A ball of gray fur caught the corner of my eye and bounced across the linoleum without the aid of traction. I picked it up, palmed it, and showed it to my father.

"Get rid of that before she sees it," the old man said, referring to his skittish wife reading in the living room. She was from the city. Mice were miniature versions of giant subway rats to her. To me he was an unexpected guest, but it wasn't my place to extend an invitation in the home where I grew up. I was a visitor in a museum that housed a separate story. There was no bed, no dresser--but the heat pipes sounded the same.

I opened the porch door and tossed him toward the yard, the arc his body made like a living howitzer round. It was a quick response to an old man's request, something done under the assumption that benevolent actions yield happy endings. It was before I learned that only cats always land on their feet.

I slid into boots after dinner, taking out a bag of trash as a convincing cover. The mouse was lying motionless. It'd escaped the trap in the pantry, but not my lazy liberation. I winced with executioner's guilt and tossed the corpse into the bushes, hoping my kid brother wouldn't find it.

There was much to learn on mercy. There was ice cream for dessert.

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