Ben was ‘the quiet one,’ which I suppose is a stupid way to differentiate between three creatures that weren’t really that noisy to begin with. But somehow he was. Quiet. The quiet rat. Like the Ian Duncan Smith of rats, except my rat wasn’t a goof-faced, poor-hating cunt. He had a face that spoke of nobility, meditation and contemplation (the rat, not Ian Duncan Smith), even if the only thoughts in his tiny head were of ball-licking and eating rat nuggets (that could be Ian Duncan Smith, mind you). He was ‘sweet’. I don’t know how to qualify that: he just was.
Ben suffered through a short illness, which struck him not long after Merlin’s death. He never got as sick as Merlin, but he definitely became sluggish, and somehow even quieter. He too showed some improvement in his condition, only to die the next week. We never witnessed his final moments. At night he was alive, in the morning he was dead.
My girlfriend and I had read lots of articles about how rats will gladly scoff the bodies of their fallen friends and family. Maybe that’s just wild rats. In any case, Jerry never once attacked Ben during his illness, and certainly made no move to devour him once he was deceased. That made us realise that Ben and Jerry just hadn’t liked Merlin very much, the fat, food-stealing son of a bitch.
On the morning we made our discovery, Ben was curled up at one side of the cage, and Jerry was curled up at the opposite side, in a heart-breaking act of spatial symmetry. It was as if Jerry couldn’t bear to be near the body of his wee pal, or hoped that if he just gave Ben enough space he’d be up and about and scurrying all over the place again. Maybe I was anthropomorphising, but I swear I’d never seen Jerry looking so meek, sad and confused. It was harrowing; I felt like someone had punched me in the ventricles.
So, it was back to the burial site, and time for another arm-ripping bout of digging through old tree roots and clay.
“Maybe we could put this one in the bin?” I thought, but wisely didn’t say out loud. That was just the unfitness talking.
I must say, though, it does feel good to bury things, and not just in a ‘I’m one pissed bed and a head trauma away from becoming a serial killer’ kind of way. I’ll elaborate. Few of my pursuits could comfortably be described as macho, save for a terrible hatred of cooking and a propensity to get so drunk I become both argumentative and incommunicable at the same time. I couldn’t care less about football, I don’t get excited about cars, gadgets or machinery, and I don’t play sports. If a barbecue needs manned, I’m not your man. But you want me to bury something? No problem. Wait till I’ve finished scratching my cock and spitting on the ground, then I’ll swagger off and fetch a spade. Phwoar, crackin’ tits, sweetaht, you eva posed for page fwee?
Digging a grave – stabbing a spade into the hard earth, working until the sweat blinds your eyes and your shoulders turn to granite tortoise-shells beneath your skin – is the unbeatable top trumps card in the macho deck. Well, so long as you’re not digging your own grave as two Italian guys with suits stand beside you with guns trained on your back.
I now realise that Mafioso force their victims to dig their own graves not because it adds an extra layer of psychological torture to the eventual murder, but because digging is really, really shit. You should only do it for your pets, or if you’re getting paid.
PS: I deserve credit for avoiding mention of the Michael Jackson song, Ben, which is about a rat.
PPS: But not now that I’ve mentioned it.
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