The sheep and the mouse, Willis and Robert, sat idly next to one another under a nearby tree. In the distance, they could see the barn, and they spoke of the party that would take place that night in that barn. It was a party that would be attended mainly by mice but seldom invitations had been extended to other animals. Willis, the sheep, was one of those animals.
“I really don’t want to go tonight,” said Robert as he fidgeted his small hands in his lap. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, Willis. It’s too early. It’s too early for me to be put in a spot like that. It’s a tight spot. It’s a tight, little spot, and I just, I just, I just can’t be put in it. Too tight. Too, too tight.”
On his belly Willis sat, his back two legs crossed comfortably to resemble the twist of a pretzel. He heard Robert’s words but reacted with little enthusiasm, as if similar nondescript concerns had been splayed before him in much the same manner times before. He did, however, respond.
“Too early for what, Robert?” he asked calmly.
The mouse stood in a fit of frustration and placed his hands on his ears, he squeezed and pulled and shook. Into movement he paced, back and forth and back and forth.
“Too early for me to be around all that cheese!” he screamed, his pace increasing. “Do you have any idea how much cheese is going to be at that party tonight?”
Willis perked up, rising from his belly. He had not heard about the cheese before.
“What kind of cheese?” Willis asked, seeking to hide his excitement. The reason Willis had not been listening to the stampeding Robert before had everything to do with the parade of cheeses marching through his head. For the past days he had thought about nothing but cheese and their every variation. His ears, controlled by satellites, focused in on the mouse’s words.
“Oh, are kidding? Every kind of cheese. Gouda and Cheddar and Brie and Swiss, the combinations are endless there’s not a dairy they will miss. There will be American and Dutch and French and German, the smells and odors will draw every kind of vermin. I, on the other hand, will not be in attendance because I’ve still yet to kick my cheesy dependence. It’s much too early and it’s much too soon. If I go and attend, I’ll turn at once into a dairy-filled balloon. I’ll pop and explode and fly away far, the rumors will settle and burn and scar, I’ll eat cheese enough to fill up a car. And if I do go, without a gasp, it’ll be an ironclad, bulletproof relapse. I’ll eat pound after pound to the many cheers and claps. I’ll never stop, I won’t even consider it, for, at that point, the world will cease to have this sick mouse in it.”
Willis, his eyes now popping from his head, was hearing Robert’s words rhythmically. He honestly didn’t believe the mouse to be much of a poet, but now, for some reason, he was piecing together verse after verse and doing it well. Willis thought the poetry might just be a fabrication of his own affliction for cheese, one culminated in the mind, but he could take no chances and knew he must get to that party. He rhymed back as powerfully as he could.
“Robert, my dear, please don’t be afraid. There’s nothing to fear, think of Kincaid. He’s your long lost cousin and he’ll be there tonight. If you weren’t there to greet him, it just wouldn’t be right. And think of your mother and your father and sis, how on earth could they enjoy themselves if you were to miss? There’s Stuey and Buzz and Fiddles and Snatch, the party’s for them – haven’t you heard about that? How would they feel if you weren’t to show? Suspicion and resentment would only build and grow. No, no, my tiny little friend, I think you’re ready to prove that you don’t depend on dairy as fuel much the same way hay is not dependent on the mule.”
Robert had stopped pacing, his arms hung lamely at his side. Crooked his head sat, pushed askew by confusion. His eyes were spread wide.
“Why are you talking like that?”
Side to side Willis’s eyes went, for he was just realizing how strange that his response should be involved so intimately with lyrical meter. Robert had not been rhyming.
“Uh, well I’m just trying to lighten the mood. To give you a taste of what it’s going to be like tonight!” Willis said cleverly. “There will most certainly be singing and rhyming and cheering and dancing at this party. Don’t you want to be ready?”
Robert was not convinced. “You seem funny, Willis. Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Of course I am. Yes, yes, yes. Don’t be silly. I honestly think it is monumental to your recovery for us to attend this party tonight. You need to be able to be around cheese comfortably for your recovery to work. As it is, you are a mouse. Your family and friends are mice. Cheese is going to be a part of your life one way or the other.”
Robert, still skeptical, was forced to see the logic in the sheep’s point. He would not be able to escape cheese unless he were to abandon his friends and family, and that’s not something he wanted to do. Maybe he was ready, he thought. Maybe Willis was right.
“Okay, Willis, but I will need your help. You’ll have to stay by my side the entire time. You can’t leave me alone, and if you do see me start to fade back into my addictive state you’re going to have to stop me.”
“If I see even the slightest shade of your old self I will throw myself on every piece of cheese in that barn, my friend.”
“I’m not sure you have to do that,” Robert said quickly.
“But not another word!” Willis affirmed. “I will eat every piece of cheese in that barn if I have to!”
“Okay, but that’s not necessary, Willis. Just make sure I don’t eat any cheese.”
Willis, took a deep breath to calm himself. He shook himself back into the moment. Wheels of Gouda, blocks of Brie emptied from his ears.
“I swear it, Robert,” he promised seriously. “Look at me. I’m a sheep. Bah. I’m a sheep.”
“Have you considered the alternative?” said Willis. The sheep was standing upright, leaning against the wooden railing of their square pen. There was an absentmindedness to his posture, a sass. His hip was cocked upward and bent opposite the direction of his lean. In his hooved hand he held a thick brick of cheese. Cheddar. He took a bite. The cheese, with each wrench and wind of his jaw, gathered eagerly with the saliva in his mouth, and as the two met and mingled they began to form a thick dairy, and unruly, soup. His eyes, and he, hell-bent on the flavors, rolled into the back of his skull.
“There are so many other ways to go about this, Robert. Take a diet, for example,” he said and waved the brick of cheese which now sported a serrated half-circle at its peak. “You don’t need to give up cheese, entirely. There’s no reason to.”
As a mouse, Robert, his entire life, had been expected to eat and love and live for cheese. And he had done just that. But now, after so many years, Robert had begun to look at things from a very different perspective. He was in a new phase in which he had committed to question and analysis and reevaluation – of everything he had done and known up to that point. Cheese was first on the list.
“Willis, you just can’t understand. You don’t crave the stuff like I do. It’s in my DNA. This kind of abuse is in my genes. It’s a sickness, a condition that needs to be treated medically by a doctor, or a psychologist. I need antibiotics. I need to go on prescription pills of strongest, most absorbing arrangement,” Robert said.
On his stomach his hands rested. He could feel the abuse he spoke of, he could grab at it and try to tear it away, but it would remain. He had built it himself, strong and resilient and layered. It would go nowhere fast.
The sheep, Willis, took another bite from the brick he still held.
“Here’s what I’ll do,” he began after pushing his mouth’s contents to its left side pouch of cheek. “I’ll be your sponsor.”
“Yes, like a coach, or a trainer. Your support system, old buddy.” He took another chunk and welcomed it into the mess he already held between his teeth. “Every time you feel the urge, the tick, you tell me and I’ll take care of it for you. Any time, day or night, I’m here for you. I’ll eat cheese enough for the both of us. I swear it,” he confirmed, his eyes glazed with syrupy desire.
That’s not a bad idea, thought Robert. It couldn’t hurt to have Willis around.
“Okay. I’ll give it a try, but don’t you go falling in love with the cheese the way I have,” the mouse warned. “It’ll ruin your life, Willis. Trust me.”
“Me?” Willis said, gesturing to himself. “I’m a sheep, Robert. Listen to me. Bah. I’m a sheep.”
The brick of cheese had been reduced to nothing.