It’s eleven p.m. and I’m sitting on my kitchen floor using my iPhone’s torch to shine into the dark corners behind the oven to see if the mouse is there.
Something I’ve been thinking lately is how I’ve had more jobs than years on earth, and I’m not sure what that means.
Maybe it’s good.
Like, it shows durability.
I lean forward and all this dust gets in my face and I sort of sniffle and my nose twitches and I think maybe I won’t sneeze but then I sneeze and more dust goes over my face and into my nose holes.
It comforts me because it’s familiar.
I listen for the mouse.
I’ve named the mouse Alfred.
It’s not a pet mouse.
Not like one you buy. It’s just a mouse that’s come from outside to live with us inside.
My other housemate, Mark, doesn’t like him.
There’s this game we play.
At night he puts traps out.
Sometimes with peanut butter.
Other times with Nutella.
To keep him guessing.
Except that at night I deactivate the traps.
And in the morning he gets really annoyed when Alfred isn’t dead.
On the kitchen floor, I begin deactivating traps.
I deactivate a trap and think: deactivated.
I think about the jobs I’ve had and now don’t and think: deactivated.
I think about this hamster my parents got me in Texas when I was nine and had just moved there and think: deactivated.
My birthday was coming up and Mum handed me a piece of paper and said to write down what I wanted.
I drew a picture of a dog.
Mum showed the picture to Dad.
Dad said, ‘Well, where is this dog’s bowl and leash and collar and bed?’
So I drew in all those things and came up with a name.
Thinking: attention to detail.
Dad said, ‘A dog is a large responsibility.’
And I said, ‘I only want a small dog.’
And Mum and Dad spoke for a while privately.
Then Dad said, ‘We think it’s fantastic that you want to take care of something. It shows real maturity.’
And I smiled.
Then stopped smiling.
A small, mature smile.
Dad said, ‘So we’ve decided you can work your way up to a dog.’
And on my birthday I got a hamster.
I named the hamster Mumbo.
There was never a hamster that got as much attention as Mumbo.
Wherever I went, Mumbo went too.
Usually in my top pocket in one of Dad’s old shirts.
To the shops.
On the trampoline.
Except that I stopped taking him places after a while because Mumbo’s heart would go from beat, beat, beat to beatbeatbeat and he would shit himself.
Which ruined Dad’s shirts.
So I left him in his cage.
And then it was Brigitte’s birthday and she wanted a hamster too.
And it seemed nice: all of us taking care of animals and becoming mature together.
She named her hamster Disco. Mumbo and Disco.
And we used to laugh about that.
But one day Mumbo attacked Disco and Disco died.
And no one laughed about that.
Except: I remember my Year Six teacher told us we had to write a short story about tragedy and I told the story about Mumbo and Disco and she laughed for a bit but then stared into the glare of the overhead projector for a while.
If this book ever comes out I’ll read the story about the overhead projector to my grandkids and they will say, ‘Overhead projector,’ and I will say, ‘Overhead projector,’ and they will say, ‘What’s an overhead projector?’ and I will laugh because I have Alzheimer’s and they will stare at me and I won’t have a clue what’s going on.
I look behind the oven again and whisper, ‘Alfred.’
I hold out some cheese because Alfred has eaten cheese before.
I think: Alfred, take your cheese.
And I imagine Lisa is next to me and I am putting on an ‘angry dad voice’ and yelling, ‘Alfred. Alfred! Your cheese. Take it.’
But Alfred isn’t there and neither is Lisa.
It’s 11.20 p.m. and I’m sitting in the kitchen holding out some cheese for a mouse that resides behind my oven.
And there’s nothing to do and I should go to sleep, but instead I get out my iPhone.
Something I feel a lot is that everyone is doing more than me and I don’t want to be left behind.
And I mean in terms of writing.
But I also, maybe, mean that I’m terrified of being alone.
I don’t know.
I stare at my iPhone.
I think: I should be writing more.
I type a short story about when I was fifteen and working at McDonald’s.
when i was 15 i worked at mcdonalds. the mcdonalds was in brisbane upstairs at roma street station. when i started, my manager said, ‘we get a lot of interesting people through here,’ and he grinned and i grinned because grinning is what you do when you have no idea what’s going on. my manager told me to look out for this ‘old fucking lady’ who was pulling a ‘change scam’. my manager said, ‘she’ll fucking come up and give ya a 20 and order a cheeseburger and fries and you’ll give her change and she’ll be all, “i gave you a 50,” and that’s how she fucks you.’ all i could imagine was this 50 yr old lady fucking me and it seemed terrifying. i started at the counter then got demoted to cook. my manager said, ‘you’re not cut out for counter life,’ and we grinned at each other for a while. when i moved to the kitchen i began to get lots of acne from the oil and the beeping and the stress. about two weeks later this new girl started. she was 19. lots of my coworkers kept nudging and winking at me and i grinned because i didn’t know what was going on. one time after work i was washing the lard from the cookers. it was taking forever so the girl helped me. when we finished she said, ‘wanna see a movie?’ and i said, ‘now?’ and she said, ‘yes.’ it was 9pm. we left maccas and walked to the movies. in our maccas uniforms we bought tickets to something, i don’t remember what. there was no one in the cinema and we sat in the middle. the movie started and everything went dark. she whispered, ‘i’ve done everything: girl on girl/threesomes/anal — whatever you want to do is cool.’ and i said, ‘oh cool,’ and brendan fraser came on the screen. she put her hand near my crotch and gripped my leg. she did a spider thing with her fingers, like creeping up towards my dick. when she got to the top i said, ‘i have to go to the bathroom,’ and walked out of the cinemas. i got in a cab and went home. i thought: if i ever have my first kiss i don’t want it to happen while wearing a maccas uniform in the middle of the cinema smelling like lard. the next day i dropped my uniform off in a plastic bag. and by ‘dropped off’ i mean sort of chucked it over the counter while running the opposite way.
I reread the story and think: it’s okay.
I decide I’m going to start posting short stories on Facebook.
I want to get one hundred likes.
It seems a worthy goal.
I click ‘post’ and the house is silent.
I turn the kitchen light off and then it’s dark.
I walk to the lounge room.
Through the window I can see into my neighbour’s house: he is playing Words with Friends on a large monitor hooked up to his MacBook.
Words with Friends is my mum’s favourite game.
I wonder if he’s playing with my mum.
My mum told me lots of people try to hit on her using the Words with Friends chat.
My mum said whenever they wrote something, she would just say, ‘Sorry! No thank you!’ and then after a few minutes, ‘Your turn!’
Her screen name is dancer_76.
My mum is awesome. One of the reasons I am struggling to write this book is not because it’s self-indulgent (I’m okay with that) but because I’m worried about misrepresenting the people closest to me, that I’ll assume their memories are the same as my own.