The Mouse In The Bottle, Page 2

In time he noticed that his glass was empty and went to the bar to have it refilled. He had never been terribly interested in other women, never really been conscious of their existence. Emily had smoothly entered his life and just as gently taken over. The whole arrangement was perfect, but for some reason however. when the barmaid turned and bent down for a beer bottle on the lower shelf, he became aware of the gleam of the lighting reflecting off the shiny surface of the stretched satin of her frock and as she straightened and turned once again, he saw her for the first time as a woman, not a bottle opener. She was slim, neat and smiling, with dark hair and piquant face. There was no coquetry in her gestures but there was no doubt in his mind that she must have been a great asset to the establishment, He took his refilled glass to his corner and resumed his seat but now his mind was shared by a mouse and a pretty girl.

She was ringing up a sale on the cash register, her face obscured to his. He looked past her head to see a dimpled whisky bottle, full, on the shelf above the till, he thought once more of the mouse. His mind wandered again and he remembered that Emily had once said that the young woman who lived next door to them saved sixpences in a bottle such as this, he wondered if Emily would like to save sixpences too, the whisky would be a useful reserve against the winter colds. He had always enjoyed the hot whisky, sugar and lemon his mother had given him and he could not recall ever having had it since Emily had taken over. On his way out of the Public House he stilled his conscience and treated himself to a dimpled bottle of whisky with a smile from a young woman as discount

The lodging-house bed-sitter was chill and cheerless, The television set was hardly functioning and the mean gas fire only half worked, as one of the lattice china elements was broken, causing the flame at that end of the stove to flicker with a green and yellow light. He wedged himself in the lumpy armchair, placed the bottle he had purchased upon a table at his elbow and settled down to perfunctorily watch the programme that was, from time to time, rolling over and over in front of his eyes. He debated whether he should open the bottle. He felt that if he arrived with it intact, he might be criticised for excessive expenditure. On the other hand if he could explain that it was essential to entertain delegates at these conventions, he could justify both the expense and the broken seal. He commenced to drink the health of his absent colleagues, a diversion from his norm which was both uncharacteristic, and new.

The level of the liquid in the bottle steadily lowered and surprisingly the level of dejection within him lowered in concert. Suddenly the lamp in the room went out and the television picture dissolved to a tiny blue spot in the centre of the screen, finally to be reluctantly extinguished. He sat in the flickering gloom helped only by the gas fire, staring sightlessly at the screen. There was no light on the lamp standard outside his window; a power cut. He filled his glass again and settled back in the chair to await developments. He stared steadily at the bottle and in his imagination he once again saw the gentle little mouse sitting upright in its glass prison begging for release. As he drank, the bottle seemed, in the flickering firelight, to become larger until the image became confused with the television screen. Its shape became more squat and the mouse within grew more obese. The mouse moved. It raised one paw to its long nose and rubbed it. The face of the mouse slowly transformed until it was a caricature of its former self, with every feature still mousey, perhaps even more so, but at the same time somehow human. The mouse turned its strange face towards his, its nose was now red, its chin more receding and the fur on its head longer. Again it made the gesture with the talons of its paw towards its nose. Emily had that mannerism too. He had never been aware of it until the mouse had drawn his attention to it. She always carried a tight ball of tiny damp handkerchief in her waistline pocket and would continually squeeze it round the tip of her twitching nose with her forefinger and thumb, twisting her head away with a jerk at the same time, to avoid the pain of a self-inflicted pinch.

He looked closely at the mouse and found that it too was pinching its nose and twisting its head. As he looked, he realised that the mouse was also achieving that red tip to its long snout that Emily had at the end of her beak. Her beak? Her snout? He was confused. The mouse was now sitting in its huge bottle with its paws relaxed across his rotund abdomen, staring at him. The receding chin, the red twitching nose with its continual sniff and the straggly mouse coloured hair was more than reminiscent they were carbon copies of Emily; horrifyingly so.

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