Thirteen Hundred Rats -- reviewed by Mimi Carmen
What happens to this man who never had a pet? What happens when this same man, Gerard Loomis, in his mid-fifties, is devastated and inconsolable when his wife dies? Nothing matters any more, he tells his friend, who relates the story.
Well, there are some ways to quell his loneliness, there is something he can do, the narrator friend suggests earnestly, in his first visit to Gerard since the funeral. After all, this community is close, and it is their obligation, their rightful concern and duty to care for each other. That's what they do. They help each other. What Gerard should do, he suggests, is get a pet. A dog would be a friend he'd get to love. Take for instance his own two dogs; now barking away on Gerard's porch…(Gerard had asked him to leave the dogs on the porch)…they are part of his family.
Of course that's what people had already suggested, Gerard says. Every living soul contributed his advice about animals, and how they would be a comfort, and yes, he knows they would, except he's allergic to cats, dogs, hamsters, you name it. He's allergic to them all.
But now things in Gerald's life, appear to neighbors as if the house had slid down the river of sloth. With his wife no longer there, and Gerald, something of a recluse, the community wants to help poor Gerard, as now the yard screams for attention, with its scattered leaves, loose garbage, grass growing like weeds, windows thick with dust, and his clothes frayed and smelly if they manage to see him. Manage to get past the crack in the door he opens. Even though they try, he closes the door to friends who arrive with food and invitations. And, no, he just can't go to their dinners, he's just too tired with his stomach tied in knots. Even the thought makes him vomit. And the cats, dogs, hamsters they suggest aren't possible, because he's allergic to them all.
Apparently what he isn't allergic to is a Burmese python, he finds at a pet shop, a snake that needs eighty degree temperatures to live. . So at home he names the snake Siddartha, and with the snake to get used to, wearing it like a scarf, looking into its black eyes, wanting to love it, trying hard to care for it, he timidly wonders what to do with the snake, when its skin becomes dull. He goes back to the Pet shop and tells Bozeman, the pet store owner the snake is in some kind of a state of decline. Bozeman tells him the snake is hungry, and suggests a rat will do the trick, to bring the snake into full commission. That's how snakes are, rats are their favorite dish. Gerard is relieved, and pays Bozeman, and thanks him profusely.
But at home, as he attempts to interest the snake with the rat, as he watches the snake coil, getting ready to spring, the little white rat calmly starts washing his face, more like a regular pet, it's too much for sensitive Gerard, and he grabs it from the jaws of the snake just in time. And later lets Siddhartha, the snake, go into the other world, because the rat now claims all his warmth and affection.
One rat leads to another, Bozeman, says the snake must be getting fat because Gerard buys snakes by the bag full, ten, twenty at a time. The house becomes a rat house, like a house possessed, because Gerard reasons, the first rat needs company. Of course they also need cages, rat food, litter. The females come into heat every five days. But Gerard, alienated and lonely, is comforted by the rats, a symbol, and a family who leans on him. And he isn't a fifth wheel; he is still a human and needed.
Now people gossip, Gerard looks terrible, smells like litter, Rat Chow and body odor. When the narrator friend calls Gerard on the telephone, there isn't a voice, on the other end, a whisper, then the phone goes dead.
So what was wrong, the friend wonders? What possessed Gerard to go beyond the limits of a human? Was there something born in the man, some character flaw? Or why a man would adopt thirteen hundred rats, eat with them; act as if they were human. "They are our pests, our enemies, aren't they?" he asks his wife, who can't come up with an answer. .
And for some reason, he holds onto his wife and his dogs for dear life.