Scoundrel Time


Photo by Karen Brennan


I woke up one morning and my country was gone. It was strange. It had been there the night before, sparking and hissing, but now it was gone.

I could feel its absence in the air, which is a feeling like no other.

The garden was still there, the bougainvillea was in some sort of bloom, red blossoms half-opened on thorny stalks. And the house still surrounded me—for the moment, at least. Perhaps it took longer for smaller things to follow suit. All I know is what I’m telling you.

I found my slippers—the little hole in the toe had not grown larger overnight, thank god, and everything was still in the fridge. It’s not as if some thief came and stole food. No, it was only the country, the big picture.  I wasn’t sure where I was.

The sky didn’t let on. It was as if the sky knew but wasn’t saying anything. I kept looking up. There were no clouds, I can tell you that. I wished there were clouds, truly. They would have given me hope.

As it was, I felt hopeless. I wandered around my home, checking to see. Already I was feeling nostalgic. Yet here was everything in place. The half-full coffeemaker, the slippers, etc.

It was then that I remembered the mouse. Where had the mouse gone? I’d put out a trap and the trap was still armed with a piece of cheddar cheese. No one had nibbled it. I was anxious about the mouse. I didn’t want any more disappearances.

Mouse! Mouse! I called, ridiculously, hopefully.

When your country disappears just like that, while you’re sleeping and thinking that everything’s just fine, it’s hard to believe that, yes, the country has vanished and we don’t even know why.

Now everything had settled but newly settled, settled to the point of unfamiliarity as when you watch a horror movie and a thing is almost like the thing you expect to see but not quite, which is the most horrifying of all since it tricks us.

Possibly the country had been vanishing for a long time, in increments, and we hadn’t noticed little portions of it flaking off.

In the past, we had possibly been preoccupied.

Had we been looking at our screens instead of the earth under our feet? Well, the earth was still there. But was it the same earth? Would we recognize the old earth? Had we examined it carefully enough in the past? If it was a new earth, was this new earth an imaginary earth? Had we been swallowed up by our computers in some game involving avatars that looked just like us and an earth that looked just like our old earth, but was subtly altered?

Oh where was the mouse?

Everything felt different, as it does when one loses some big thing. There is a hole where the thing used to be. I had that feeling when I lost a sapphire ring in a taxi when I was 16 and I had that feeling when my grandmother died. Things disappear all the time and leave holes. That much we know about life. But an entire country?

This we were not prepared for.

In the past, nothing had been extraordinary, we know. But that was its beauty. In its ordinariness, we flourished. We went to the grocery store, chatted with our neighbors, drove our car under bridges and along rivers and admired all the ordinary views from every window. Sure, we had traveled beyond. But we always returned to the calmness we associate with home, in its beige unextraordinary calmness with our TVs and the moldering vegetables in our refrigerator bins. Was that the problem? Had we neglected things? Had we been inattentive?

And this is the big question and I ask this with a heart full of sorrow. Will we get used to it? Will this new country become familiar, and will we forget the old one? Will we still drive to the grocery store and chat with neighbors, only there will be some shifts that will have changed everything, the shifts barely perceptible to the naked eye? That’s what I’ve come to believe. Even the naked eye will be blind to the shifts. And the disappearance of the mouse will be the first indication.

Mouse! Mouse! I call out. Because I am still remembering. I am still nostalgic. I am trying to plan the time when we tell our children how it used to be, this ordinary country with its banks and voting booths and pubic schools, with its sewing bees and knitting circles and creative writing workshops and graffiti and miracles—but just as the story of my old country with its rivers and hisses and sparks appears, it evaporates. I am trying to see it, but it cannot be clearly seen.

It is like the recollection of the mouse which, now that I think of it, was never quite visible, never more than my imagination of it, a creature scurrying along the wallboards or shitting on the countertops, a tree’s shadow falling through the window or a presentiment of gloom issued from my own sick, nostalgic-crazed, idealistic mind, or a ghost.