“A lady should never feel anxious about her behavior. The status is bred in the bone. To show anxiety is to lower oneself. Anxiety is vulgar.”
― Eloisa James, A Kiss at Midnight
There once was a mouse with shiny black eyes and grey fur so sleek it shimmered in the moonlight. Her body was full of rhythm and her mind was full of dreams. She longed to wear red evening dresses, black top hats, and silver-tipped canes, but she contented herself with cream-colored suits, sensible pumps, and Jackie O-style pillbox hats.
She made her living by means of a well-paying position as an executive assistant at a venture capital firm owned by the loveliest, brightest green toads. She worked long and hard but without apparent strain. Everyone she met said she was smart, beautiful, and stylish — and it was true, all true. She even, due to a daily dab of French perfume, smelled fresh and alluring. In short, Ms. Mouse, for that is what she was called, was a very attractive and talented female.
She led a good life. She was devoted to her dance classes, and, even when her work demanded long hours, she missed them under only the most extreme circumstances. And she was not without a private life. She was invited out by clever and distinguished animals of all sorts always parting from her suitors on excellent terms, remaining indefinitely the best of friends.
If ever Ms. Mouse was tired, she read Victorian novels or kept up with the latest periodicals. When she felt lonely, she lunched with friends or went to the ballet. Along with remembering birthdays and important milestones, Ms. Mouse made sure to keep up the with latest in politics and culture, and so she was a sought-after conversationalist and considerate friend and family member. She was known to enjoy donning dungarees and walking along trails in the forest or by the sea. Yes, it was a good life.
Her work required Ms. Mouse to attend a variety of evening events. At one such event, a festive occasion held in the penthouse of some very distinguished downtown offices, Ms. Mouse found herself in the concerningly familiar and breathless position of negotiating talking crowds, tables of food, and swirling servers. While the pearls she wore were a comfort to her, these events always made her feel as if her soul were at least one half inch removed from her body. She was just beginning to settle in and enjoy a round of cheese in one paw and a glass of delicately salmon-hued champagne in the other, when her employer, the handsome Mr. Toad, introduced her to a beautiful, snowy-white lamb with perfect black hooves and soft brown eyes.
Mr. Lamb, for that is what he was called, was seeking funds for a vegan business. He was the gentlest of lambs, and infinitely courteous. Mr. Toad was a little less so, but perhaps his high color and wet lips provided an explanation. As Ms. Mouse and Mr. Toad chatted with Mr. Lamb, a well-dressed server with a silver tray came by to offer tiny pastries filled with goat cheese and dried cranberries. Mr. Lamb delicately refused the offering, but not before Ms. Mouse caught a look of longing in his eyes that told her he was hungry.
Mr. Toad, also-observant, had an entirely different reaction, and he did not hold back. “Why, Mr. Lamb, you look hungry! Why not have a pastry? It’s not as if we’re offering you a side of beef, though I do think a bit of rare meat would do you good,” he said with jocularity. “It’s just a little cheese, humanely produced so my caterers tell us! Right, Ms. Mouse?”
Mr. Toad spoke loudly enough, and with such conviction, that the attention of adjacent revellers was caught, and Mr. Lamb looked quite uncomfortable. Mr. Toad, now that he had the floor, simply didn’t contain himself. “I say, Lamb, the vegan thing is going a little far, don’t you think? Have some cheese and a little champagne to wash it down and join the party. Don’t be a downer! Don’t you agree, Ms. Mouse?”
Mr. Lamb maintained his dignity, though his shock and hurt couldn’t be entirely disguised. You could see it in a quivering of the nostril and a heaving of the chest. Apparently this was not the first time he had been called out in public for his veganism.
Ms. Mouse understood his feelings, not because she was herself a vegan but because, all things being equal, she would have popped her cheese round right into her whiskery little mouth, knocked it back with a big swig of champagne, and helped herself to one, if not two, of the tasty-looking pastries. She felt within herself a communion of restraint and something in her went a little limp with regret. And then, shaking, she felt an up-righting jolt of anger at the injustice of public humiliation.
“Mr. Toad,” she said, laying a paw on his well-muscled bicep. “With all due respect, I cannot allow it. Mr. Lamb is by conviction and practice a vegan. He is here, as you well know, to get funding for a project to support all vegan business owners. We must give him his due dignity.” And with that she laid down her cheese and champagne, took Mr. Lamb by the arm, and swept him out of the room and towards coat check.
All the room was left stunned and silent. No one would have ever imagined Ms. Mouse taking such strong action.
After their escape, the two were left standing on the cold curb hailing taxis. Mr. Lamb took Ms. Mouse by the paw and looked deeply into her eyes, his own moist with tears and feeling. He held her closer than he should, and more intensely. “Ms. Mouse,” he said. “I must thank you for defending my deepest, most cherished values, and now I must return the favor. Ms. Mouse, in order to do so I must know, you must tell me without delay — what in your life needs defending?”
Ms. Mouse was shocked. She had, by contradicting her employer, risked her livelihood and reputation. Her future was now uncertain, and the knowledge of that had left her shaking. There was, she felt, little left to lose. And so she told the truth.
“Mr. Lamb, my soul is that of a dancer. I long to wear red evening dresses and top hats and carry silver-tipped canes as I dance across stage after stage lit by hot, white spotlights. I want to feel every muscle in my body burn, I want to drip with sweat and feel spent, panting as a result of my efforts, and to, finally, hear the roar of a crowd that has thrilled to my every perfect move.”
“Why, Ms. Mouse, have you not done so?”
“Because, Mr. Lamb, I have been afraid to expose myself to taunts and jeers such as those you experienced tonight. I have dreams, sir, but I have always feared that, under the longed-for hot, white spotlight, instead of approbation I would be met most nakedly with public censure.” She said the words stiffly, feeling the straightjacket of their meaning.
“My dear, if I may be so bold, it is obvious that you are a mouse of great courage. Why not be courageous on your own behalf as you have been on mine?”
Standing there, trembling on that cold curb, Ms. Mouse pressed herself a fraction closer to Mr. Lamb while their mutual regard swayed like sea plants in the deep. The petals of her heart began to stir and loosen. Together, they knew that without a doubt, Mr. Lamb was right. Ms. Mouse’s only true course was to dance to the outermost edge of her passion — and not just on her own behalf but on the behalf of everyone who has ever dreamed.
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