Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Martin’s Sweater #3: The Mice

A couple of street lamps over, almost directly across the road from the hole in the bushes, large moths were fluttering in the air between the light and the ground. The shadows of the moths moved back and forth along the road by the curb. Among the shadows of the moths, darker shapes moved quickly along the curb. The mice were setting up for their night time adventures.

About a dozen mice had gathered along the curb, and at first Martin thought they were pitching pennies. But he realized the mice weren’t tossing coins, just spinning them and watching them fall. And the mice only had one penny. They were also spinning a quarter and a nickel. When the coins stopped spinning and fell flat, some of the mice made notations in little notebooks.

“Hi, mice,” Martin said. “What are you guys doing?”

The mouse nearest Martin handed his notebook to another mouse and turned to Martin. “We’re doing math,” the mouse said. “Specifically, we’re studying probability. We’re checking that heads/tails dynamics, that is, fifty-fifty outcomes, work the same with different systems. Pennies should work the same as nickels the same as dimes and the same as quarters.”

“I think you’ll find a fifty-fifty bet is the same whatever coin you use,” Martin said. “This kind of stuff is easy with computers.”

The mouse laughed. It was a high squeaky sound. “We know. We check things with computers, too. But nothing really compares to getting your paws dirty with real life examples. Sometimes you notice suggestive things a simulation wouldn’t include. We don’t expect any differences in the coins but it never hurts to experiment. We’ve got time. It’s good to be complete. Sometimes you just never know about things.”

Martin pointed at the coins. “But you’re not complete. You’ve got a penny, nickel and quarter but no dime.”

The mouse kicked at the road. “It’s the way things work. Every night there are dozens of coins lying around the sidewalk and curb. People drop them. But tonight, for our experiment, we couldn’t find a dime. So we’re making do.”

Martin reached into his pockets. He felt some change, tugged it out then found a dime and tossed it down to the mice. They scampered around, hopping over each other in excitement. The mice split up some of their groups to dedicate two spinners and a note-taker to the dime. They began spinning their complete set of coins and tracking how they fell.

“Thank you very much,” the mouse nearest Martin said.

“I’m looking for a pack of raccoons,” Martin said. “A while ago, they came out of that hole in the hedges across the street. I think they either turned left and ran down the street or they came across the street this way. Did you see them?”

The mouse swayed from side to side, shaking its head. “We only set up a few moments ago. We were out looking for coins. We just got here. We didn’t see raccoons come out of the hedges at all.”

Martin nodded. “The squirrel said you might have been able to help. Or might not. He said it was worth asking.”

“Oh, you were talking to the squirrel, were you?” the mouse asked. “That squirrel chooses his words carefully. He’s a jazz singer, you know. You were right to pay attention to him. I’m just sorry we couldn’t help you.”

Martin shrugged. “The raccoons have something of mine. I’m going to get it back. I’ve got to track down the raccoons.”

The mouse started to turn back to the coins, then stopped and took a step closer to Martin. “You live in that house across the road, right?”

“Yes,” Martin said.

“Well, we didn’t see any raccoons,” the mouse said, “but, like I said, you never know about things. We did see one odd thing about your house.”

“What’s that?” Martin asked.

“Did you know the cover is off one of your trash cans?”

“No, I didn’t. I took out the trash this afternoon. I latched the can closed when I was done and made sure the others were latched as well.”

“We came through the alley looking for coins around garages. We noticed one of your garbage cans was open because we made a note to go back and check it for lunch later.”

Martin looked across the road to the darkness behind his house.

“Maybe,” the mouse said, “the latch broke after you closed it.”

“Yes,” Martin said. “Or maybe the raccoons figured out a way to jump up and pull down the latch.”

“Yes,” the mouse said. “Or maybe something else.”

Martin nodded. He was thinking hard himself about something else, but he couldn’t quite put shapes to his thoughts, couldn’t quite put his thoughts into words.

“Thank you for the dime,” the mouse said. “It helps us be complete in our research. And I hope our little observation helps you get what you’re looking for.”

“I think it will,” Martin said. “And I’ll keep in mind what you said about the squirrel choosing his words carefully.”

The mouse laughed again. “Goodbye. I’ve got to get back to the experiments.”

Martin waved. The mouse returned to the others and began to help spinning coins.

Martin looked again at the blackness behind his house. He took a long breath. He looked both ways along the road, but there was no traffic in either direction. He walked across the road, this time back toward his house, back toward the deepest darkness behind the house in the alley.


(Tomorrow: Martin’s Sweater #4: The Raccoons Again)

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