The Mouse Hole Ad
by Joanna M. Weston
Kaly stretched her club foot under the desk and considered the ad on her screen:
Wanted: one magic mushroom, two pounds pansy petals, three quarts lavender oil, four right shoes, and one mouse hole (intact). Reply Box...
She felt a quiver of interest as she leaned back in her chair and sucked her little finger, remembering the last weird ad that came in. The boss had told her not to publish it. That was for one steamer trunk with a broken lock, two rat-traps, and seven discarded beards.
The Personals ads column was her responsibility, and it covered a wide range of subjects.
Kaly twisted her good left foot round the leg of her chair, thinking about the ‘four right shoes’. The fact that she actually had four spare right shoes washed over her. Mom had raised her alone with no money for corrective surgery.
She decided to print the mouse hole ad and show it to her boss. He read it, glanced up at Kaly, paused, and nodded. “Better publish it. It’s probably the same whacko, he almost sued last time because we hadn’t published. If you find out who it is, tell them to use another paper. This kind of ad upsets the owners... too weird for them.”
She went back to her desk, noted the details, added a box number, notified the sender, sent it through for publication, and filed the ad with her records. Then she dealt with the usual ads for psychics, lost dogs, or lonely hearts, and put ‘one mouse hole’ to the back of her mind. Putting lavender oil on her pillow that night reminded her of it, but she snuggled under her duvet and slept deeply, dreamlessly.
Kaly saw the ad next day, Saturday, when she checked ‘her’ column over coffee at home. The writer must be an alien or concocting magic potions over a hot stove, she thought, and laughed to herself. Then, still laughing, she grabbed a piece of paper and answered the ad, saying, “I have a quarter of a cup of lavender oil, four right shoes, and one empty mouse hole.” She signed it, put the letter in an envelope, added the box number with the paper’s address, and a stamp.
“This is nuts,” Kaly said aloud, “but it’s true.” She felt silly but curiously happy as she mailed the letter.
A couple of weeks went by. She almost, but not quite, forgot the ad. Then one morning an email came up on her screen: “Will pick up mouse hole and shoes tonight, 8:00 p.m., please be home.”
Kaly checked the email address but didn’t recognize it; there was no signature. She scratched her head and sucked her finger. Should she ask someone what to do? Being home to receive some freaky character who wanted to collect a mouse hole seemed a bit bizarre. And how would someone take a mouse hole away with them anyway? She decided the whole thing was a hoax and it wasn’t worth taking notice of it.
But that evening she made sure the drapes were closely drawn, the apartment door securely locked.
She straightened the cushions on the chesterfield, re-arranged photos on the mantelpiece. The apartment was meticulously tidy.
“It’s just in case,” Kaly said to herself just before eight o’clock, fiddling with the top button of her shirt. “Though I’m not really expecting anyone to come.”
“Why not?” asked a voice behind her.
Kaly turned, clutching her heart. A remarkably tall woman stood in the middle of the sitting-room, her long ’50’s-style dress of soft creased cotton swirling about her.
“Who are you?” Kaly exclaimed. “And how did you get in?”
“I’m Haimah, come for the mouse hole and shoes, other necessities taken care of.”
Kaly gulped, remembered her manners and asked, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”
“Coffee? No, but banana tea would be welcome.”
“Banana tea? I don’t know...” Kaly cast a baffled look towards her tiny kitchen.
“It’s there, in the cup,” said Haimah.
Two of Kaly’s cups and saucers were on the coffee table and they certainly had something in them, what it was Kaly had no idea, but she passed it to her guest anyway.
Haimah, cup in hand, sat down on the chesterfield. “Don’t look bewildered, Kaly, I’m not a freak or an ogre, just a plain, ordinary witch.”
Kaly sat down and reached for her cup. She studied Haimah’s features. They seemed out of balance, nose and chin off-centre and slightly crooked, eyes so deep a blue that they held the sky at dusk on a summer evening, all framed by hair the colour of maple leaves in fall, touched with lines of frost.
“I’ve never met a witch before,” she said. “How did you get in?”
“Locks don’t mean anything to me, or doors, come to that.” Haimah sipped her tea. “That’s just simple magic, nothing complicated.”
“Why do you need the shoes and the mouse hole?” Kaly felt that the whole world had turned on its head. She took a mouthful of tea which was delicious: it tasted of exotic islands, blue skies, and definitely bananas.
Haimah put her cup down and made a face. “The truth is, I’m not a very good witch.”
“How come?” Kaly asked.
“If I’ve been eating cooked tomatoes, things go wrong. So once... I... er... turned a house into a mouse’s nest.” Haimah paused. “And the people into lavender bushes on top of it.”
