There was once a mouse in our house that loved to nibble at my son’s stash of old broken crayons. I first learned about its existence when I started finding tiny colored pellets in different corners of the house. If I possessed the curious compulsion to gather all these bits in a cup, I’d have myself a little mound of rainbow sprinkle mouse poop. I did have enough of a scientific eye to notice that this rascal’s favorite color was green because I counted more green bits every time than the rest of the colors combined. I remember thinking how ironic it was that the little vermin had a greener diet than I did.
* * *
The only human I knew who had rainbow poop was my grandfather. When his doctor told him to switch to a plant-based diet to fight the cancer growing in his throat, the whole family went traipsing off to farmer’s markets, loading the trunk of our car with bags and bags of carrots and leafy greens. He hated this, hated having to forego his beloved beefsteaks and stewed pork chunks. Our mornings were spent scrubbing carrots with a stiff brush, leaving behind basins of brown, gritty water. I thought of bushels of stupid vegetable jokes, but I never said them out loud. I asked myself once while scrubbing carrots, What did the fortune teller say to the sick man who wanted to know how much time he had left? What? my other self said. Would you like a carrot card reading? When our family sat down to dinner—to a table full of salads, raw carrot and cucumber sticks, and bell pepper slices—I folded my hands and whispered, Lettuce pray. After every chemotherapy session, we made extra tall glasses of green juice to fight the poison coursing through my grandpa’s ravaged body. As we dumped leaves of romaine and Swiss chard down the juicer chute and watched them all come out the other end in a dull green trickle, I imagined the leaves squeaking out—you must forgive our bad mood, we’ve just been through the wringer. Terrible puns were cheap and easy; they lit up in my head like runway lights and overrode the part of my brain that watched my grandfather growing grayer and grayer with each salad just the same. His poop plopped down the toilet in shades of green and orange and sometimes pink when he had beets, but towards the end, it all turned charcoal black. At his funeral, I told no jokes.
* * *
The mouse eventually disappeared, and the rainbow sprinkles stopped coming. Perhaps it got tired of the waxy taste of Crayola. Perhaps it craved release, preferring to leave the earth with a stomach heavy with juicy porkchops and dark, savory steaks. To my surprise, I felt a sense of worry. I dreaded to think of it lying alone on a patch of earth, its little gray body quivering in pain from all the poisons it had consumed. But I tried not to think about it. It was so much more comforting to imagine it dancing its way—tail twirling, nose twitching—among slabs of choice meats. I asked my husband, “Why did the mouse cross the rainbow?”
“Why?” he said.
“Because there’s a pot roast at the end of it.”