Ratazana

by Christopher Aguiar

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why the grown-ups hate them. Their fur feels perfect on my fingertips, their little whiskers tickle. They scurry away when I laugh, but they’re never too far from me. I can usually spot them by their long tails. Sometimes I pet the tail and pull at it a little. It feels like hairy rubber.

Sometimes I name them. My favourite is Monty. He has less hair than the others and a scar on his belly.

My favourite thing about them is when they sing. Mom calls it a screech and doesn’t like it, but I think it’s beautiful.

Mom hates everything about them. She calls them rats. Stupid name. All the grown-ups gather around to eat and they complain nonstop. Even about the water. They talk about how it’s not like the water when they were growing up. Doesn’t stop anyone from bathing in it and drinking from it. Apparently outside, wherever that is, is contaminated—whatever that means.

Often times I sit on the ledge of my room and dip my feet in the water. I poke at things with my toes. Bits of plastic wrap around my ankles but I continue. Mom tells me to stop being disgusting.

I call this place home but the grown-ups call it the sewer. When they’re too busy arguing about the outside world and what happened, I jump inside the water and let the slow current carry me around the house. I can always see Monty and his friends when I do this. I follow them along the current until Mom screams my name. That’s my cue to jump out and run back as fast as I can.

“Maria, what the fuck is wrong with you?” Mom shouts.

I don’t reply. I figure if I stare at the ground long enough, it will pass.

“You make me sick,” Pablo says, rolling his eyes to the back of his skull.

Pablo lays down with Mom a lot, and sometimes they sing in whispers when they think I’m asleep. I don’t like when they sing.

Our bedrooms are little arches separated by bricks and surrounded by water.

I always get told to never climb the yellow ladder. One time, Pablo climbed the yellow ladder and came back with his eyes red, his skin was bubbling and it smelled funky. They say if not for the doctor next door, Pablo would have been dead.

I wouldn’t climb it anyways. It would mean I’d be far away from Monty. Monty can’t climb ladders.

Today I decided to follow Monty and his friends. I wanted to see what their bedrooms looked like. While Mom and Pablo sang their song, I quietly rose out of my bed and slipped into the water. I tried to contain my laughter. I knew I was being naughty but I was too giddy to stop.

The best thing about swimming in the water is that I can drink it whenever I get thirsty.

When things got too dark, I clung to bricks and pipes to guide myself to the nearest source of light. I could hear Monty and his friends. When I cleared the darkness, I finally matched the noise to the image. This was the farthest I had ever gone in the water. If Mom started screaming my name, I don’t think I would hear it. Even an echo wouldn’t carry this far.

I climbed out of the water and onto the ledge. Monty and his friends didn’t even acknowledge me as I walked towards them. They were circling around something I couldn’t quite make out. They were loud today. Ruffling and scratching noises echoed throughout the house. Mom would hate this.

When I finally got close enough, I noticed that Monty was gnawing at one of his friends. He lay on the floor, belly flopped to the side. His feet were pointing, stiff. The floor was wet and sticky around him as Monty and his friends picked at the belly and face with their little teeth. I was able to pet Monty more than I ever could. I played with what little fur he had while he consumed his dinner; I pulled at his tail and told him all of my favourite jokes.

After a while, Monty turned to me. His friends followed. They gazed at me and then at their dinner.

I wasn’t hungry but I didn’t want to upset them. I went on all fours and joined them.

They sang.

Christopher creates fantasy/sci-fi through the eyes of Hispanic characters. A journalism graduate, he decided to discard fact for fiction in his writing.
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