The upstairs kitchen was oddly bright and yellow when we returned from dinner last night---I hadn’t seen it without that huge cage and all the accoutrements of Richie’s living up there for a really long time. It was still full of THINGS, but not his things, and felt stripped to the echoes, hollow with a wideness that reached way past walls. I spent a lot of the evening and night thinking of all the little creatures we’ve had as companions over the years, and remember them all fondly.
When we first moved here, for Chris’ training which would last a couple of months, (our time has stretched to nineteen years, because we LIKE it here) we had a little one-bedroom apartment, and I missed all the menagerie we’d always had. One day in WalMart, I was just strolling and looking, when Chris sidled up and held out what looked like an over-grown animal-crackers box. I peeked into one of the little round windows, straight into the twinkly pink eyes of the most beautiful and enchanting white little girl-rat, whom we named Penelope.
She was a bit small for such a grand name, and of such historic portent, but the first time DD picked her up, she tinkled in her hand. DD exclaimed, “Well Pee-Pee!” and the name stuck, going on down through seven incarnations, though they were not kin, as far as we know.
They were pretty, soft little white girl rats with bright pink eyes and the softest pale pink ears. They lived quite long happy lives ensconced in a nice glass-walled aquarium home, living in aspen shavings, napping in small silver-lined bags redolent of coffee beans, making their little sojourns across the counter to the big wicker stand atop the throne in the guest bath. A handy box of Kleenex served as day-residence at the “Lake House.”
When we traveled, the aquarium went into the back seat; the world in that shavings-lined home was business as usual. Food and treats went in, Peepee went out for a glimpse of the world flashing by. Only once did she escape, during a midnight drive through the West Virginia mountains; a little white phantom appeared in the darkness between Chris’ feet in the front floor, and we put her gently back into her house. Only later did we realize how long she had been at large; she had nibbled almost the entire spine off my much-coveted Martha Stewart Wedding book. Glue---it’s a GOOD thing.
Guinea pigs and mice and especially white rats are lovely traveling companions---an aquarium with some nice shavings, a water bottle, a bite of leftover dinner, and a coupla icy cold coke cans from the cooler nestled in the bottom when you have to get out for a moment, and the car would get hot save for that snuggly place next to the cold cans.
When we stopped for the night, she went into a pretty birdcage, covered by a lovely silk scarf---I swept grandly into hotels which bowed me welcome, and which might have put me unceremoniously on the street had they known my cargo. A bite of muffin, a segment of breakfast orange---those served to nourish her, along with her accustomed rat kibble.
One evening, we stopped for dinner at one of those buffet/salad bar places, and I saved her a scrap or two from my plate. I had just wrapped two green beans in a paper napkin, and was licking the dressing from a cherry tomato, when I looked up into the faces of an elderly couple, staring in horrified fascination at this weird woman stashing pre-licked food in a ratty-bag.