TOLD BETWEEN PUFFS

In which our hero goes hunting

When Verily Veritas visited the TA of his class on Feminist Art Semiotics of the Late Middle Ages (a Global Core requirement) to deliver his objections to attending the course—chief among them that in the time it took to sit through the lectures he could read two novels a week—the TA, looking pleased, asked him what novels he planned to read. She recommended Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Shulamith Firestone, if he had the time. 

 

Later that evening, hurrying along College Walk, collar pulled to cheek against the cold, V.V. saw with sudden clarity that he had made a grave error dropping the class, one akin to abandoning one’s youngest born on some damp street corner in Ningpo. (The very same fate had in fact chanced upon Verily’s maternal grandfather, who was unable to find back to the port where the steamship awaited. He reappeared twenty years later on a brackish reach of shoal off Madaket, a barefoot dipsomaniac clutching a trunk heavy of unquestionably liquid assets.) Unpleasant and misbegotten though that class might have been, V.V. wanted it back.

 

That night Verily dreamed strange dreams. He dreamed he was Prince Bolkonsky wounded on the battlefield, looking up at the “lofty” sky and thinking about how he either wanted to live or that nothing mattered. (V.V. could never remember which.) He dreamed he was his grandfather, teaching each of his twelve children the points of the compass while keeping strings tied around their waists to ensure they stayed on that same New England shore.Verily awoke to find a mouse crouched on his chest.

 

Mus musculus, commonly called a house mouse; creatures small and stringy, with close-set eyes and crooked teeth. The mouse on V’s chest held in its paws a crooked dagger aimed straight at his (Verily’s) crooked heart.

 

“Wretch!” Verily cried, unable to escape in time. “Thing of evil!” The dagger came down, tip piercing, fortuitously, only the first of the Four Quartets propped on V.v.’s breast. V.V. scrambled out of bed, but the mouse was already gone, disappeared behind Verily’s half finished oil (a self-portrait, nude, in the German Expressionist style).

 

In the washroom where he was cowering, V lit a match and listened for squeaks, but was able to discern only a slow rumble that was either distant thunder or the beleaguered drawl of the elevator cable. He was alone, save for the self which he now saw in the mirror, multiplied. Verily’s washroom mirrors were infinite mirrors and to stand between them was to see his split selves stretch into their respective eternities.

 

It was a metaphor, reader, for how things move forward, for sometimes Verily was sure that life progresses the way a villanelle progresses, each seeming repetition bringing him farther and farther from where he originally started.

 

No surprise then, that his subsequent dreams are overrun with mice, multiplied. Mice that placed their cold paws on his cheek. Mice that berated him gently for ever subscribing to Leibniz’s metaphysics and entreated him to don, along with his customary cravat, a hat like that of Carmen Sandiego (But who was Carmen Sandiego? V wondered).

 

When Verily bent down to peer into the cardboard tunnels on the morrow—the traps given to him by Housing, a trap meant to trap not the curious or the hungry, but a mouse with a simple desire to pass cleanly through—he was relieved to find them empty.