Gerbilarium

I am playing Call of Duty Ghosts and am doing quite well with fifteen kills and nine deaths. I suddenly realise I have not tried to have a pet for a while and my mind starts to wander. I slowly convince myself that I will enjoy reading more with company, that it will focus my mind … yes, like the time a couple of years ago when that forty five year old woman came into my flat to use my phone as my neighbour (who she claimed to be friends with) was not answering her door. She had used the phone then opened a beer offering me one before sitting down and falling asleep, snoring slightly. I had noticed then that being in her company focused my mind and made me enjoy the book (which I had started reading while she slept) in a good way.

This wandering of my mind over that encounter results in me getting killed by someone apparently born in 1997 judging by his username. “I’ve been playing Playstation since before you were born, kid.” I say at the screen and then the round ends so I start adjusting my create a class menus which allow you to customize your guns. I put a silencer on my pump action shotgun and wait for the next round to begin. I am still thinking about the wonderful world of pets – my last attempt had been a parrot which flew off. The rabbit that drowned. Before that a shrimp which died after four years of doing not much except filter stuff at the bottom of it’s tank until one day he wasn’t filtering anymore. And before that was the hand reared raccoon of course (in my old flat) but the less said about that the better, especially as it cost me £1500 to buy in the first place. Maybe I will try some gerbils this time. But not let them out of their cage so that my flat does not get chewed (as my Xbox and PS4 are more important) or end up with carpets stinking of piss. I quit the online lobby just before the countdown for the next round ends and begin rubbing my hands and laughing slightly. I get up and cross the room saying “Wooh hoo a new pet I can‘t wait to bring it home.” and sit down at my laptop.

I crank up the laptop and first go to Gamechat.com and make a casual rage topic about having just shot someone in the face at close range with a semi automatic shotgun, getting hit markers, but the other player not dying WTF. After a few seconds someone replies with “QQ more.” meaning I am a cry baby. I send him an abusive private message, then log off.

It is just after midnight and I start looking for gerbil cages (known as gerbilariums) on Google. After reading lots of negative reviews for most of the cages (mainly pointing out that they get chewed holes in them after a just a couple of days that the hamsters, gerbils etc escape through) I end up just deciding on going to the big retail pet shop in town, if they have gerbils and any cages in stock. That decided I spend the rest of the night eating chicken and looking at pictures of guillemots and other sea birds, and also at pictures of castles in the UK – some built around 1100 AD. Incredible. Later I go back on Gamechat.com and tell them about my night and some one points out that I would probably have preferred to spend the night eating guillemots and looking at pictures of chickens. I have to agree with him. I change my wallpaper background on my laptop to a good picture of a sea bird with a castle in the background.

At 8:45 I ring for a taxi to take me to the pet shop and on the way I think that actually I will look to see if there are any cats up for adoption. I get out of the taxi and go into the shop and head to the cat rooms.

The medium sized woman who greets me is pretty good looking in an odd way and I tell her about living alone for ten years and getting cabin fever and wanting some company, which I know is not entirely accurate. But I carry on anyway. She says there is one available and asks me if I would like to see this cat (that sits watching us through a big window on it’s perch.) As we head over she asks me if I have had cats before as this cat is difficult and I lie and say yes. Unfortunately when we enter the small room that the cat occupies, it stinks of shit badly. I stay polite when I point this out to her and she just makes a silent gesture with her hands as the cat claws my shoes. We leave the room and I say I will think about it but as I turn round to smile at her as I walk away I realise I would prefer to take her home, to be honest.

I go over to the rodent section and to cut a long story short I end up leaving the shop with two ten week old male gerbils costing six pounds each and a glass cage and toys, treats etc coming to £275. One of the gerbils is black and one is light grey. I quickly decide that the black one is called Ithaqua (striding the star void on huge, black webbed feet) and the grey one is called Yog-Sothoth (the primal white jelly). I get another taxi home and the driver helps me carry the cage up to my flat, as it is up a flight of steps. I give him a two pound coin.

I quickly fill the tank with sawdust and arrange the toys. I can hear the rodents scrabbling around in their carry boxes. Then there is the glorious moment I have been awaiting for when I open the boxes and let them into the cage. They look around for a while finding the food bowl and I am on my knees smiling in at them. One of them quickly works out the water bottle, which is nice. The other one jumps down to the sawdust and after a moment starts to dig. This pleases me greatly as it is something they have never been able to do. I look around my room at the expanse of carpet and know I will have to resist the temptation to let them out for a run. This is something else they would love to do but they would also like to meet female gerbils, and this is something which will never happen.

Dig dig dig, happy gerbils. But unfortunately and almost straight away I notice with sinking heart the dust immediately rising into the air around the cage. I can already feel it in my eyes. I say “Oh for Pete’s sake.” in a flat voice and get up and open the window wide so the dust can blow out. I sit down and soon notice how cold it is with the window open as it is December. What is the solution to the dust? I leave the room (my bedroom) and shut the door leaving the window open at its widest. I go in my lounge and play on my Playstation trying not to think about it.

