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The Mouse Husband

The Mouse Husband

A cruel Peruvian fable from M. Rigoberto Paredes

Freely translated with omissions from M. Rigoberto Paredes “El Arte Folkorico”

A mouse fell in love with a pretty young woman and changed himself into a slender young man, long-faced, however, and with tiny, bright eyes. He spoke with a thin, whistling voice, and his manners were excellent.

He was always seemly, always pleasant. But he would grow frightened and disappear whenever he heard his mother-in-law coming, for she had the face of a cat.

“I’m off, I’m off!” he would say. “They’re calling me! I have to go back!” And with that he would run and hide. The young woman returned his love, and in nine months’ time she gave birth to a tiny little boy with a voice so shrill that it was a pleasure just to hear him squeaking away.

The mouse husband was fond of his beloved, and he filled the bins of her storeroom with good things to eat that he stole from neighboring farms. She had everything she wanted. “I want corn,” she would say; and during the night her husband, aided by countless numbers of his fellow mice, would carry home corn for his wife.

But it made the young woman uneasy that her husband would not stay with her. At the approach of her mother he would always flee, for indeed her face was that of a cat, and he, of course, was a mouse disguised as a man.

One day he decided to reveal his secret, and he called to his wife, “Come! I’m out here!”

The young woman stepped outside, holding her baby in her arms. But looking about her, she saw no one at all. She sat down to wait, placing her baby next to the wall. From out of a hole came a mouse. It crawled over the child as it lay on the ground, turned around, and crawled over it again, caressing it with its tail and licking its little face. Then it kissed it on its tiny lips and disappeared.

Tired of waiting, still wondering where her husband might be, the young woman went back inside and said to her old mother, “He made me come for nothing. I waited. I looked for him. But I couldn’t find him. There was only a mouse that came out of its hole and crawled back and forth over my little boy. It caressed him with its tail, kissed him on his tender little mouth, and ran away.”

The mother flew into a rage and scolded her furiously. “So, you married a mouse! I knew it myself by his shrill little voice!” In a fit of anger, she clawed the little baby, crushed it, and strangled it before the young woman could rush to its aid.

When her husband came in, she said to him, “Where were you? I looked for you. No one was there but a mouse.” “Young woman, young woman!” he cried. “That mouse was I, your lover, your lord!” Then the young woman told him how her mother had discovered his secret and killed the child.

Grief-stricken, the mouse picked up his dead son, wept over him, and carried him far, far away. He buried him beneath a Cantuta plant (plant found in the high valleys of the Yungas of the Andes Mountains in western South America. Also known as the Peruvian magic tree) that he watered again and again with his tears so it would always flourish and never wither.

After that he went home to wreak his revenge. He called his mouse fellows together and told them of his misfortune. He asked them to help him, and they all went into the house in a pack and emptied the bins of the food they had previously brought. When nothing was left, they surrounded the old mother, toppled her to the floor, and gnawed her flesh. They ate her up, leaving nothing but a skeleton, and then they ran off, and they never came back again.

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