Friday, November 17, 2006

(old) Isaac and the Rat, part 1

When Isaac was eleven years old, he became a problem child. He was bright, talented, and curious in all directions. So he was curious about sand, the ocean, the stories of Aesop or Henry the Eighth and he was curious about death. His trouble first arose when his teacher caught him examining a rat. He says examining, but she called it torturing. They had a difference of opinion.

Our school always had problems with rats in the winter. One grey December morning only a few days before Christmas, as Isaac was pissing in the bathroom, he heard one of the janitor's traps snap followed by a high-pitched squealing. He said it was like listening to a tiny violin. He was curious, so he sneaked past his classroom and its long glass window and made his way downstairs. He hid behind the door to the canteen while one of the teachers passed by, oblivious to the sound, and he darted down the maintenance stairs into the basement.

Its left hind leg had been broken, and it flailed around looking for an escape, its shrieks were so loud that they hurt his ears. He had thought that rats were filthy and nothing more, and yet he could see that there was a little mind at work here. It tried several tactics to loosen its leg between bouts of yelping. It wiggled, shook, tried to gnaw the trap open with its teeth, and even gnawed on its own leg, perhaps thinking to bite it off and be free. This willingness to do what had to be done fascinated Isaac.

At first he thought maybe to help it, but then remembered that it was a thing of disease. He had learned about the Black Death and knew what ring-a-ring-a-rosey really meant. His fascination aside, they were delineated according to the natural law of things as enemies. He might respect the rat, but he could not be the ally of the rat. So he studied his enemy.

At first, he stole back upstairs and made sure that the door to the maintenance stairs was shut. Then he set to work. He wanted to see just how adaptable the creature was, so he looked around the maintenance room and found tape, a stapler, a scissors and a large tin of magnolia paint. Not much really, and nothing really set his imagination alight. He considered maybe covering the creature in paint or injuring it with the scissors, but was sure that he knew what would happen. It would either drown or bleed out.

He found an empty bucket and placed it over the rat to muffle it's piccolo sound and went back upstairs, closing the maintenance door behind him. The damping effect of the bucket worked; Isaac couldn't hear the rat any more. He went back to our class and quietly walked back in and took his seat. Our teacher didn't seem to notice as she was drawing a diagram on the blackboard. He thought that if he could wait until lunch then he could get some more interesting tools from the classroom's supply.

He was excited. As we continued to learn about long division, he paid no attention whatsoever and instead discreetly fumbled around his bag for tools. He produced his pencil case, one of those old metal ones that used to dent very easily and had hinges which broke in the first week of term, and took out a sharpener, a protractor, a cheap compass with a screw-hole for a pencil and a nail file with a slight hook on one end.

He used to carry the nail file around with him wherever he went. He had found it one day on the canal bank when he was eight and it always fascinated him. He didn't actually know what it was for, but it seemed to be useful as a pinning or wearing device when torturing ants and snails. Or rats perhaps.