws and well worn. There was a small, faded inscription on the front that read "The Diary of Jonathan Brisby" with a bit of golden border about it that looked like thorns. Mrs. Brisby quickly took it in her paws and stared at it. Its discolored brown cover was soft, and it felt warm and comforting. In all the time she had spent with Jonathan’s things, holding his clothes while feeling their texture and taking in their scent, she had never seen this before. She carefully opened it—it was obviously old and well used; many pages were close to falling out. Inside on the first page were the words, "Jonathan Brisby’s Personal Diary for My Dearest Wife."
A page did fall out of the book, but when Mrs. Brisby went to pick it up, it was folded and not like the rest of the pages. She opened it up and saw a drawing of herself done in charcoal. Mrs. Brisby was amazed. She had never known that Jonathan could draw so well. The picture looked exactly like her, save that it was done when she had been a few years younger. Down at the bottom was written in Jonathan’s large, curvy handwriting, "My secret love, but my secret keeps her away."
Mrs. Brisby remembered that when they had first met he seemed to know her quite well, although they had never met. He must have been watching her for awhile and had done this drawing. She felt tears welling up in her eyes for all the memories that flooded back in and the feeling that she would never be able to tell him how she had felt about him again. The wound had been re-opened, but with it came a cleansing, for as she read the second page of Jonathan’s diary through tear-blurred eyes, the story of how they met came back to her. "We met near the edge of the field, and everything was perfect. The light wind blew through her fur and her eyes looked into the depths of me; probing my very soul, almost to the point where I was afraid that she would find out my greatest secret, and then what would she think of me…"
Suddenly, a question struck her. "Why were you in here looking through your father’s things?"
Teresa looked at first surprised, then a bit embarrassed as she looked from Jonathan’s things to her mother to Cynthia.
"Well, I didn’t really find it myself, or here for that matter," she said, as if confessing some crime. "Cynthia told me that she had felt there might be something of father’s at the rat’s old place. I told her that going there would be too dangerous, but I guess my curiosity got the best of me." A smile broke out on her face that she tried to repress.
Mrs. Brisby had noticed that Cynthia seemed to have attained a knack for finding things and having intuition about certain matters. She suspected a special ability arising in her, but she did not want to jump to conclusions.
Before Mrs. Brisby could even think about reprimanding Teresa for pulling such a dangerous stunt, Martin spoke up. "Can we read it, mom?"
"Yeah, can we?" chimed in Cynthia in her singsong voice, excited about the whole situation.
"No," said Teresa resolutely, "let’s leave mother alone and let her read it first." She filed the three other children out of the room so Mrs. Brisby could be alone. Smiling to herself and thinking what wonderful children she had, she opened the diary to page two and began reading.
Well, I can honestly say that nothing like this has ever happened to anyone else before. It’s an unusual feeling to know you’ve been separated from what you used to be and all the things that person used to know. A big hole has been torn into the weavings of my life, and I can see no way to patch it up. Everything—family, friends, all that I owned and even my own memories—have been left behind. The change that has occurred in one other mouse, several rats and me has completely changed how we view ourselves and the world. It seems so much more harsh and cruel, rather than just "the way it is." We have no one to endeavor for except ourselves, no one to care for but our own, no needs to see to except those that we give to ourselves. The one thing that we are missing the most—and that we never really even considered before—is a cause. When we were normal, all we worried about was how to survive, but now there is so much more to think about and so much more to fill besides out bellies. Our minds require knowledge and thought, and one of the most reoccurring thoughts is what are we going to do now?
We certainly can’t just return to the way we used to be, that just seems to be an unthinkable option for us all. Why this is, none of us knows. Just the thought of that wretched question makes me sick to my stomach, and I suppose that is why I am writing this. Thoughts are much more dangerous than they used to be. It’s enough to drive one mad.
The rats, Mr. Ages and I have been making excellent progress across the landscape. Travel has not been difficult; most of the humans that we encounter ignore us completely, but nightmares of NIMH keep us on our toes and watchful of anyone who would give us a second glance.
We have a strategy for when we come to roads and other places of human inhabitation (or infestation, as Mr. Ages would have it). When we have to move out in the open, a runner, most often Jenner or Justin, goes ahead of everyone else. Once we see them reach the other side safely and they give us a signal, we go across in small groups of five or six.
