'It's wrong to kill anything, even if it is only a goldfish. Besides, you love Gilbert. He belongs to you. You can't kill the thing you love.’
Emily's bottom lip protruded. 'I want to have a funeral. You promised.’
'But not Gilbert. We'll bury someone else.’
Anna knew her sister well. 'Not my Action Man.’ she stipulated firmly.
'No, of course not Action Man.’ He cast about for ideas, and was visited with a brainwave. 'A mouse. A poor, dead mouse. Look . . . ' Like a conjurer, he opened the trash can with his toe on the lever, and produced, with a certain flourish, Breeky's hunting trophy, holding its small stiff body up by the tail. 'Breeky brought it in this morning and I took it away from him. Surely you wouldn't want a poor old mouse to end up in the dustbin? Surely he deserves a bit of ceremony?'
They stared at his offering. After a bit, Emily said, 'Can we put him into the cigar box like you said?'
'And sing hymns, and everything?'
'Of course. All Creatures Great and Small. Nothing could be much smaller than this.' He found a paper towel, laid it on the dresser, and placed the body of the mouse carefully upon it. Then he washed his hands, and drying them, turned to face the two little girls.
'What do you say?'
'Can we do it right away?'
'Let's eat breakfast first. I'm starving.’
Anna went at once to the table, to pull out a chair and settle herself, but Emily lingered for another reassuring check on Gilbert. Her nose was pressed against the glass wall of the tank, her finger traced a pattern, following his convolutions. Bill waited patiently. Presently she turned her head to look at him. Their eyes met in a long, steady stare.
She said, 'I'm glad he wasn't dead.'
'Me too,’ he smiled, and she smiled back, and all at once looked so like her mother that, without thinking, he opened his arms to her, and she came to him, and they hugged, without words, without needing words. He stooped and kissed the top of her head, and she did not try to wriggle away or detach herself from this, their first tentative embrace.
'You know something, Emily,’ he told her. 'You're a good girl.’
'You're good, too,’ she said, and his heart was filled with gratitude, because somehow, by the grace of God, he had neither said nor done the wrong thing. He had got it right. It was a beginning. Not much, but a beginning.
Then Emily enlarged on this. 'Really, really good.’
Really, really good. Perhaps in that case, it was more than a beginning, and he was just about halfway there. Filled with gratification, he gave her a final hug and let her go, and at last, in happy anticipation of the mouse's funeral, they all sat down to breakfast.
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