On the number plate for my house is a scene from Wind in the Willows. Mole and Ratty in the little blue-painted boat is a vignette of perfect friendship and domestic harmony. Ratty is an engaging character: outgoing, sympathetic, reliable, capable, resourceful and kind. Bless Kenneth Grahame for seeing these possibilities in the common water rat.
But who really feels an affinity for rattus norvegicus? When he tries to make his home in a human habitation it cannot be Happy Ever After; it is unhealthy for the humans and ultimately disastrous for the rat and his kin.
Idling at the traffic lights on the local high street I saw a little brown creature with that characteristic slinking side-to-side gait. He sniffed under an open door and then flattened himself and crept into the store. Drawn probably by the warmth, he couldn't know that within this cavern of silkiness and perfume and elegantly thin models there would be not a crumb to eat, not even a morsel of rice-cracker or drop of Slim-fast.
Where did he come from? Up from the harbour, probably, or evicted from some other dwelling. I know this store, they have lovely things and although I cannot afford to shop there I often pause to admire. So I quickly parked and went in to tell the lone saleswoman about her guest. He sat against folds of oyster-coloured satin and turned his head this way and that, nose twitching.
"Pardon me, but a rat... "
"Where? " She moved quickly.
"Here, in front of me - no, down by you now, between the rack and the magazines" - for he moved around and searched for new corners as we spoke. He looked, for a moment, both incongruous and pretty, with silky brown fur showing very well against the rich drapery of a display table. Then he simply disappeared, and not out the door. We prowled around the store cautiously, but could find neither tail nor whisker of him.
I had to go on my way eventually. I would like there to be a happy ending to this story, something for a picture book. It was more likely a baited trap.
Regard a Mouse
O'erpowered by the Cat!
Reserve within thy kingdom
A "Mansion" for the Rat!
Snug in seraphic Cupboards
To nibble all the day
While unsuspecting Cycles
Wheel solemnly away!
Emily DickinsonPS. I think I have a happy ending for him, stay tuned.