Francis, the gentle giant, was going to feed a cute little mouse to a mean old tarantula and it was my job to make sure it didn't happen.
I'm not sure why Frank got a tarantula. It's not like you can cuddle one or anything. Frank named the spider, Legs, 'cause he liked ZZ Top. The mouse was a BOGO item--buy a tarantula, get its first meal free.
I was walking through the common room on my dorm floor when someone made an announcement. "Frank's gonna feed a mouse to his tarantula tonight. Who wants to watch?"
That's all I had to hear. I left a trail of my econ textbook, a spiral notebook, two Bic pens, my gloves and coat in the hall. I flung open the door to Frank's room. He lowered the beer bottle that was en route to his lips. One corner of his mouth went up. He didn't say it, but it seemed like he was expecting me.
I put my hands on my hips and glared at him and his red-headed roommate. "Where's the mouse?"
The guys looked at each other, then back at me. Frank used his beer bottle to point to the other side of the room. I walked over and sat down at his desk. I looked at the cardboard pet box. I could see a half dozen fiber optic-looking whiskers sticking out of one of the air holes. I touched them and they retracted. Then a little eraser pink nose poked out, all quivery. I held my pointer finger a half inch away for him or her to sniff.
I picked the box up and held it close to my heart. I walked around to the red head's desk and perched on top of it. "How much?"
Frank squinted. "How much what?"
"How much for the mouse?"
Frank shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "That probably would have fed him for a good month."
"Crickets 'til the end of the year," I said.
Frank shook his head. "What?"
"I'll buy your stupid tarantula a bag of crickets every week 'til the end of the year in exchange for this little guy." I tapped the top of the box.
When he didn't answer, I balanced the mouse house on my lap and held out my hand. "Deal?"
Frank looked at the ceiling for a minute, then he held his hand out. "Deal." He took his time giving me back my hand.
The next day, Frank and I rode the elevator to the ninth floor after lunch.
"You want a ride to the pet store?" he said, before he turned right and I turned left, off the elevator.
I looked up at him and wrinkled my nose. "What for?"
"You know . . . mouse food . . . crickets?"
"Oh. Yeah. I guess I do. Let me get some money."
My monthly money from Dad was running low so I got Booger Hole a turtle bowl instead of a Habitrail. I didn't get food. I'd just bring him stuff up from the dining hall. I bought him a little blue bowl to drink water out of 'cause I couldn't figure out how to attach a water bottle to the turtle bowl.
I named the mouse, Booger Hole, 'cause one of my brothers had told me about a bluegrass band called Booger Hole Revival. When you revive something, isn't it like snatching it from the jaws of death? Like Jesus did Lazarus?
Booger Hole was a silky, charcoal-colored mouse, the size of my thumb. I could tell he was a boy 'cause . . . well, I could tell. Even though he was super cute, Booger Hole turned out to be a pain in my butt. He was forever peeing in my sweatshirt pockets and getting out of his turtle bowl. He didn't seem to realize or appreciate what I'd done for him . . . the way I'd purchased his redemption and all. I loved him anyway.
Booger Hole figured out early on how to come and go. Every morning he was inside his bowl, but there were always little chocolate jimmy-looking mouse presents all over my desk. I started putting a textbook on top with a sliver of a gap for him to get air. Each of my textbooks wound up with a crescent moon-shaped hole on the side opposite the spine. I didn't get cash back for used books that semester.
On about our fourth trip to the pet store, Frank turned to me at the stoplight right before the Mileground.
He looked at my knees instead of my eyes. "Legs was scared of Booger."
I looked over at him and huffed. "Are you serious?"
Frank bent forward to look up at the light to see if it had changed. "Yeah. I put Booger in with him and he ran to the other side of the tank."
I didn't say anything.
Frank cleared his throat. "You don't have to keep buying crickets . . . if you don't want to."
I looked out my window and shook my head. "No. A deal's a deal."
And then I killed him . . . Booger Hole. School was out for summer and Booger Hole and I went home to Huntington.
One night I had one too many at the Varsity Club, and I made a bad choice at 2 in the morning. After I brushed my teeth, I got Booger Hole out to play on my bed. I passed out and when I woke up, I felt like the Princess and the Pea. What is that lump under me? The lump was Booger Hole . . . dead, but still warm.
I held him in my hand and sobbed, trying to wash my guilt away with tears. I stroked his little body with my pointer finger. All his important stuff was smooshed to one side. Like when the loaf of bread gets crushed by the gallon of milk in your grocery bag.
I never did tell Francis, the gentle giant, that Booger Hole got killed by a sleeping giant--me. Sometimes I wonder, which way would Booger Hole have preferred to die? Death by hairy tarantula, or death by tipsy giant . . .