When will we stop running? I’m not sure, but soon, I hope. We’ve traveled a long way together and have been unable to find a place that is safe for us. Maybe we shall never find it. Nicodemus, always the optimistic one, says that if we keep going we will find shelter soon. He says he has a feeling about it, but the only feelings I have are of restlessness and loneliness. I don’t know whether the feeling is from my change or if it is from simple lack of companionship. The others are good friends, in fact they seem to look up to me for helping them in their escape from NIMH, but I need something else. Maybe I will find what I’m looking for when I reach this place that Nicodemus dreams of.
Today I saw her. We met near the edge of the field, and everything was perfect. The light wind blew through her fur and her eyes looked into the depths of me; probing my very soul, almost to the point where I was afraid that she would find out my greatest secret, and then what would she think of me? The thought, at this time, is unbearable.
Descriptions of physical beauty do not do her nearly enough credit, for besides the fact that she is the most gracious creature ever to walk this world, her spirit is pure and free. I have never met anyone who could live the way that she does. She does not lack responsibility, but she carries it with almost no effort, as if it weren’t really a burden at all. I can honestly say without a doubt, I am in love with her.
But again there is conflict. How can I tell her my secret? No doubt she would shun me as a freak and never return my love. But every time I look into her eyes I want to tell her everything. I have been watching from a distance since I first caught sight of her by a small pool on the edge of this dead field that the rats, Mr. Ages, and I now temporarily reside in. Just yesterday, I did gather enough courage to go up and talk to her. I walked slowly over to the edge of the pool where she was getting a drink, and began to drink casually myself. She looked up once and smiled, I returned it along with a hello. Not much was said, but before we were about to go our separate ways, I asked innocently enough, "Do you live around here?"
The conversation that followed was the best hour of my life. I found out everything I possibly could about her. We grew closer to each other, both personally and physically. I avoided any mention of the past few months of my life, but I did tell her of my family before NIMH.
When we finally did part, I had such a feeling of joy inside my heart that I felt my chest would explode with ecstasy. She is so perfect! I had never thought that I could find someone who is so diverse and had such common interests with me. I felt that if she said anything I would just agree with it because it came from her mouth, but I did not feel afraid to give my own opinions because her open mind and heart would take anything valid into consideration.
I will continue to meet her whenever I possibly can. The drawing that I made while watching her from a distance does no glory to her beauty, and has become invalid. Why look upon a replication when you can speak to the real thing? I can’t even think about my secret now that everything in my life is falling together. My heart is no longer empty; I have found the water to quench my thirst of loneliness.
And her name is Sarah.
Over the next few days we met at every possible convenience. Because I did not want to get caught with the rats of NIMH, I often kept a distance from the group, and so eventually I knew less and less of what was going on with them. I became much more in touch with Sarah as well as myself, and we became all the closer.
I learned of her family; they had quite an interesting story. They had been nomads, never staying in one place for very long. She had six siblings, and her family lived on the move. She recalls never having anything to call her own, save her family, and a little flower petal she wore around her neck by a long string that she had found. Her parents had thought it was silly, but they let her keep it. Her two brothers and four sisters had thought it was grand, and they too began trying to make necklaces from the random flotsam they found. Hers maintained a particular significance that went unspoken, however, so none were as special as her petal.
Soon, she had grown up and decided that it was time for her to live on her own. She had decided to stay in one or two places instead of constantly moving, so she knew that she would never see any of her family again. It saddened her, but her older brother Seth had encouraged her, telling her that she was a special individual and could live as she pleased. She recalls him as being the kindest of all her kin, and from the descriptions she gave me, Seth seems to bear quite a similarity to Justin, a young member of the NIMH rat escapees. I personally have a great respect for Seth; he has made her feel how I can only hope to make her feel about herself. It does provoke a bit of jealousy that someone can make her feel better about herself than I can, but I suppose there is a general understanding between kin that can never exist between Sarah and I. We can only become close in our own special way, and it is no place of mine to covet when I already have so much.
Sarah says that as a last act, she gave Seth the petal necklace. She said that he wore it proudly, it being a representative of the kindness that he had given her during her life and how he had helped her become what she was now as she stood telling me all of this. So this is how I found her, alone and without a friend in the world. But now that neither of us was alone any longer, we explored the world around us.
I helped to give her a sense of adventure because although she was not timid, she had never thought to go far beyond her cinderblock home for anything save the simple needs of her modest lifestyle. Together, however, we roamed Fitzgibbon’s farm, and exploring the entire field we met many of its inhabitants, who proved to be quite friendly. They wanted to help make our life in the field as comfy as possible. We also found a place outside the field where there was a perfect place for a summer home. When our neighbors told us about Moving Day, we decided to use that place as a refuge in the spring and summer.
