Myszka, Mishka

He was still not sure if word was little mouse, or little bear. Was it mish-ka or mee-shka… sometimes it sounded like a hybrid between the two. He smiled to himself. He had been both. The nickname, in either form had followed him since birth, given by his Bobczi, and God knew his Polish grandmother had a sense of humor that was sly and innocent at the same time.

He liked to think now, that she intuited the duality of his nature, even then. After telling the story once to some of the town’s children, his name became permanently “Mouse.” Kids were forever begging Uncle Mouse to regale them with the many tales he knew by heart, both fiction and from his long life. He was equally certain, that since that City Council meeting one day, as many adults called him “The Bear” privately.

He had never walked back then, now he walked everywhere. The trick knee that had given him problems in that other lifetime was only so much background noise now. Either it had become weary of complaining unheard or actually become stronger by demand. The pulverized dust off this well-worn trail felt like pillows beneath his bare feet, then more firm but still silky as he stepped off it to the less traveled path. He avoided the man-made aquifer like the plague, climbing instead toward old well nestled into the morning shadows of an abandoned mine from yet another age. There were filters still to be had, that would render the lake water drinkable, but since the grid shut down there could be things more dangerous than mere E.Coli and fecal’s in it. Some of the factories just loosened their wastes, with the release of a person who gasped their last death rattle; other sources just slowly leached their death, like the a wound that refused to stop draining. People were getting sick, dying, and you just couldn’t convince them that it was the water. Who knows what came from further up the Pacific chain? Besides, he liked the cooler greener air above the valley.


There, in the shadows of the redwoods, he would have a chance to negotiate more with Crystal, the unofficial leader of the mountain village nearby. Unlike the arm twisting, duplicitous, make or break dealings of his business past, where deals were brokered or broken with lightening speed, things took time now. They had been talking for months about this subject.

He was now a politician, for better or worse. “A damned near 80 politician,’ he liked to say, even though his real age was only 72, “and my only creds are surviving, apparently.” He would look down and away, embarrassed by the attention whenever anyone deferred to him. Pressed, he would remind them of rule one – no one’s opinion counted more than another’s in this day and age.

He started attending City Council meetings when there were still thousands in his town, quietly listening to the riotous arguments and panicked rhetoric after things turned. He was friends with a couple of the big wigs, from his psuedo-socialite days, people who admired his wife’s singing career. He had stumbled into the “in” clique by proxy. He would sit outside, waiting for the crowd to melt away, on the steps of the Pavilion outside the Civic Center for his buddies to join him. They would end up talking there for ages, should anyone bring liquid refreshments, or some good bud, or jump into one of the squad cars and head up to a local watering hole. His razor-sharp memory, and ability to repeat dialogue served him well in his debates. Always, he called for calmness and reason, and to address the speaker’s concerns, rather than dismiss them. It was these behind the scene debates that helped shape the new order. Yet, for years, he would not speak (mouse!) even when called upon at the meetings, much to the irritation of his backroom allies.

As time went by, and fuels ran out, masses died off, and it became apparent that there was no outside help coming ever; the mood began to change in the town. The hundred or so left became fearful.

There had been a raid. People mostly blamed the gangs of the concrete jungle much to the South, and started talking about arming themselves heavily, starting to protect what little resources they had left, started talking, even, about preemptive strikes.

Out came the Bear, in a way that even surprised Mouse himself.

The few hundred left fell to complete silence when the quiet man rose with a growl. “That is the thinking that brought us to our knees in the first place. Selfishness. Exceptionalism, ” his clear voice rising to that of a bellows, “Killing. WAR!”  He began pacing back and forth in front of the rows of folded chairs. “Wrong. Everything about this is wrong. From my friends on the raised dais, to where you are seated. No one should be in front, no one should be in back, no one should make decrees to be followed. This should be a circle. This should be a community.” Once the words started to flow, it was a dam unleashed. He raised historical precedent. He talked about coalitions and sharing with other communities nearby. He raised the point of how many had died already as a result of choices made in the old ways. He pointed out that there were no “others” just lost survivors like themselves, his voice having reached crescendo, now diminishing almost to a whisper, people leaning in to hear. Then he walked out.

