Published July 25. 2009 4:00AM Updated August 03. 2009 4:16PM
Minerva picked up the mouse and stroked its head with one of her long fingers.
"I know just how this mouse feels. Here he is nailed down on this board, stuck forever, and there's nothing he can do about it. He just has to sit there and be moved around wherever people want to move him, even if he doesn't want to move. And every now and then, people come along and look at him, any time they want to, and there's no way for him to hide."
"I don't think he feels anything," I said, feeling uneasy. "I mean, he's stuffed."
"Exactly!" Minerva said. "That's what everybody thinks. They just see his outside. Nobody sees his insides."
She stared down at the mouse, looking positively mournful.
I shifted uncomfortably. I couldn't believe it. She was making me feel guilty about a stuffed mouse.
"If I owned this mouse," she said, "I'd talk to him and pet him. I'll bet you never do."
I studied the blanket. "Uh, no, not really."
"You see?" She set the mouse on the bed, unfolded her legs and stood up and stretched. "I guess I better be going."
I wanted to tell her that I did too care about the mouse's feelings, but that seemed dumb. Instead, I heard myself say, "Why don't you keep it?"
"You're giving me the mouse?"
"Wow. Thanks. Thanks a lot, Wumpy."
Then Minerva Wimberly did something that made me dizzy. It happened so fast it didn't seem real. She bent down and kissed me on the cheek. Then she ran down the stairs and was gone.
I sat there touching my burning cheek. I felt as if a brand had sizzled into my skin. My head spun. And all I could think was: What is going on here? What in the world is going on?