by Ron Van Sweringen
The river was high that morning. Swirling brown water roiled up around the snow covered rocks at Bud Carter’s feet. He was prepared for the cold, dressed in layers, starting with his flannel pajamas from the night before. Sweaters and a jacket followed on top of each other, until he felt like a turtle in its shell.
He was up by seven and out on the street corner waiting for the Glen Echo streetcar by eight. Funny how a seventh grader hated getting up for school on weekdays, but Saturdays were different, they were for fishing. The streetcar ride along the Potomac river took about forty-five minutes to reach stop ten, Fletcher’s boat house. From there it was a short walk to the C & O canal and then a few hundred yards more to the river.
In the space of less than an hour he had traveled from the rundown apartment building he lived in with his mother, in North East Washington, D.C., to a forested wilderness along the wide river. He had traded one world for another. His mother was asleep when he left, but she would be on her way to work by now. She had left four quarters on the kitchen table for him, to pay his carfare and buy a soda for lunch; he had packed a peanut butter sandwich the night before.
Holding his fishing rod was awkward with constricted arms and gloved hands, but Bud managed to catch three catfish by the time the sun was warm enough for him to take off some of the sweaters under his jacket. The river was nearly deserted in December, only a few other fishermen were in sight.
Bud watched a hawk glide above the forest in the clear blue air. Now he was light years away from the one bedroom apartment he shared with his mother. The sofa he slept on in the living room and the life they’d been forced into by his father’s desertion, didn’t exist here. There were no problems with paying the rent or buying groceries. There was just quiet and the gently rolling river.
Bud was watching his line and the patterns made by the glaring sun on the waters surface when he noticed something. At first glance he thought it was just a small piece of wood, but as the current brought it closer, something on it moved.
A small gray mouse clung to the little raft, its wet fur standing out in peaks. Bud watched mesmerized as the little creature stood up on its hind legs and as though it was praying, reached toward him with its front paws. The current was swift and the small piece of wood was suddenly sucked under in a violent whirlpool. At that instant Bud hated the cold brown river and he shouted, “The hell with you!”
Suddenly as if by a miracle the little mouse reappeared head first from the coffee colored water, thrashing to stay afloat. Bud shouted, “Hold on Mighty Mouse, I’m coming,” as he ran along the river bank to a large rock jutting out into the water. Scrambling onto the rock, he searched the swirling water, leaning as far out as he could to reach the mouse.
A strange surge of joy went through Bud when he felt the mouse threading its way up his arm to safety.
“Go Mighty Mouse,” He whispered expecting the little rodent to scamper away from him as quickly as possible. But to his complete surprise the mouse perched on his shoulder and began busily drying himself. He was so close that Bud could count his whiskers and the pink toes on his tiny paws.
A dab of peanut butter from his sandwich was gladly accepted when offered on the tip of Bud’s finger. Suddenly a feeling of happiness flooded through Bud and he laughed out loud when Mighty Mouse made a quick dash into his coat pocket. “Now all we have to do is convince mom,” he smiled.
On the walk back up to the streetcar stop, Bud kept expecting Mighty Mouse to abandon ship, but the little mouse showed no signs of leaving. Instead he investigated every pocket on Bud’s jacket, finally choosing the chest pocket as his favorite and alternating between it and Bud’s shoulder.
Bud could only imagine what he looked like when the streetcar came into view, with sweaters piled on him, muddy boots and pants, a fishing pole in his hand and a mouse sitting on his shoulder. The streetcar conductor recognized Bud from the earlier trip. “Catch anything?” he smiled.
“Only a mouse,” Bud replied looking at his shoulder. The streetcar conductor’s glasses slid down his nose as he bent his head for a closer look at Mighty Mouse. “Do us both a favor, sit in the back, so’s you don’t scare anybody,” he winked.