A fine rat

I've been an insomniac since adolescence, and get two or three good nights' sleep annually, but this morning I woke up extra early. Couldn't get back to sleep, troubled by everything but yesterday's fondue — Sarah-Katherine, Mom, money, etc. I'm not even sure how I'll afford the stamps to mail out the next issue of the zine.

Since sleep was out of the question, I read through the Loompanics catalog for a while, and when I finally reached the outskirts of LullabyLand, Lugosi and one of the cats had a loud argument in front of my door.

Sighed and rearranged the pillow a dozen ways, and after 45 minutes I was almost asleep again, but it had started raining, the water was dripping through the ceiling, and I had to rearrange the buckets.

After that I gave up, and started typing what you're reading.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

It's been almost a month since I called CopWatch to volunteer, and they told me on the phone to drop by their office any Tuesday afternoon. That's the only time anyone's there, I was told, but so far the only person there on Tuesdays has been me, locked out. 

Today it was raining too hard to walk to their office and be locked out again, so instead I called, and left a message. Someone called me back an hour later to say that the office is no longer staffed on Tuesdays, and hasn't been for months.

What I ought to do, she said, is simply show up for orientation on Thursday night.

"I'll be there," I said.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

In the mid-afternoon, my flatmate Judith knocked at my door, and told me morosely, "Matilda is dead."

"I'm so sorry," I said. "Condolences. Who's Matilda?"

"Matilda was Joe's pet rat," she explained. "He had a tumor, took him to the vet for an operation, and he died on the table."

"Matilda was a he?"

"He was a cross-dresser. Or at least, that's what Joe always said."

Click to enlarge
this lovely image
of Biff's Diner
in Oakland, CA.
We have five housemates here, plus three cats and a very large dog, but — "I hadn't known we were sharing the premises with a rat," I said.

"Well, we're not any more," said Judith, "but Joe is in mourning, so I'm taking him out to dinner. Do you want to come?"

"To dinner? To mourn a rat I never knew?"

"He was a good rat," she said sincerely.

"Jeez, I don't know. I never even saw the rat."

"We can fix that."

"I never attend funerals," I said.

"This isn't a funeral, it's just dinner."

Cripes, I was thinking. Not only did I not know the rat, not even know there was a rat, but I'm also barely cognizant that there's a Joe. I rarely see him in the hallway, and when we pass we never do more than nod. All I know about Joe is that he's as anti-social as I am. Seven months I've lived here, and I doubt we've spoken seven times, so he's a terrific flatmate, but what am I supposed to say at dinner with a stranger whose pet rat has just died?

"I think Joe is an introvert like me," I said, "so he wouldn't want me there."

"Sure he would. Misery loves company. It'll be dinner. It'll be fun."

"It really doesn't sound like fun," I said.

"I'm buying," she answered, slam-dunking all my arguments.

Jake was at work, and Cy declined to join us, but said we could borrow his pick-up truck, so the three of us crowded into the cab of Cy's truck with Judith driving.

We parked at an animal hospital to pick up a rodent's cold corpse, and I was afraid there might be wailing and tears and unwieldy emotions, but it was all very matter-of-fact. Joe paid the bill, and a woman brought him his rat, in a cardboard box that once held a Radio Shack calculator.

"Here's Matilda," she said. "I'm so sorry," and it sounded like she was.

"That's all right," Joe said. "I know you did the best you could."

Then he stashed Matilda and the box on the truck's dashboard, and our next stop was Biff's Diner in Oakland, the flying saucer-shaped place. We all ordered breakfast for dinner, and the food was fine but the conversation was weird.

Joe said that the rat's tumor was pretty big before he'd even noticed it, and Judith gave him a hug and said it wasn't his fault. They both agreed that Matilda had been a fine rat, and I wondered really what I was doing there.

Then for half a minute nobody said anything, so I finally spoke. "Were you and Matilda close?" 

"Well, as close as you can get to a rat," he said. "He ate my granola bars, and always seemed happy to see me, but I couldn't let him out of his cage because our house is full of cats."

I didn't know what to say to that, so I grimaced and shook my head and took a bite of eggs. After another uncomfortable silence I said, "You shouldn't have had to pay for an operation that killed your rat."

"I agree," he said, "but I didn't think they'd give me his body if I didn't pay."

Since there's only so much you can say about a rat, the topic eventually drifted to strange dreams we've had and cool car crashes we've seen. Pretty soon I laughed at something clever Joe said, and he smiled and started talking to me more.

That's when it occurred to me, Judith had invited us to dinner to get us talking, at least as much as to talk about the rat.

On the way home, we discussed possible burial sites for Matilda. The house doesn't have any yard at all, so I mentioned a grassy stretch outside the BART station. Judith suggested a clandestine visit to Mountain View Cemetery, bringing Matilda and a shovel.

"That's what we'll do," Joe announced, but they're going to wait until it stops raining — Friday, says the forecast.

And I'm invited.

Until then, Matilda rests in piece in a Radio Shack box, in a Glad bag, in the freezer.

From Pathetic Life #20
Tuesday, January 30, 1996

Addendum, 2023: There's no more Biff's Diner.

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called
Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

No comments:

Post a Comment

🚨🚨 If you have problems posting a comment, please click here for help. 🚨🚨