It was an in-service day at school, and the bus dropped me off at home three hours earlier than usual. The doors were locked. The extra key was gone. I tried to wedge a screen-window open. The neighbor saw me trying to break into my house. He invited me over. Reluctantly, I said okay.
My neighbor had me sit on a big velvet chair and handed me some chocolate milk and a plate of vanilla wafers. After I’d eaten them, he said he wanted to show me something. He opened a door to what looked like a closet. He entered a narrow vestibule, a corridor of some sort. He waved back at me. I followed him along the length of a gently sloping hallway by focusing on the bald spot at the top of his head. Otherwise, he almost vanished down in the darkness. Just when I thought I’d lost him, a light snapped on; a row of glass cases glared back at me.
I was blinded, squinted, stared while grimacing at distorted faces half dissolved in the sterile halogen radiance—at my own face multiplied and floating in the mirroring glass until my eyes adjusted. “My collection,” he said, sweeping an open palm around the room.
He had been living in the house next door for as long as anyone remembered. My father rarely exchanged more than a couple words with him, though. My father distrusted most people, especially after mother died. Consequently, I didn’t know my neighbor’s name.
“What do you think?” the man asked, smiling. He ran his fingers through a wispy tuft of hair, pushing it over his bald spot. He leaned in toward me, and his eyes disappeared behind the milky luster reflected in his pinched-looking wireframes. He breathed out an odor of sourdough and ripe mayonnaise.
I concentrated on my environment: on the gallery-white walls, on the close musty air. I turned to gaze at the surrounding cases. Inside them, I could now see, were little mousetraps of every description, coil-loaded ones and glue traps and ones that captured the rodent alive. Strangest of all, each one was baited with cheese or peanut-butter, set and ready to spring at any moment.
Disoriented as I was, I suspected I must be standing directly beneath my own house. In fact, underneath my own room, if my sense of direction could be trusted. I heard footfalls, muffled shouts from above. I thought I heard my pull-string robot, its voice repeating, There’s a snake in my boot! Someone’s poisoned the waterhole. Reach for the sky!