Mouse skipped along the bank of the river, awkwardly clutching a pair of acorns. The foraging had gone well this evening—some highlights were a few young carrots (safely stored in a tree at the edge of the purple meadow), a perfectly ripe strawberry (eaten), and two acorns to add to the stores in his den.
“Good evening,” said a voice as he passed through the long shadow of a holly bush. “I see that you are rather full of acorns.”
Mouse stopped and looked up to see Mantis, head cocked as she stared down at him. He let the acorns fall to the muddy bank, and waved. “Oh yes, foraging was very good today. These are all I can carry, but there were even more acorns where I found them! I’m planning to go back tomorrow.”
“That is good news,” said Mantis, “for I had very little success myself, and am quite hungry still.” She caught one antenna in the crook of her arm and licked off a piece of dust. “I don’t suppose you need both of those acorns?”
Mouse thought for a second. “Oh, I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m just one mouse, after all.”
He plucked one of the acorns from the mud and carried it to the base of the holly bush. “I’ll just leave it here, and you can get it when you’re ready.”
“Thank you,” said Mantis. “When we share, the stars shine with us.”
Mouse collected the remaining acorn and scampered downstream toward the dead willow in the distance. “I’m not sure what that means,” he called over his shoulder, “but I’m glad!”
The next evening, Mouse was passing below the holly bush with an armload of three carefully balanced acorns when a prickling of the fur caused him to glance up. “Hello,” said Mantis from above.
“Hi,” replied Mouse. He slowed his already careful stride, but continued walking.
Mantis hopped gracefully along the holly branches to keep pace. “That appears to be a very awkward collection of goods,” she said. “It would be a pity if you dropped them and they all rolled into the river.”
“It would, I suppose,” said Mouse.
“So,” said Mantis thoughtfully, “it would be prudent, I believe, to share one with someone else who might need it.” She flitted to another branch. “Then you can easily arrive home with the remaining two instead of losing them all!”
Mouse stopped walking. “That does make sense,” he said. “And besides, two is probably enough. I’m just one mouse, after all.” He carefully set the acorns down, making sure to keep himself between them and the river. “Would you like one?”
“I normally wouldn’t,” said Mantis, “but I have found the day to be brimming with scarcity yet again.”
Mouse pushed one acorn toward the holly bush, then gathered the other two and resumed his trek back toward the dead willow. “Well, more starshine for me,” he almost joked. But he didn’t want to seem uncouth.
It was with trepidation that Mouse approached the holly bush on the third day. The supply of acorns had been picked almost completely clean over the last few days, and he was returning home this evening with only a single one.
Sure enough, Mouse could see that Mantis was already perched on a low branch directly above his path—a spindly shadow against the orange disk of the setting sun.
“Hello Mantis,” said Mouse in what he hoped was a confident manner.
Mantis tilted her head, focusing (Mouse was sure) on the single lonely prize he carried.
“Before you ask anything,” he said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking.”
Mantis cocked her head to the other side.
“And,” he continued, “this foraging is quite a lot of work, actually.” His left ear twitched.
Mantis said nothing.
Mouse squeezed the acorn. “So I’m sorry, but this is all I have today, and I do actually need it. Even if I am just one mouse.” The acorn sunk deeper into his fur. “I know sharing is good, and… and there’s the stars and things, but there’s also something right and good about going into the world yourself! To run through the thickets and fields in search of food, and then to return to your own comfortable den knowing that you’ve done what you could… and that it was enough.”
He paused and met Mantis’s unblinking stare. “I don’t begrudge you,” he said, “but just imagine the joy you could have by finding your own acorns to eat!”
Mantis stood unmoving for a few long moments. Then she turned and began making her way back up the branch, toward the interior of the bush. “Don’t be an idiot,” she said, disappearing into the tangle of holly leaves. “I can’t eat acorns.”