(Tired Bonus) A Thousand Mice

Helen is a teenaged girl living in Brooklyn.

On the evening of April 3rd, 1997, Helen comes home from a shopping trip. She’s hiding her face behind a box and carrying a mouse cage in her free hand. She lugs it into her room. It’s a typical teen girl’s room, except that its walls are padded and it has no mirrors. It has two windows. One window is open. It has no screen, but there’s a piece of paper taped over the opening. It’s a big note, written on construction paper. It says, “No Launching! – Tyndareus”

Helen puts down the cage.

She looks at the note.

LAUNCH!

The note flies through the air. It flutters, flutters, flutters down to the Earth below.

Helen does not look at the cage. She opens it.

A mouse runs out. It runs around. It squeaks. Suddenly, it sees Helen’s face.

LAUNCH!

Another mouse runs around. It squeaks. Suddenly, it sees Helen’s face.

LAUNCH!

The last mouse walks out. It is quiet and dignified. It is a solid gentleman of a mouse. It looks up. It opens its mouth to squeak.

LAUNCH!

Flutter, flutter, flutter, down to the Earth below.

“Helen?”

It’s her adoptive father’s voice! Helen quickly hides her face behind the box so she doesn’t launch him. Then she turns. “Yes, father?”

Tyndareus’ voice is wry and gentle. “The neighbors say it’s raining mice again.”

“I’m trying to get to a thousand,” Helen says.

She’s hiding her face behind a box labelled “e-Life.” It’s a promotional box for a revolutionary Internet-aware life management application! Treading the thin line between an Outlook clone and a massively multiplayer online RPG, e-Life proved impossible for its original designers to launch. Helen hasn’t launched it yet, but she doesn’t quite trust it—the box always seems as light and trembly as feathers in her hands.

“If I launch a thousand mice,” Helen says, “then I won’t launch mice any more, and I can keep one as a pet. But if I don’t launch them on purpose, then I’ll launch them every time I happen across one, and I’ll be old and gray before I can buy one to keep!”

“I suppose that’s true,” Tyndareus says. “But couldn’t you aim them away from the street?”

“Father!” Helen says. “If they don’t fly out the window, they’ll hit the wall!”

She’s so shocked by his suggestion that she lowers the box.

LAUNCH!

Tyndareus flies through the air. He hits the wall. It’s padded, of course. He lands with a long-suffering slump.

“Five hundred and seventy-nine,” he says.

“Oops,” Helen blushes.

“You know,” he says, “if I can survive it, the mice probably can. And it’s less of a fall.”

Helen blushes deeper.

“I didn’t think of that,” she admits.

She hangs her head.

“It’s okay,” he says. Then he laughs. “Hey,” he says, “you’ll be through launching me before you’re old and gray.”

“That’s true,” she agrees.

“Before I’m old and gray, even,” he says.

“You’re pretty old already, Daddy,” she says.

He grins. “Maybe,” he says.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey?”

“Hey,” she says, and she’s suddenly looking pretty sad, “Hey, I was wondering, is it because I’m ugly?”

10 thoughts on “(Tired Bonus) A Thousand Mice

  1. I blush to admit it, but I didn’t realize what was going on here until I had finished the entry and started a re-read.

  2. I am afraid that I, despite several rereadings, do not understand this story. Perhaps someone could explain what they get out of it?

    Since i think (not sure) that this is my first post here, i would like to say that that i love your work here, Rebecca. I think i have read it all by now, though not in order.

  3. villum, here are links for Helen and
    Tyndareus.

    The joke of the story is that Helen in the words of Marlowe had “the face that launched a thousand ships”; i.e. her beauty caused the Trojan War. Here the launching has become a physical rather than metaphorical property, with an added reference to the “launch” of electronic games and other kinds of programs.

    The darkness in the story has to do not only with Helen’s non-understanding of what is going on — she is only a teen, and since her room has no mirrors she has never seen her face, and apparently anyone who does see it is launched before they can tell her that she’s beautiful — but also, I think, in the resonances of the previous metaphor about Chessicky County. Helen’s physical launching of anyone who gets near her not only keeps away friends, pets, and so on, it also is a boundary-enforcing mechanism that keeps away predators, and it will evidently run out once she’s launched 1000 of any particular type of entity. There is something creepy about Tyndareus’ reference to how his thousand launches will have run out before they both are old. Although this last implication is not part of the myths about Helen and Tyndareus, as far as I know.

    Anyways, that’s what I got out of it.

  4. I didn’t think it was creepy, I thought it was kind of sweet. Well, her adoptive father’s remark, anyhow. I thought her wondering if she was ugly was very sweetly, sadly human.

    But I cheered as soon as Helen showed up– recognized her from her first LAUNCH, because she’s a character in histories as well as legends: she helped create Evasive Angel, in a passage word for word the same as when Liril makes a merin.

  5. I’d missed the Helen reference in the Histories. I certainly got the LAUNCH reference, and do think it’s kinda cute/sad that she thinks she might be ugly (presumably, once she’s done launching Tyndarus, that will also take care of launching other people).

  6. Helen made an important error here! What would she have learned if she’d waited for the third mouse to speak?

  7. I like the explanation very much, but sometimes I feel that explaining a story in public is like undressing it. Couldn’t we keep our answers to ourself, hoard them in secret like discovered gold?

    I’m not sure if I’m kidding or not.

    Mack

  8. mackatlaw, I sort of worried about this myself, and asked about it. In the last letters column entry, it’s the question:

    “Does that mean that you’d rather that we didn’t post lots of normal comments trying to puzzle out meanings of the entries?”

    Rebecca answered that she likes normal comments and writes best when she has “a suitable mix of writer food in the form of vigorous compliments for the very good parts, expressions of confusion at the confusing parts, and less vigorous compliments for the parts that are not as good” and “It’s neat when there are a bunch of comments that kind of wander off into my readers talking amongst themselves”.

    I think that I understand what you mean by not liking other people’s explanations — they affect your own view of the story and cut short your own process of interpretation — but Rebecca said that she likes them and since this is her space, I think that is most important. I suppose that we could all try to stick to compliments or expressions of confusion without attempting to find meaning (i.e. give explanations) but that would be difficult.

    My own concerns about criticism (which includes the process of interpreting meaning) and comment were sort of burlesqued in my 23%-original-content audience story “The Bees”, in which Koshchei is in some ways a cognate for Rebecca and Toupan is a nasty sort of unconstructive critic.

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