Even Rat Pups Laugh Once In A While Part 2
Tuesday — Stu Rescues a Family of Rats
“Good morning, Mr. Stuart!”
“Good morning, Miss Johnstone.” Stu’s ankle throbbed. It had been a long trek from the ladder.
“We are so glad to see you, aren’t we, kids?” Miss Johnstone seemed to be trying to incite cheer from the enormous class.
From rows and rows of sixth grade boys and girls rolled an unenthusiastic chorus that echoed. “Yes.”
“Shelly, can you please come up here and tell Mr. Stuart why you asked him to come to our class today?”
A girl rose from the sea of desks and approached Stu. Softly, pitiably, she said, “Phineas is gone.”
Stu leaned. “Phineas, sweetheart? Who’s Phineas?”
“He’s a baby.”
“You lost a baby?“_
Miss Johnstone laughed awkwardly. “A baby rat, Mr. Stuart. Phineas is one of the babies that our pet rat had recently.”
“Oh! I thought — never mind.” Stu bent down to Shelly but said loudly enough for the class to hear, “We call baby rats ‘pups,’ honey.”
“Can you help us find him?”
“Of course I can. If anybody at this school knows rats, it’s me.” He smiled briefly then became serious. “So, sweetie, where was the last place you saw this ‘Phineas?’”
“He was right here, with his mama and his brothers and sisters. In the cage.”
Stu moved to get a closer look. “I see. Wow. That’s some cage,” he said ambiguously but wearing a critical expression. “Well, Shelly, I have good news for you: I don’t need to look for your lost rat pup, because he isn’t lost. I know exactly where he is.”
Shelly clapped once, and squealed.
Stu looked to Miss Johnstone. Her expression was both grateful and puzzled. He turned back to Shelly.
“Your mama rat ate him.”
A gasp escaped from Miss Johnstone. Stu did not turn to look. She would get over it, but Shelly was going to need help through this trauma. He locked his eyes on hers. She seemed wont to disbelieve, so Stu went on to explain.
“You see, a mama rat will eat some of her pups if she’s feeling stressed.”
From the sea of desks came a distinctly male chorus of “Cool!”
Miss Johnstone probed tentatively, “Mr. Stuart?”
But Stu wasn’t done. “And I can tell you — because I’m an expert, remember — that your mama rat here is stressed. I mean look at the cage you have her in: Rats like their privacy, they like close, dark quarters. And wet is good, too. But you tossed this poor rat mom into a cage with just some — what is that, cedar? — and no walls, just chicken wire all around her so you kids can look in on her and her pups all day long.”
Shelly sniffled. “Is it my fault the mama ate Phineas?”
“Well no, sweetie, I blame the guy that made this cage.”
Miss Johnstone tried again, this time a bit testily: “Mr. Stuart, would you please join me in the hallway?”
Shelly, torn by the choice between which emotion to release first — grief or anger — at last blurted over a quivering lower lip: “My dad made the cage!”
Miss Johnstone attempted a graceful rescue. “Kids, I think Mr. Stuart here has been plenty helpful for us today, but he is a busy man with lots to do. Please thank him for coming.”
“I don’t like the rats anymore! She’s a bad mom!”
“Yes, that might be a good idea. Maybe we should let our resident expert in the care and feeding of rats take our little family away to a place more comfortable for them.” Miss Johnstone smiled but clenched her teeth. “Like the custodial office.”
“I don’t mind,” said Stu, “but Mr. von Grawbadger won’t be happy with a bunch of rats on his desk.”
“Mr. Stuart, according to everything I now know about rats, they’d be better off with you than with us. Maybe someday you can demonstrate the proper way to raise rat pups. We all look forward to seeing the results of your expert care. Bring them back when they’re older. Shelly, please give Mr. Stuart the rat food.”
Shelly retrieved a box of food pellets from the cabinet beneath the cage. Wiping a tear from the corner of one eye she held the box up to Stu with her free hand.
Stu took the box, turned it. “Wow. What is this stuff? Pellets? They look like droppings.” He turned to query the entire class: “Anybody know what’s in these? It’s probably not helping your poor mama rat’s stress level. Anyway, I don’t need this. Rats eat garbage. I have lots of garbage.”
“Excellent, Mr. Stuart, you can leave the food. Please take the cage. May I escort you out of the room?”
“Sure, but with all this jostling around I wouldn’t be surprised if we lost another pup between here and the custodial office.”
From the sea of desks came a distinctly male chorus: “Take me with you!”