The lady setting up across from us at the festival had some stowaways: baby mice, four of them, bundled up in a fluff of insulation that had made it inside her tent bag somehow. They were fresh, a couple days old if that, eyes unopened. Two of them didn’t survive the trip from the lady’s house to the festival. The other two lay there in the grass, quivering, clinging to what little chance they had, while the lady flopped her hands and moaned as if one of them might give her the gleep. Everyone else in the immediate vicinity came over and pelicaned their necks looking at the ground before walking away in an array of tsks.
I carried the dead ones to a nearby bin, the first live one over to a nearby flowerbed cradled in a leaf, and the other over on a napkin after nudging it on with a stick. I laid the second next to the first as gently as I could and the two immediately began holding each other, for warmth probably. It was impossible not to wonder a little bit if they knew what was going on, how far they were from home, that they would never see their mother again, and that their chances of surviving the weekend slim at best.
I went to check on them three hours later. They were still there, shivering. One had rolled away in search of more definitive cover than under the plants. Possibly it would try to make a small indentation under the mulch, something—anything—to protect itself from the elements. The other one was parked under a leaf not far from where I’d put it. They were trying. It wouldn’t work, but if they knew that, they didn’t care.
Beyond the garden and down a small path was a beach, half-occupied even on such a fine day as this, the crowds distracted by the festival nearby. I took my shoes off and walked onto the sand, and then ankle deep into Lake Huron. It occurred to me then that under my feet was something at the extreme other end of the life cycle from the mice. Years earlier—who knew how many—the sand had been rocks or shells, beaten down over time, broken, pulverized into the fine fine bits it was today.
Behind me a couple hundred feet, a band played in a bandshell, people sat in lawn chairs watching or wandered around from tent to tent looking at all the wares and celebrated, talked, laughed, danced in and out of time to the music. I doubted if any of them knew exactly why. I looked down at my toes, sinking into the sand, and thought, At some point, you were new too
A couple hours later, a rain came through, sudden and hard. It lasted a while, half an hour maybe, and then the sun shone through and the rain stopped. I went back to the flowerbed and checked. The babies were still there. The one that hadn’t sought deeper cover was still toward the front, fetal, hoping. The other was safely sheltered away.
The band played on, and I wept for everything that was lost.