She asked me about my family, and I told her how we had lived in the city, where food was as easy to find as trouble. She said that she could understand where I obtained my need to explore and seek out new things, and also where I got my sense of "reckless adventure." I smiled a big, irrepressible smile, taking as a compliment something that few others would. She said that she hoped that my sense of adventure wouldn’t cause me to leave her behind, speaking with humor but also with some hidden seriousness. This seriousness made me feel so wonderful, because it showed me that she actually cared about me. I replied, still full of the feeling, that nothing short of death could take me away from her. Her reply was a big hug for me, and a contented smile.
I went on to tell her that I had only one sister, and that my father had almost never been home, having had to go out to get food for the entire family among other things. Our mother was very sickly and my only sibling and sister Robin cared for her. I refrained from telling her, of course, that when the NIMH people came, both my sister and I had been netted. I knew that with no one there to care for our mother she would surely die, so I managed to push my sister out of net before we were loaded into the trucks. The men didn't even see her. I have never seen any of my family since then, but I know that they are all still doing the best they can to survive.
When the men later found out that they were down one mouse, and seeing as they had been certain that they had caught the necessary eight, they took a white lab mouse by the name of Mr. Ages, and claimed that they had caught him out in the streets. At first, Dr. Schultz had been skeptical that he was really a wild mouse, which was essential for the continuity of his experiments, but Ages proved to be quite ferocious for a domesticated animal and gave Dr. Schultz the bleeding of a lifetime. I recall rolling in the bottom of my cage, laughing as the upset doctor dropped the helpless Mr. Ages to the floor after having his thumb nearly scratched off. The men with the nets scrambled to retrieve him, not wanting to lose two mice in one day. The good doctor was quite convinced by Mr. Ages’ spirit that he was in no way tame.
Instead of all this, I told Sarah that I too had chosen to leave my home, and instead of staying in the dirty city, I decided to explore the world. If she had not found this plausible due to my nature, I surely would have broken down and told her the truth. It was difficult enough to lie to her as it was. I told her that my mother had gotten much better and did not require the care of both my sister and myself, so I decided to go my own way. And so, there I was.
I have made her a red cloak for the upcoming winter. She took it as a great gift, and though I had not thought it was much, she said that no one had ever given her a gift before. She hugged me, gave me a kiss (the first) and said thank-you. Her personality is amazing. I have never met anyone so diverse and open, someone so full of life. I love her all the more for everything she is.
The time has come. I have decided to ask her if she will spend the rest of her life with me. I don’t know how to ask her, though; I know in my heart what her answer will be, but my consciousness is littered with the guilt that one day she will find out my secret and regret making that choice.
Perhaps I should tell her. No, I couldn’t do that. It seems selfish to tell her, to disturb the safety of the rats for my own personal peace of mind, but it also seems selfish not to, especially because she has been so honest with me. She has opened her entire life to me, leaving no part of it a mystery. Dilemma, why do you see fit to curse me?
So, with the dawn of this new day, I intended to set out for the cinderblock home that Sarah and I now share. I have told Nicodemus about everything, and I have found that his understanding seems to have no boundaries. He has an extremely keen perception of the feelings of others, and I could tell that he understood my dilemma, feeling all the conflicts meshing into one big mess. I felt bad dumping my problems on him because of this; I am sure that he feels all of the misery that I do. I told him so, but he shrugged it off, saying that he was there to listen and felt privileged to know this information.
Nicodemus serves as an excellent counselor, although his council provides only temporary comfort. He has given me no concrete solution to my problem, and although I never expected him to present me with an answer wrapped in a box with little bows and such, I did leave feeling a little dejected. That was unavoidable, however. No matter how one is prepared for a negative result, it always feels bad. Despite this, Nicodemus has served as the outlet that I originally turned to him for. He is the only person I have confided this entire story in, for I felt that if I must drag this secret with me much longer it would burn a hole straight to the center of my consciousness. Although he could not provide me with the answer to my impossible question, he has helped me so much by simply letting me bend his ear.
Nicodemus told me that he was a little upset and saddened that he could not help me, but I simply grinned and told him that some things were meant to go unsolved for a time, and that I would live with what great good I have. He returned with one of his fatherly smiles and, patting me on the shoulder, wished me good luck in my endeavors of the day and of the future.
