Scout was a hooded white rat,a boy. His head was brown and he had brown splotches on his back, but the rest of him was white. I bought him from the pet shop with his brother. 'He's the runt of the litter' the shop assistant told me as he handled him. 'He's lucky that he's lived to this age'. I carried them home in a cardboard box which I placed in the pannier of my bike, I didn't have far to go.
Scout was, indeed, small. Much smaller than his brother, to the extent I believed they could not have come from the same litter. He must be younger, I thought. By a couple of weeks or so, perhaps he is a cousin of this larger rat. I brought them both home and Scout (although he was not named yet) was terrified of me. Every time I handled him he squirmed and his bowels erupted a trail of brown liquid that would meander down my forearm. I wouldn't have minded so much if it was solid, less smelly, more easy to clean up.
I persevered with him. One day I had him in the front pouch of my jumper whilst I was working in the kitchen. He was so small, so light that I didn't notice when he disappeared. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a shape dart along the kitchen worksurface... he had clambered out of my pocket and had gone off to exlpore. And so he got his name. Scout. Scout started off small but soon he got big. When he was small he was bullied by his brother. Dill always took the best food. But Scout grew and grew so that soon he was far bigger than Dill and he held his own in the teenage testorone squabbles that they had. Although they fought and squeaked they slept together and groomed each other. Rats are social animals, they need each other.
When Dill died suddenly at 18 months Scout was bereft. He stopped grooming himself and his fur became matted and greasy. He grieved for his brother, for his pal, for his friend...he was like an old man who had let himself go. I took a cloth and wet it with warm water to clean him. He allowed me to hold him and rub the cloth along his back, his sides and his belly, around his head and his whiskers and his eyes which he would blink, one at a time as I cleaned over them. He got better in time and started cleaning himself again and became that dapper, handsome rat that he had been before. We became close to each other, he looked for me and I looked for him. He would spend hours sitting with me on the sofa, enjoying a back massage and a session in front of the telly. As I groomed him he would groom me, taking each one of my fingers between his paws, licking the pad of my thumb, nibbling the dry skin of my cuticles.
He had Mycoplasmosis, a respiratory disorder which most rats have and which can flare up now and again, especially as they get older. His Myco started off as sneezes, but it soon became sniffles and then wheezes. The wheezes would come and go as I gave him antibiotics. They would alleviate things for a while but it would soon come back. When it got worse he stopped eating. He became resistant to all the antibiotics I had tried. Either that or he had hated them so much I had had to syringe them into his mouth. Even then he would not swallow and when allowed down to the floor he dragged his teeth along the tiles, allowing the liquid to drain out in interesting crescent patterns on the floor.
I realised his time was near so I told him his life story. Everything I have told you here and more. I told him how much he was loved, how much he had brought to my life and how much I had enjoyed having him. I told him this as he rested in the crook of my arm on the white wool rug in my livingroom. I told him if he was ready to go then that was ok. He didn't want to be left in his cage and so I let him out again, and he slept with me on the sofabed, first along my arm and then stretched out along my neck.
The next day he seemed better, he was eating liver, he was moving around, I rejoiced when I saw him produce a single smelly, liver-scented poo. Maybe he is making the 'miraculous recovery' my vet had tenatively suggested might be possible. She had said it for my hope, I knew she did not believe it herself. Just before midnight I heard a rustling not far from his cage. I recognised it as the wrapping paper I kept nearby and I smiled to myself before saying out loud 'You'd better not be chewing that paper, Scout'. I went to fetch him, moving bags out of the way to try to find him, but with no luck. When I looked back down I saw that he had made his way to my foot and was waiting there for me. 'O there you are!' I said. When I picked him up he was limp. He gave these great, slow, gasping breaths and I knew. Maybe I shouldn't have but I tried to keep him alive. I performed mouth to mouth (or snout I guess). I stretched out his body and tapped near his lungs to try to ease congestions of the fluids there. But it didn't work. This will haunt me for a while. I think I should have let him go peacefully instead of trying to hang on to him.
I held him on my chest and let tear after tear run down my face. I talked to him and was desperate that he did not get cold. I wrapped my hands around his body and then a blanket and tried to make his body stay warm. I didn't want that confirmation of death. We stayed like that for a couple of hours, and he did grow cold, I couldn't stop that. I felt the changes in his body. Where once he was warm and soft he now became cold and stiff. It started with his neck. When he was warm and soft I could almost trick my brain into believing he was still with me, that a flicker would appear and he would be back. As these changes happened I recognised his leaving.
O this heartbreak happens too much. Such short lives, every 2 years I endure it with each rat. I would not have it any other way, my heartbreak is a testament of what they meant to me. Scout, you were loved, and in whatever capacity you were able, you knew that. Maybe you will come to me in a dream, like Dill did. A dream so real and so touching I woke crying and spent the next day in tears. I will wait to see you then.