18 Not Just Any Rat

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Stephen Whiteside
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18 Not Just Any Rat

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Thu Oct 27, 2011 6:06 am

18 Not Just Any Rat

© Stephen Whiteside 27.10.2011

The sun shone bright in the sky. Horatio and Magnifico were now hopeless exposed, but there was nothing they could do about that. Horatio’s original plan of night time travel was the correct one, but the flood had changed everything. It was no longer a question of travel, simply of survival.

I think we should hug the coast, Magnifico. That way we may find some dead animal washed up and lying in the shallows. I mean, I don’t like the idea of eating some half-rotted, water-logged, raw animal, but that’s what my ancestors did, and if it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.

I think you’re right, Horatio.

Being an island, they would eventually wind up where they had started, but that was not a concern. Food. Food was their top priority. Followed by shelter. These were their needs.

Horatio and Magnifico plodded silently side by side. Magnifico was the first to see it, a small, nondescript bundle lying at the edge of the water. It was tiny. This was no cat or dog or fox or even thylacine. And certainly not a cow or a sheep or a horse or a goat or a camel or a buffalo or anything like that.

It was small. Very small.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Magnifico?

Looks like a rat, Horatio.

It does. It does indeed. A very dead rat, too. What an awkward dilemma.

They approached closer, and a chill ran down Horatio’s spine. No. It couldn’t be. But it was. He knew it was.

He said nothing, though, until they stood right beside it.

Well, Horatio, you might be squeamish about eating your own kind, but I won’t hesitate to eat a dead rat. I’m sorry. I’m tucking in.

No you’re not. That’s not just any rat.

What do you mean not just any rat? It’s a rat. It’s a dead rat. And a dead rat is a dead rat, that’s all there is to it.

That’s my mother.

Magnifico was thrown briefly into stunned silence. You are kidding?

No, I’m not kidding. That’s my mother. You don’t think I wouldn’t be able to recognise my own mother, do you? I’m sorry, but you’re not eating her. Nobody is. She is getting a proper burial.

Please, Horatio. I’m so hungry. She might be your mother, but she’s still dead. She wouldn’t want me to starve. She wouldn’t want her dear son’s best friend to die of starvation.

I know you’re hungry. We both are. But we’re not on the point of death. We have plenty of water to drink. We’ll last a few days yet. Maybe even a couple of weeks. Sorry, but if you try to eat my mother, I will kill you.

You’ll what?

You heard me. I’ll kill you.

And will you eat me then?

That’s a very good question. I haven’t got that far yet in my thinking. But I will kill you.

This was the first point of conflict between the two since they had first met, and it was a pretty major one, too. Magnifico, the proud, ‘strong mouse’ from the circus, did not take kindly to death threats, even from close friends. He backed away, a cold look in his eyes. Maybe he would kill Horatio first? And then eat him. Or at least part of him. He was a big rat.

The two stared at each other across the stricken body of Horatio’s mother.

It was Magnifico who relented. He was quite a sophisticated mouse, and he could see it clearly from Horatio’s perspective. He wouldn’t want Horatio to eat his mother, either, alive or dead. And they needed each other. Horatio was a good rat, and a good friend. Not very subtle, maybe, but a good friend nonetheless.

OK, Horatio. We bury her. But let’s be quick about it. Time is getting away from us, and we still have empty stomachs, and no definite plans.

So they buried her. It was a shallow grave. It was always going to be. It had to be. And then Horatio spoke a few words, and crossed his heart. He didn’t know what to say. He was not an especially religious rat, and did not know the religious protocol. But he didn’t have any alternative to put in its place. And if he had ever felt religious, it was at that moment of standing above his mother’s grave for the first and last time. For a fleeting moment he wished he’d paid more attention to the old ways, stiff and formal and lacking in real feeling as they seemed to be. But he got through it somehow, a mixture of thoughts and mumbles that was incomprehensible to Magnifico, but clearly heartfelt nonetheless.

Horatio found it easier to leave this time. He had certainty. He had closure. He still hated to leave his mother alone in this wilderness, but it was obvious to all that there was nothing more he could do, and he must try to save himself.

Magnifico was surprised and relieved to see with what resolution Horatio strode from the grave and continued their search along the water-line. He had to scurry quickly to catch up. He joined Horatio’s side, and the two marched together once more, determined in their quest to fill their empty stomachs.
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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