Death, A Doormouse, and a Bottle of Wine


When my mother died there was very little doubt. Women in my family do not leave ambiguity when they cross over from this life. First a door mouse appeared, solemn with a black silk ribbon attaching a miniature envelope with moon ink in careful script of a language dead to most. Sorrel, a long term mouse servant of the house bowed deep waiting for me to finish reading. I tried to hand the letter back to Sorrel who withdrew his paw with a sound that landed between a squeak and a reproach. The papers fell to the ground disappearing on contact with the stone.

"Very well. Tell them I will be there as expected, and of course I will bring the wine, from the shop, from the vineyard, from the vine that the first of our family planted to give wine to the rest. Will that serve?" Sorrel dropped the ribbon in my hand and left as I was tying it about my throat. It would be very useful.

For those who have ever lost someone there is a distinct perversity in the world beyond your door. The cars that do not slow, the girls who laugh, the concerns and joys that are no longer yours. Only the moon was cowed into dimness leaving the night sky an inky black void. Even my kind are not immune to the common rubs and indignities of others blithely, ignorantly, and selfishly...continuing.

The shop was on a corner, the window display appropriately grimy and derelict. A desperate child might wander in put off eventually by stale candy and chips that might be popular on another continent. The man behind the counter was no less frightful for his bent ancient posture. He gave the feeling of being only half alive and half root.I untie my ribbon laying it in his hands.

His eyes are round and milky as pregnant moons. He turns and brings me a bottle forged when lightening hit the sands of a civilization long lost under waves and storm. My ribbon was tied to the neck of the bottle.

He held my hands and my eyes. "Your mother. You should have seen her. Young. Dancing. A full moon. A king. A prince. She would dance until we all hung waiting to see the next bend in her wrist. All of us," The eyes in the shelves behind him were numerous and wet, "All of us will mourn her. All of us are eager to see you take your place. Our deepest and best compliments." I believe he tried to bow. I lower my head without lowering my gaze. An acknowledgement, never a concession.

The voices behind the door are loud. Inside the clothing, food, and flowers are shadows. My mother's crown and wings rest on a pillow in front of a mirror from which she turns and preens. I avoid my mother's gaze and drop to a deep curtesy to the eldest of the family, my aunt. "Niece." She clutches my arms, nails or talons feeling beyond fabric and skin for bone and blood. Her hair is glamoured the darkest burgundy for the occasion. Cousins of every age, size, and approximation to humanity scurry and flutter around us.

When one of us passes it is no small event. We must come. From every corner of the city and market stall. We must leave any child too human or too ignorant to fit in. We must come to sit, drink, dine, to tell our stories to her one last time, and of course to see if her daughter is worthy of being from her mother.

The meal has been set with grapes large and black, the bread is rye and full, only the cheese offers creamy contrast. The wine we drink holds memories of civilizations and generations planting, picking, stomping, drinking, and dancing. In these shades we can see some of our own features on other's faces.

The younger one's play at mischief and magic, making napkins float onto another's head or disappearing one's sweets onto another's plate. Glasses fill and empty. Mice and budgie birds flit and meander over our fingers until the plates show only the candlesticks; and before it is time, it is time.

I walk with feet that were formed and fashioned by her. I let my cousins and the house mice loosen and braid my hair. I take the bottle of wine with one hand and give one end of the black ribbon for my aunt to hold. Sorrel ties the other side of the ribbon to my shaking wrist. I walk into the labyrinth past the weeping willows, henbane, and grove hemlock. In the heart we find each other. We walk shoulder to shoulder to a pond holding the stars and the Cheshire moon. She sits and I sit. She gives me a candle and I give her the wine. We both drink. She holds my hands and kisses me in the space between my brows.

Our path together is ended. She goes deeper into the labyrinth and I follow my ribbon back to my family.