top of page

"Ceremony for a mouse not long gone", "Charity shop book", "Subject"…by Emma Burnett

Ceremony for a mouse not long gone

I can see the ghost of an outline through my mostly closed eyes. The light is still grey.

She touches with my face with a gentle hand. “Papa,” she whispers, “there’s something downstairs.”

I struggle to consciousness. “Is it bad?”

She shrugs. “I didn’t wanna wake Mama.”

I stand up, trying to be quiet, bang my knee on the bedside table.

“Shh,” says my daughter. “This way.”

She leads the way downstairs, points into the middle of the living room.

On the floor is a mouse. It’s dead. I’m relieved. Dead is better than alive, when we have to chase it out from under the sofa. Dead is much better than half-dead, and I have to spend half an hour searching online for ethical ways to dispose of mice. I’ve found if you search long enough, they mostly dispose of themselves.

I fetch a tissue and pick up the mouse. We admire its little face, tiny ears, stiff little feet. We say we’re sorry for its death, while the cat winds herself around my ankles, proud of her gift. I wrap the tissue around the mouse’s tiny body, and we say goodbye. I move into the kitchen, open the compost bin.

“Wait, I have an idea.” She grabs a banana from the counter, peels it, and eats the fruit. Then she holds open the peel.

“There,” she says. “It’s like a coffin.”

I wonder where she’s learned about coffins, but I don’t ask. It’s too early.

She fetches the little compost bin, and lays the banana peel open inside. She points. “Here.”

I lay the tissue-shrouded mouse on the peel, and she gently covers it, and nods.

“That’s nice. Thanks, Papa,” she says patting my arm. “You did a good job. You can go back to sleep now.”

Charity shop book

The charity shop smells of dust and sweat dried into clothes that haven’t been worn in years. It smells of abandonment. I walk up the narrow aisles trying not to touch too much. I already want to wash my hands.

I eyeball the limp scarves at the end of the rack. My mother had been very clear, nothing new for her birthday. It is a trap. If I don’t give her something, like a pre-loved perfect-condition cashmere sweater or a grandbaby, then, honestly, what’s the point of me?

The scarves are dreadful. One of them feels like plastic wrap, and another tries to strangle me with a knot I don’t remember tying. I abandon the scarves. Maybe a funny mug will do the trick.

Books are stacked haphazardly across two tables at the back, in and around plastic children’s toys and kitchenware. I can’t resist. Maybe I can save a book from anonymity, from neglect, and this dust trap shop. I finger the edges of a mid-nineties romance, and a white man saves the world crime-thriller.

The shop assistant comes over, tells me there’s a box of books just arrived, if I’m interested. I nod, show willing. She’s clearly desperate to make a sale, any sale.

She brings over the box from behind her counter, neatly packed, says it arrived just a few days ago. I thank her and put it on the table, on top of the pre-bitten board books for teething babies.

Some of these books are good. My style of reading. I start to make a small pile. And there it is. My first novel, released to medium acclaim. It is in pristine condition. I run a finger down the spine, then flick to the back cover, as though anyone but myself would stare out of the flap. It’s a good photo. I look sharp. It had taken hours to get that portrait out of the frustrated photographer.

I flip to the front of the book, and stare at the inscription, the handwriting gut-punchingly familiar. I remember writing it, presenting it as a gift to Achara a few months into our relationship. I thought she’d treasure it forever. Here it is, shiny and new, in a box of rejects.

I wipe away the tear that has travelled through my nose and become snot. I grab a ‘you’re pawsome!’ mug from the shelf, and tuck the book under my arm. There is a sign near the till that begs you to take three items for a pound. I bend down, and grab a mostly un-damaged BBQ kit from a lower shelf, and carry the items to the counter.

Subject: Your Recent Order

Dear [insert name],

Many thanks for your recent order: How to Manage a Zombie Infestation.

We are following up to see if you need any of the products outlined in the manual. Our online shop currently stocks:

  • Large machetes

  • Flamethrowers and canister refills

  • Sprayable brainkilling pheromones (not FDA approved)

  • Plus more!

Orders over $100 will automatically receive two easy-assembly Molotov cocktails, our gift to you in these trying times. All deliveries are done by drone, so no worries if you’re boxed in!

Best of luck,

The Final Shop

Please don’t reply to this automated email. Our office is currently inaccessible.

Emma Burnett is a recovering academic. She’s big into sports, cats, and being introverted.


bottom of page