“If you’re any kind of witch, surely you can make all the things you asked for in the ad?” Kaly scratched her head. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Haimah shrugged. “I can do simple magic, but I get muddled with complicated spells. And I needed to be sure that you were willing to part with the shoes.”
“Oh, I see,” said Kaly, who didn’t see at all.
“Now I have to undo the magic and set it straight.” Haimah sipped her tea. “You must be wondering about the mouse hole... I have a container for it.”
“But how do you put a hole inside something else?” Kaly asked.
“Where’s the mouse hole, and I’ll show you,” Haimah said rising to her feet. She was almost seven feet tall.
“It’s under the kitchen sink, in the cupboard,” Kaly said, leading the way round the counter into the kitchen. “I caught a mouse last winter, and there’s been no sign of one since.”
“That’s good,” Haimah said, folding herself down on her knees and opening the cupboard.
Kaly knelt with difficulty, reaching back to take her shoes off. Kneeling hurt her right foot. She took a tea-towel, folded it and placed it under her club foot out to the side, then folded her left foot under her. She helped Haimah remove the cleaning agents and garbage containers.
There was the hole: small, clean, and unused.
“Have you been eating tomatoes?” Kaly asked. If there was a chance that this was going to be a disaster, she should stop it now.
“No,” said Haimah. “I had mixed herbs and duck eggs for dinner.” She sat back on her heels and glanced at Kaly. “This is perfect. Would you like to come with me, to get the mouse hole?”
“I have to be back at my desk on Monday.” Kaly regarded Haimah with suspicion.
“Oh yes... Then you’d better stay here.”
“Where do you go?”
“Here and there.” Haimah looked around. “Wherever I’m needed.”
Kaly sucked her little finger. “My boss doesn’t like your ads, he asked that you find another paper,” Kaly said.
“I’m sure you can handle him,” said Haimah.
Kaly doubted that, but let it go. She wanted to see what would happen. Her right foot began to hurt and she moved her legs to ease the ache.
“I can fix your foot for you,” Haimah said. Her eyes held Kaly in a still pool of calm.
“Are you sure?” Kaly flexed her foot. “I can’t take the time off from work.”
“It’s a straightforward A-to-B kind of magic,” Haimah said. “It should work, Trust me.”
Kaly wasn’t sure that she did or should. Would she end up living under a lavender bush?
Haimah took a tall narrow glass bottle from some mysterious pocket in her skirt and laid it on the floor with the opening against the mouse hole.
“Sit still, right here.” Haimah patted the floor beside her.
Kaly rearranged herself until she was cross-legged. Her right foot throbbed. She felt nervous and yet curious. What did she have to do? She had lived with her club foot all her life; she couldn’t see that changing. And how would Haimah put the mouse hole into the bottle?
Haimah took Kaly’s left hand and placed it on the bottle. She took a piece of green ribbon from a pocket and laid it on top of Kaly’s hand. Then, muttering softly, she sprinkled some herbs over all.
The mouse hole puckered like a mouth sucking on a straw. It slid forward into the bottle, the wall dissolving, pulling the kitchen, the whole apartment with it.
Kaly shut her eyes, feeling infinitesimally small. She sensed the world spinning fiercely outside her apartment. If she looked, she knew she would see streaks of white and yellow and pink and blue and gold and rose flying through blackness. There were echoes of a rushing wind, a sense of clouds meeting and melding. There was a faint smell of bananas, then primroses.
And then nothing. Kaly opened her eyes and flexed her fingers. The bottle was gone, and the mouse hole.
“What happened?” Kaly asked.
Haimah smiled, a small secret smile. “It worked is what happened. I got it right.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have the mouse hole.” Haimah patted the pocket in her skirt. And take a look at your foot.”
Kaly uncurled her legs. She stretched them out in front of her on the kitchen floor. They matched perfectly, whole and healthy. Kaly wiggled her toes, and burst into tears.
She found herself held and rocked by Haimah. “Hush, Kaly, hush now.”
“I’m so happy.” Kaly sniffed and wiped her nose on the tea towel from the floor. “I’d given up hoping...”
“Well, there you are then, all done.” Haimah stood up and smiled from her great height. “I’ll leave you now and maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
“Oh thank you... thank you,” Kaly said, jumping up to go to the front door with her, but Haimah had vanished.
The sitting room looked empty. Kaly stared around, bemused. The clock said 10:30 pm.. But Haimah’s visit had felt like two minutes.
She wriggled her toes on the carpet, letting the pile tickle the arch of her right foot. She spun and danced through the apartment, feeling the bedroom rugs, the bathroom tiles, under her feet.
Then she went to her closet to put on a pair of shoes to see how they felt. Kaly opened the cupboard door and gasped: there were no built-up shoes, no right foot shoes. No shoes at all. Haimah had taken them all.
Copyright © 2016 by Joanna M. Weston