I knew long before I arrived at the cinderblock house what her answer would be, although it did feel all the better to hear the answer actually come from her mouth rather than my mind. An irrepressible nervousness came over me right before I entered the home, and my guilt-ridden consciousness saw her sitting, waiting to tell me how much she hated me for keeping the secret from her and almost having her marry a freak. If I had not had my talk with Nicodemus, I would surely never have confronted her this day.
The end result, much to my imagination’s dismay, was utter joy and happiness. We hugged, kissed, wept, and shared the rest of the day with each other. Despite some things that I needed to take care of at the rosebush, I stayed with her that evening. I knew that when I returned in the morning, there would be many questions, and I would be forced to make the whole matter public to the rats, but I really didn’t care. The most important thing was her, and that a whole new life once again lay before me, this one much more appealing than the first.
The nagging feeling of guilt did not return to me for several days, that was how happy her answer had made me. When it did come back to haunt me, however, it returned with a vengeance. I entered a state of depression for a time, and most of the others were wise enough to leave me alone. Sarah was extremely concerned, however. She seemed to feel that she had done something wrong, and had made me upset. My saddened smile and assurance was no comfort, however. She persisted, trying to find out what was making me so unhappy. This digging served only to make me more upset and paranoid, because although she was trying to help me, what she was doing was exactly what I did not want.
Finally, I had a realization. This depression was doing nothing, save bury me in guilt and sadness. Upon this realization, I instantly cast it off. There was no point in dwelling on problems; it would make nothing better. I needed to look for a solution, but not so that working to find it made living with what I did have impossible and drove away all those close to me. This realization was a great turning point in my life, and it has allowed me to continue to live with Sarah. Otherwise I would have had to separate myself from her because of my terrible anxiety that she would find me out. The guilt of the secret that I have held has been tempered by the comforting thought that you, Sarah, may find these writings and discover my secret grief, and realize what I have gone through to be with you. I say this not because I wish you to feel grief for me, I say this because I want you to know how much I care for you and that nothing could change my love for you.
So, in conclusion, my dearest wife, if you should indeed find this and read it, the only thing that I can say is that I am so truly sorry. The purpose of this diary was initially to organize my thoughts, now I use it to keep from going insane. This secret has eaten away at me, and I suppose the only reason it has not driven me to madness is because of the hope in the back of my mind that you will find this and see the war that has raged across my heart and my mind. This diary explains my feelings better than I ever could in any speech or conversation, because it was written as I bled, and it has indeed become my salvation.
My love, if there is any sorrow or pity for me and my plight, please now cast it aside. Your caring and your compassion have more than diluted what I have endured; they have obliterated it. Your love, your affection, your kindness, all have made this journey worth all of its pits and potholes, its tortures and tribulations. I retract my previous statement—you are my salvation, my one true love, the only one worth both living and dying for, the one who makes it worthwhile for me to accept who I am, freak though I may be. You are everything, and I hope that all of this has raised your heart from the discovery of my terrible secret as you have raised me from the depths of my own self-made misery.
This is the last writing I shall do on this subject. My mind is still troubled despite this shabby, patchwork confession, but I am also more at peace with myself than I have been in a long time. I pray that with the passing of time, this sorrow can be set loose of me, and although I see no positive resolution in the near future, I can always hope. Nicodemus has taught me to hope; you have taught me to accept myself. Both of these have aided me more than you could ever know. I look towards the future with this hope, and accept what shall come, because there is a great light to guide me. Shine for me; I will hold you close forever, beyond death. My love, forever.
Mrs. Brisby let her tears fall on the old, yellowed pages. The paper was itself already wrinkled and frail from another’s tears. She continued to hold the book for a long time, her eyes closed and her mind working in rapid jumps to try and comprehend it all. So, he had suffered more than she could have ever imagined, even more than she had when the day had come when he did not return home and his covenant had been broken. The diary, however, had replaced the old promise with a new one, and that promise went beyond the boundaries of death. Their love had been eternal, and now she loved Jonathan more than ever, her heart aching for him. The feeling of loss was not gone, but it had been comforted by the knowledge that no matter what happened, their love for each other was, indeed, everlasting.
For what seemed like hours, she sat thinking and letting her sobs die down. Once they had nearly ceased, she spoke. "Jonathan," she whispered to the silent, yet strangely vibrant air, "I give you my love forever."