I cheer up and go on my laptop and find an even larger cage that is maybe even too large – it is over a metre and a half long and nearly as wide! I tell myself I will save up for this. Then it is time for bed so I eat some tinned peaches. I reopen my bedroom door with trepidation and immediately can feel and smell the dust in the air. I turn round and close the lounge door to protect my Xbox then go into the bedroom (closing the door as fast as possible) and stand over the cage frowning with hands on hips The black gerbil is there with some food in it’s hands and he turns away from me when I crouch down to look him in his eye. I switch off the light and go to bed, leaving the window open. It is very cold and I only have a thin summer quilt. My eyes start stinging and it feels bad but I try to tell myself it is all in my mind. I hide under the covers and go to sleep with the sound of the rodents chewing and scrabbling around.

Scrabble, scrabble, dusty, dusty, eyes stinging.

The next day I put my theory to the test about enjoying the reading more. I sit in my chair in my bedroom still with the window open. It is cold and dusty. The gerbils continue to dig and I get a small amount of joy from seeing their tunnels through the glass. There is not a chance of me putting the cage in my lounge as games consoles cannot live in a dusty environment. And I soon discover that reading with another animal in the room makes no difference to my reading and I realise that there was no problem before anyway, and now it is dusty and cold. So I go into my lounge. I sit down and start thinking about that large cage on the internet. I do some sums in my mind and realise it will cost around £120 every month to fill it with dust. I switch on my Xbox One.

I play the racing game Forza for an hour (managing to get a couple of podium finishes) thinking always of the rodents in the other room. I imagine the scrabbling going on for the next three years. That is not too bad unless they are deeply unhappy … which I would never know but often ask as they continue scrabble into my brain no doubt. And the dust. Not to mention the moral responsibility for their well being. And the cost (even with their normal sized cage). And the fact that their company is meaningless and unfulfilling as they would forever look at me with only dim recognition. And they are too cute anyway. I preferred being alone.

No, no! forget all that childish talk; I like the responsibility – it is a natural parenting instinct to look after something living. I will enjoy it. I will clean them out and feed them peanuts which they will take from my hand with gratitude. I will watch them dig for an hour at a time. I will buy them treats and never be alone in my flat again… I put down my controller and text my mum on my phone. I put “Please will you come and pick me up? I bought some gerbils in a giant cage and now I don’t want them.” She texts back “I am not pleased – I am going out soon. Be ready on road, will the pet shop have them back?” I ring the pet shop but they say they won’t have them back, so I ring another shop and ask the if they will adopt two gerbils. The man says they are full but ok they will have them. I say thanks and that I will be there in half an hour and then I carry the cage down to the road with the gerbils still inside (hiding.) It is quite heavy but not too heavy. The water bottle falls off and spills everywhere on my stairs nearly sending me flying as it falls on the step below me and I tread on it.

Mum arrives and I inform her that we will have to go to the other pet shop which is further away and she is cross. I can hear the rodents scrabbling around as we set off and turn round to look at the cage feeling a deep, oddly calming sadness and self loathing.

***

When we get there mum pulls up to the curb (still technically in the bus lane) puts her hazard lights on and says “Hurry up.” with a severe look on her mouth. I feel a bit stupid and get out and open the back and see that the glass of the cage has cracked in two places. Damn I won’t be able to sell it. I pick it up carefully and carry it in through the swinging shop doors and say loudly

“Hi you said you would have these two gerbils for adoption?” putting the cage roughly down on the counter. A young man with stretched earlobes and green uniform puts down a pair of gloves and says

“Yes we will take them, are they in there?” I nod and say yes. The other man who had been leaning on the counter goes through a door into a back room.

Ear lobe man opens the cage and takes off the top wire section. I look around and notice that they also sell snakes over in the corner. Hmmmmmm. The first rodent is pulled out of his burrow by his tail and he scrabbles in the air before being put in a small box. Then the other one is found trying desperately to escape the mans hand and we all see the blood.

One of this gerbils hands is badly sliced and I get myself ready to leave looking over at the door. Blood is dripping from the gerbil onto the dust as he is held up by his tail. Just then an older fat man who must be the owner or something comes in and sees the scene. He starts shaking his head saying “No, no we can’t have that.” reaching out to Ear lobe man. I make a run for it, out through the swingy green doors and fast down the pavement into my mum’s waiting car slamming the door.

“Quick! Drive off quickly please.” I say and make pointing gestures with my hand. My mum looks slightly startled but starts the engine. I look towards the shop where the fat man is stood at the door shouting and pointing angrily, waving his fat arms. I can hear his voice but not what he is shouting, but then as we drive past them and turn the car round in a lucky lull in the traffic, ear lobe man appears. I twist my neck and see ear lobe man has put a hand on the fat man’s shoulder and is shaking his head and pointing back in the shop. A look of realisation appears on the fat man’s face and they go back inside. What did it all mean?

Mum does not ask for an explanation but after the news has finished on the radio she turns the volume down and says

“I am going to drop you off at my house. You can get the bus. I have not got enough time to take you all the way to your flat and drive back in time to meet Glynis. And you are banned from getting any more pets. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” I reply sinking into my seat feeling very relieved.

THE END

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