At night the mice run wild inside our walls, breeding filthy nests of young. They keep my mother from sleep.
– Did you hear them? she says in the morning. She’s wearing a quilt like a chiton, and palming bales of wire wool.
– I didn’t, I say.
– You didn’t see the spiders either.
Last week, at supper, there was a hatching. Tiny, translucent spiders trickling up from the corner. It was just the two of us—all the men have left. She got them with a napkin before they got very far.
My childhood bedroom is in ruin. She says she is over fixing up, but she’s agreed to put the mattress back and patch the drywall where the mice were heard. I found a box of my picture books stashed like smut in the crawlspace. And my old desk, cobwebbed and cowering out in the shed.
She called me down the other day. I was writing. I haven’t written since the split.
– There’s a woodchuck up in the cedar. He’s so fat. He’s going to fall.
He was gone when I got there. She was standing by the back door, radiating light. I’ve noticed lately that the sun will come through her and she will glow all over the kitchen.
He looked like a tunneler, she said. She scratches her braid when she’s strategizing. She’s stopped dyeing her greys.
– We’re losing the deck to the chipmunks. I’ve seen their hole. I’m going to stuff the hose down it this afternoon.
There was a time when she loved the chipmunks and had a name for each one. There was a time when she read The Mitten to me and sewed finger-puppets out of felt. Now, she keeps an owl at her arm. It snatches the swallows from under the eaves. I hear their little guh and my pen goes off the page.
– I’ve been working on the same sentence for weeks, I say at dinner.
– What’s that? she says. She’s pulling some kind of roast out of the oven.
– Do you ever hear from Dad?
When she looks at me, her eyes are marble.
– The war against the wild is unwinnable, she tells me.
She eats and reads schematics for a system of spits.
– I might have to kill this novel, I say.
– Even death is a thing that Nature wills.
-Who said that? I ask. But she is looking out into the night.
When the eating is over, the whole house becomes quiet. The air echoes itself, as in a temple.
I go up to my desk. I keep a picture in the top drawer. An image of an echo: just a bit of tissue that used to nest inside me. I feel another sentence rising, ready to burst whole from my head. But then, a sound. A tiny scratching. Just inside the walls.