The Dock

Mallory Wohlford

 

Hickory, dickory, dock,

The mouse ran up the clock.

The clock struck one,

And down he run!

Hickory, dickory, dock.

 

***

 

            “Why are you so nervous?” Henry’s father asked him.

            “I’m not nervous,” replied Henry restlessly.

            “Then why are you pacing?” questioned his father. Henry stopped pacing and looked down at his shiny black shoes on his tiny mouse feet. The shoes that would be carrying him down the aisle in just fifteen minutes.

            “Did you ever get cold feet before your wedding with mom?” asked Henry.

            “Of course I did. Everyone does.”

            Henry seemed to shrug off his father’s answer, and continued pacing. After a few more minutes of this, Henry’s father couldn’t take it anymore.

            “Come here, champ,” he said, waving over his clearly distressed son. “Have a seat right here.” Henry’s father patted the uncomfortable cushioned seat next to his own. Henry obliged, and popped-a-squat with a heavy sigh. Immediately, Henry’s leg started bouncing up and down.

            “How about I tell you a story, like I use to when you were younger? Remember? After you had nightmares or something, to calm you back down?” suggested Henry’s father.

            Henry didn’t meet his father’s eyes when he replied. “Like before you left mom and me?”

            Henry’s father sighed. “I was in no condition to scavenge food for all three of us, and I chose to leave you and your mother. I gave up, and I’m sorry. But I’m back now. You can’t avoid me forever. It’s your wedding day, for squeaks sake!” He pleaded with his eyes for his son to give him a chance. Henry stared back and eventually complied.

            “Okay,” he sighed. “One story.”

            “Alright!” exclaimed Henry’s father with a renewed excitement. “Strap in, because this is one you haven’t heard before.” He cleared his throat, and dove straight into the story.

“One day, your great-great-grandmother, Hickory Dickory, got very sick. Ate some rat poison, the doctors told your great-great-grandfather. She had a mere four days to live, and if there was anything that he wanted to say to her, he should say it soon. Your great-great-grandfather was sickened with grief. For the first three days, he couldn’t do much more than hold her fragile paw, and pray. On the fourth day, however, a patient from the psych ward had managed to sneak out of his wing of the hospital and found his way into their room.”

“I don’t understand how they would allow that to happen,” interrupted Henry. His father merely shrugged.

“Times were different,” was his answer. It wasn’t the answer Henry was looking for, but Henry nodded and waved on his father to proceed with the story, anyways.

“Your great-great-grandfather demanded that he leave at once, but the psych patient laughed hysterically. When he was done cackling, he spoke of an old rumor floating around the hospital. The rumor consisted of an elderly rat, in possession of the most vigorous potions known to the mouse world. Legend had it, he was almost twenty years old, which is unheard of as a rodent. Most are lucky to live three. Because of the length of his life, he was able to concoct wondrous potions that could achieve the unthinkable.

“One such potion was said to have the power to cure the dying of any illness, no matter the severity, but it would also have the ability to kill the healthy if they were to drink it greedily. Now, this sounded very convincing to a mouse with nothing to lose. Your great-great-grandfather immediately asked the whacked out mouse where such a rat would live?”

Henry’s father cleared his throat to make sure he could properly emit the correct voice of the crazed mouse.

“‘He lives in time itself, up in the elderly woman’s residence,’” Henry’s father said in a high-pitched and cracking voice. Henry rolled his eyes. His father’s voice returned to normal.

“Why are you rolling your eyes?” ask Henry’s father incredulously. “You use to love my crazy voices.”

“Yeah,” said Henry. “Use to. But please, continue.” Henry’s father sighed, but went on with the story nonetheless.

“Alright, then. So against his better judgment, but with no other option, your great-great-grandfather made the dangerous trek into the elderly woman’s house up on the top of the hill. He wandered silently around from room to room, in search of time. And that was when he saw it: the grandfather clock in the corner of the room.”

“Time itself,” said Henry, suddenly enticed in the story.

“Would you quit interrupting me? I don’t remember you being this chatty,” snapped his father.

“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” exclaimed Henry, smiling in spite of himself. His father sighed but set forth with the story knowing that he had Henry’s full attention.

“Anyways, he scaled the clock tower to meet the rat at the top. When he pushed open the flimsy hunk of wood leading into the main part behind the clock face, your great-great-grandfather gasped, and froze in the doorway.

“There were bottles and glass containers of all shapes and sizes containing strangely colored liquids up and down shelves lining the walls of the room. After he got his bearings, your great-great-grandfather scampered into the room in search of the potion that he sought: the one that could cure the sick, and kill the healthy.”

“How is that even possible?” Henry asked impatiently.

“DO YOU WANT ME TO TELL THE STORY OR NOT?” shouted his father. Henry shrunk in on himself, suppressing laughter. He could only nod his encouragement for the story to ensue once again. His father scoffed. “Where was I?”

“The potions.”

“Ah, yes. The potions were labeled, you see. So your great-great-grandfather set forth, scouring the labels up and down the rows of bright and sickly colored liquids with no luck. After a few minutes, he heard a soul clear their throat in a dark corner. He turned towards the noise with fear coursing through his veins!”

Henry couldn’t help but smirk at his father’s excitement that leaked into his storytelling. It was just as he remembered it from when he was young.

