Available in DefenestrationRead Now
***This is a Great Fiction Countdown 2015 post. I’ll be reading and responding to a new short story published or reprinted in 2015 every day throughout the month of December. If you have a recommendation, tweet at me or use the contact form.***
Story Two: “Dead Mouse” by Caroline Macon
Originally published in [pank] Issue 10.3 (May/June 2015)
Read it for free here.
An interesting, grim character piece. The story unfolds from the first person POV of Claire Duncan, a lonely young woman who lives next door to an animal hospital and has a dead rodent problem outside her apartment. The piece is very heavy on Claire’s interiority. Aside from a few exterior dialogue scenes toward the end, almost everything proceeds in a stream-of-consciousness style inside the protagonist’s noggin’. Macon uses this perspective effectively to achieve some authentic insights into Claire’s character. We’re so deep inside her thought process that everything feels honest, reliable. Claire isn’t the type of person who lies to herself, which is why–I think–she’s so fascinating to explore.
“Twenty years should be enough time to get over a dead dog,” she laments, thinking back on a deceased childhood pet. “It’s not that I really love dogs or even that I really love my dog. It’s that I like clutching sadness to my chest like an issue of People.”
Raw. Who doesn’t have that one lugubrious acquaintance who totally does this? She probably lived on your freshman hall. It’s such an authentic emotion that it feels immediately relatable, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard it stated so plainly.
Claire is full of these surprising revelations. “I tell stories that are half lies because I am really sad,” she says towards the end of the piece. That’s real. I think Macon just captured my entire drive for writing fiction. It’s the only honest way to be an exciting liar.
Much of the narrative focuses on Claire’s flirtation with/pining for/exasperation with Patrick, one of the vets next door. He bums cigarettes from her when he sees her on the street and one time they actually had random sex. Claire’s voice is so strong and her characterization so spot-on that her feelings for Patrick feel as complicated as they present in her exterior life. In the end, it seems like her own insecurities are getting in the way of the two of them getting together more than anything else. She describes him as someone who “seems like he would be a high maintenance guest…I would say, ‘Would you like some water?’ and he would say, ‘No, but do you have any bourbon?'” Again, who doesn’t know that guy?
Macon has a real talent for describing people and the world of her story using Claire’s voice in a way that feels fresh. The above anecdote about Patrick is a perfect example. That’s definitely one piece of craft I’ll take away from this reading.
For a moment I thought this story might turn on the relationship between Claire and Patrick, but that plot thread is never resolved. Instead, the story veers away from the love interest in the third act to focus back on Claire’s slum apartment and the dead mice. I found this choice effective, an affirmation that this isn’t a love story; this is a story about Claire, a lonely young woman in a shitty apartment complex plagued by dead mice.