He took up his usual position the next week, sitting outside on the pavilion steps, waiting for the people to enter, trying to decide if he wanted to walk in or away. Keli, the lady who cleaned the Center approached him, baby in arms as always, and said, “I think you need to come in now. You’ll love what I did with the place,” her dark eyes smiling. He looked up over his glasses, brows furrowed, unsure if he was being ridiculed or now. “I took a little of my people’s history, and made it ours.” She handed him a feather.


The chairs were set in a circle, crowded to fit, and in front of one, was a blanket with a pipe on it. She took the feather back from him, and set it next to the pipe.  Keli sat directly in front of it, and patted the chair next to her for Mouse to join her. The Chairman started to speak, and she waved him off, standing to pick up the feather back up. “I don’t smoke, so I will use the feather. You can use either, as you choose. I clean this place. I have a name. It is Keli. I clean this place for money, or traded food to keep my babies alive. So I want to know, did you hear The Mouse turned Bear last week? Am I as valuable a human as you, because I hold back the grime and decay that would make our town a diseased and filthy place, rather than fix mechanical things, or grow food? Like Mouse, I have never had a say here. If I cannot tonight, and each in turn around this circle of equals, I will walk away forever, and find my way alone, up there somewheres…” She pointed to the Sierras.

The murmurs of agreement made everything change. Each person, in turn, named themselves, and told what they had done, and do now, and what their greatest needs or concerns were. It set precedent for how things were ever done. Everyone had their say, every time.

City Council became Counseling one another, a Counsel Circle. The meetings went from an hour-long gavel enforced procedure, to consensus building that lasted half the night… sometimes days. It was like they had changed internally, to resonate on the same levels.

When he met Crystal by chance one day at the old well, and found they had a diabetic child in their mountain community, and were about out of insulin, he invited her to come down and speak to his people. People were afraid to give up their stores of the drug. Fuel for the generator that kept the last vestiges of medicines cold was running out. Crystal’s community had a high mountain stream that could keep it to temperature with no energy use. It was decided that evening. Her people would become keepers of the medicine, and use what they needed, and provide it for both communities.

Then she took the idea of the Counseling Circle back with her.

Thinking back, he found it hard to believe that 20 years had passed since that day, and that every community in the area had began to use the Circle.  The boy with diabetes had become Crystal’s people’s Doctor, studying under Mouse’s towns Doctor. Trade between all of them had become more celebration than work.


She was sitting on the edge of the well in her trademark floppy hat as he approached it, “Hows your bones, you old crooked kneed Mouse?”  “About the same as your gnarled hands, you old hippie crone,” he laughed back.

“We have Consensus! The Doctor finally convinced them it is the water, not infectious disease that has been making your people sick. Get the hell out of that heat-blasted valley, and move them on up the hill.”

He sighed, “Change is hard, some of them will hate leaving their own homes. We have about 10 that really don’t like this at all.” He for one, would be glad to get them away from the lure of the ease of the dirty water, and the omnipresent heat in summer. AC was a thing of ancient history now.

“Bobby has been busy, with all his brothers and friends. That boy can build like none other. I know they think they have to stay with us, until they can scrape together materials and build, but we have several dozen cabins ready. It was going to be a surprise. Some were angry he was building before the final consensus, but that boy has charisma. He told them they were “visitors quarters” and that he had to practice some new designs.” She stopped and took a long draw of the icy cold well water. “Don’t even bring it up tonight. Just invite them up, and say we are having a dance and feast tomorrow. We will play some music, imbibe a bit, have some fun, let them stay the night, and we can Counsel together in the morning. Let the cabins speak for us, and how welcome they will be.”

“Yum. Elevation Bud?” he grinned ear to ear.

“And you call me the old hippie?” She raised an eyebrow.

Walking back, his backpack filled with the precious water bottled, he realized it was going to all take time, and that was the one thing they had plenty of now.

Myszka/Mishka walked a lot now. This time he was walking home to bring his family good news. Their family was growing. Humanity was growing too.


1 comment

    • Diane G on July 16, 2010 at 4:35 pm

    the saying had gone.

    “Are you a mouse or a bear?” was the new version in modern vernacular.

    The correct answer, of course, is always, “Yes.”

    Mitakye Oyasin.


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