“‘I know what you seek, Alister,’ said the voice from the corner. It was an old voice, a wise voice, but not necessarily a friendly voice. ‘I have what you seek right here.’ A battered and wrinkly hand emerged from the shadows, and within its grasp, a beautiful potion. It was the color of deep indigo on the bottom, and faded to an alluring periwinkle that forced your eyes to follow it to the lip of the clear glass vase. It shimmered, even in the gray light, as if a thousand tiny camera flashes were stuck inside, forced to twinkle forever.

“‘Please give it to me, kind sir. My wife… she is incredibly ill, and could be dying as we speak,’ your great-great-grandfather explained to the elderly rat. The elderly rat seemed not to care, for his arm did not twitch, nor did the rest of his body appear from the darkened corner of the room. He merely responded. ‘Oh, but she is dying as we speak, Alister. The quivering of my whiskers tells me this is so.’”

Henry shivered, as if feeling the quivering himself.

“‘If my whiskers are not lying to me, and they never do, your wife, Hickory, has until the strike of one.’

“What?!” Henry burst out. His father ignored him.

“Your great-great-grandfather gasped in disbelief. How could the elderly rat possibly know that? He also hadn’t a clue as to what time it was at that moment, but he was aware that it must be close.

“‘So you know how important it is that you give me that potion!’ Alister cried out. He did, the elderly rat responded. But surely Alister knew that it was going to be a steep price. ‘I’ll say anything! Give anything! Pay anything! Please,’ Alister gasped between sobs as tears ran down his muzzle.

“The elderly rat paused for your great-great-grandfather to compose himself, which only angered him more, because now they had a strict time limit and he could feel it physically weighing him down. He regained his composure and tried to see past the threatening shadow in the corner, but to no avail.”

“‘A potion that has the power to save a life can only be repaid with the life of another. This is the law,’ stated the rat calmly. Alister wasted no time.

“‘Deal. My life, for the saving of my wife’s.’”

Henry felt his heart ache.

“The energy in the room changed, for the elderly rat had never before come across a soul so willing, so quick to offer up their own life in exchange for another. Alister could hear the intake of breath, as if the elderly rat were to say something more, but he was cut off by a sound resonating through the room.

DOOOOONNNNNNGGGGGG!

“Your great-great-grandfather sat idle not a moment longer, as he snatched the potion out of the elderly rat’s hand and sprinted back the way he came. He scurried without another thought of the elderly rat, the other potions, or even his own life that was currently at stake. The only thought that was able to manifest inside his head was that of his wife and saving her life.”

Henry felt his breaths come quicker, and he sat positioned on the very end of his chair, mirroring the tenseness of the story.

“Alister barged through the hospital doors and shoved anyone and anything that got in his way, though careful not to drop his love’s last chance. He finally reached the curtain that hid his wife from view, and triumphantly threw it aside, searching with his eyes what his heart had memorized.

“But what he saw… Solemn faces, unplugged hospital machines, doctors and nurses alike consoling Alister and Hickory’s family and friends. Your great-great-grandfather collapsed with anguish and heartbreak. He was too late.”

Henry’s father leaned forward and wiped a single tear that was rolling down Henry’s muzzle.

“Thanks,” he sniffled. “That part came as a bit of a shock, I guess you could say.”

“Yeah, I know,” his father sighed. “Still want me to go on?”

“Yes, please.”

Henry’s father took a deep breath, and went on.

“After the incident, day in and day out your great-great-grandfather would sit on the porch, look out over the pond, and sob. The potion remained at the foot of his rocking chair. Uncorked and unused, but always there, always tempting him. After about a week of this, he appeared to run out of tears and self pity. Unsatisfied with his idle mind and body, your great-great-grandfather set to work collecting wood and nails. Once he was pleased with the amount and quality of his supplies, he began to build. What was he building you ask?”

Henry stared at him, waiting for the answer.

“A dock.” his father whispered. Henry’s tiny eyebrows scrunched together in confusion.

“Like our dock? Outside of the house?” asked Henry.

“Exactly like that, actually,” said his father with a slight smile. “Named it after her, too. Hickory Dickory Dock. When he finished, he took his rocking chair and set it on the edge overlooking the pond, and would sit there every day from sunrise to sunset. Every day he parked himself and looked out over the water; every day he would think about his wife and how much he loved her, still loved her; every day he would pick up the potion, stare at it for a while, and set it back down.” Henry’s father cleared his throat. “The end.”

The two men sat in silence for a few breaths, contemplating the story. Henry was the first to break the silence.

“Why did you tell me that story?” he asked. “It was so sad! That was suppose to make me feel better?”

“Don’t think of it as a tragedy,” replied Henry’s father. “Not completely, anyways. Think of it more as a love story.”

“A love story?”

“Yes, Henry. A love story,” said his father softly. “That’s the kind of love I want you to have with your wife. The kind that doesn’t think twice about risking its own life for the chance to save another. The kind that is willing to do anything, give anything, for the well-being of their significant other. The kind of love that your mother and I didn’t have, Henry.”

Both mice bowed their heads.

“I get it now, at least a little bit. Why you left, I mean,” said Henry softly. Henry’s father put his paw on one of his son’s.

“Thank you, my boy. Now let’s go get you married.”

 

***

 

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