She tucked him into bed before she left. I’ll be back soon, she whispered to him. It was always best to go looking for supplies late at night, while the humans were sleeping. She kissed his forehead and her hair fell over his face, making him scrunch up his nose from the tickle.
And then, with her bag and her safety pin hook, she was gone.
Oscar thought he might surprise her. He crept out of his bed and into the small main room of their house. He would wait up for his mama to get home, so he could help her put away what she found and give her another big hug before going to sleep.
He clambered up onto one of the wooden spools at their table, seating himself comfortably on it. His legs kicked back and forth a little, since they didn’t reach the floor, and he propped his arms on the table to wait.
Oscar ended up falling asleep with his arms at the table, slumped over in exhaustion.
When he woke, he jolted a little to find himself still sitting up. Brown eyes blinked with confusion as he peered around. There was light peeking in from the one crack up in the wall, telling him that it was morning already.
Did mama go straight to bed and not see me? he wondered. Oscar hopped down from his spool and padded softly over to the curtained doorway to his mom’s room. Her bed was a little bigger than his, and the blankets were messy. But she wasn’t in it.
“Mom?” Oscar called curiously, looking around their small home. Of course, no answer came. Oscar shuffled around just in case, looking behind every curtain and under every blanket in both beds. He checked the pantry, but it was just as sparse as it had been before she left. There was only a few days’ worth of food left.
Confused, Oscar sat down on the ring box that they used as a chair. He picked up a scrap of cloth his mother had been using to teach him how to dethread human fabric so it could be used for them. He’d just have to do his chores while he waited for his mother to come home. This wasn’t the first time she’d taken a little extra time finding food for them.
Five days and five meals later, the pantry was empty.
On the seventh night, Oscar cried himself to sleep, exhausted by the hunger that burned him up on the inside.
On her eighth night away, Oscar picked up his blankets and moved them to the top of the pile on her bed, and then crawled underneath the whole lot. He could still smell her on the nest of foam and fabric that was her bed. He didn’t cry as much before drifting off to sleep.
On the ninth day, he got to eat, because the friendly mouse visited and brought him some stale bread. She had always been so nice. She let Oscar put his arms around her neck and bury his face in her fur, grateful for the present she brought him.
But his mom still didn’t come home.
On day twelve, his head was swimming from the pounding headache of hunger. His body was already frail and weak. Without enough food, he could barely see straight. He packed up a cloth bag with some supplies, and ventured out into the dark.
He’d never gone to one of the human’s rooms by himself before. But he had to.
His mom’s lessons played on loop in his head while he scoped one of them out. It looked like it was empty. Viewing the room from the vent near the floor, Oscar could see a few crumbled pieces of cereal under one of the beds, just in the shadow. His stomach yowled pitifully at him and begged him to run out and get the abandoned food.
He almost did. Oscar had one leg up and ready to swing over the edge of the vent when the bathroom door to the side flew open and a human stormed past, making a beeline for the front door. Enormous shoes stomped into the carpet, and Oscar felt the shaking from his hiding place.
He flinched all the way back to the far end of the air conditioning duct. Oscar sank down to sit against it and shivered, quiet tears racing down his cheeks. Humans were so big. He hoped he never had to deal with one in person.
His stomach whined. Oscar stood up and went back to the vent to peek out.
The human left. This time, Oscar waited and listened even harder to make sure there really weren’t any giants in the immense room.
He dashed out across the floor, his heart pounding. He snatched up every crumb he could find, stuffing them all into his bag and finding that it wasn’t as full as he’d hoped it would end up. But that was it. He sprinted back to the vent, losing the nerve to check out the rest of the room. It was too big. The space around him was too wide and threatening.
Oscar saved the crumbs for as long as he could. If he ate later in the day, he might be able to go to sleep without pains in his middle from monumental hunger. He made it to late afternoon before he thought he might not even have the strength to pick up his bag. And then he tried more dethreading, but his hands were shaking.
He snuggled under the blankets in his mom’s bed again that night, desperately trying to keep himself warm. As he took deep breaths and tried to calm his fearful heart, Oscar went over the events of the day. He’d have to do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day. He’d have to collect food on his own now.
She wasn’t coming back, and the realization brought on more tears than even the hunger did.
Oscar was alone.