Little Mouse

Angela Doll Carlson

You probably remember it different. You probably remember the sun being so hot we had to close the shades in the middle of the day—that the AC couldn’t keep up, that the floors were sticky. The pizza ovens didn’t help. You probably remember it was the hottest day on record.

 

Montego was on the ovens and I was doing prep. Claudia said her face was melting off, and it was. Her eyeliner had run down below her eyes, almost to her cheekbones, which you said were high and proud. You wanted to punch those cheekbones. That is what you said, and I let it go because you always said things like that.

 

When it was hot, Montego would open the walk-in refrigerator and stand in the doorway, just to get the cool of it. You used to do it too, but when Montego did it that day, you blew like a volcano. Montego called you “Vesuvius” behind your back. He went to night school. He wanted to be a geologist. He was eighteen.

 

You said he was good for nothing and shiftless. You didn’t see him carrying the bags of flour from the delivery trucks every morning while you slept late at home. You said that the dough would go bad if he kept the cooler doors open like that, but you didn’t see that I moved the dough to the back already, to keep it extra cold, the way Mama used to. You said it was a waste of electricity and I opened my mouth to argue with you, but you sent me to the office, pointing your crooked index finger toward the door. I wanted to stay. I was fifteen. I wanted to be older. I wanted Montego to look at me with his deep, brown eyes and tell me to stay, but he didn’t so I went.

 

As I walked to your office, the noise of the argument rumbled and built until the explosion came—clattering pans, swearing in two, no, three languages, the front door pushed open so hard the glass shattered.

 

After that, you sat in your office and clipped your toenails into the wastebasket while Claudia cleaned up the glass. It was cooler in your office where there were no windows, where we were far from the ovens. The walls were cinderblock, painted yellow, cold to the touch. You sat in your office, and I skulked in the stiff-backed chair in front of your desk, watching your face turn from volcano-red to salmon-olive again, hearing the snap of the toenail clippers, and hating you.

 

Mama used to stroke my cheek at night and whisper and sing. She used to call me Topolina—her little mouse—when I sneaked around the pizza shop. She stood behind the counter and wiped flour into her brown hair as she brushed it from her face. She was so beautiful, but she is gone and you don’t call me anything but the name you chose for me when I was born.

 

I still think about Montego, the smell of his cologne mixed with the rising pizza dough, my small self, sneaking through the shop to avoid your volcano voice, your piercing eyes. I did not promise her I’d stay. She did not ask.

 

I thought he might be the one to take me away, to fill the dark, empty space left after Mama died. Even now, so many years later, you do not really see me as I sit in this stiff-backed chair in front of your desk and write the flour order, tally the night’s sales, or pay the electric bill. I sit in the chair some nights and wish that it was you who had gotten cancer and died. I sit there and wish that it was you who had quit that day, storming out into the heat of the afternoon. He might have been the one to take my heart, to stroke my cheek at night, whisper, sing, call me Topolina, his little mouse.

Angela Doll Carlson is a poet, fiction writer, and essayist whose work has appeared in publications such as St. Katherine Review, Rock & Sling JournalRuminate Magazine, Ink & Letters, Whale Road Review, Elephant Journal, and Relief Journal. Her memoir, Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition, was published in 2014. Her latest book is Garden in the East: The Spiritual Life of the Body.