Against my better judgment, I got a hamster. It was better than a monkey, and Sonny had been asking for both. The erudite young psychiatrist helping Sonny with his middle-school problems said it’d be good for Sonny; it’d give him something to nurture.
“A hamster, for sure,” Dr. Trevor said. “Sonny. Dude. Hang in there.”
My husband and I had a fierce, whispered argument that night about the hamster decision.
“I cannot see adding a rodent to the stress we already have with the school, conferences, homework, all of it. For Pete’s sake, this doctor’s like a kid with an office. You know what his advice was? ‘Hang in there’,” I spat.
“How bad can it be? Come on, Kate. A little hamster,” Larry said.
Since it was three against one, I relented. I trudged home with a hamster.
Sonny kissed Larry and me and bundled the hamster off to his room. She was a twitchy little thing with whiskers that stood straight out like radio antennae. He stroked her tissue-paper ears with a tentative finger and went nose to nose with her, heart in his eyes. He was an avid auto racing fan, so he named her Gearshift.
School did not improve, despite Dr. Trevor and despite Gearshift. But even on Sonny’s tear-stained days, the ones with hiccups and red-marked papers, he pounded upstairs after school to check on her.
One morning instead of running laps on her wheel, Gear disappeared into her piles of wood shavings. That night, we searched through the damp clumps. In her seclusion, the duplicitous hussy had pushed out a large litter of babies.
I had bought a pregnant hamster.
Sonny danced, his arms aloft. I dragged out of his room and sat with my head in my hands. Larry slinked off to run a sudden errand. He came home with a sheepish bunch of carnations for me and I thunked them into my least-favorite vase.
On the third morning we sprawled on Sonny’s bedroom floor to admire (or begrudge) the teeming multitude.
“Aren’t they beautiful, Mom?” Sonny asked. Uneasily, I looked at the worming, pink mass. Gear hitched her babies back and forth. As we watched in horror, the nude babies squirmed blindly and helplessly as she dropped them, one by one, down the hamster slide. Sonny screamed, immobilized. The babies disappeared into the shavings.
And one by one, over the course of days, they all died. Then Gear died. Sonny cried disconsolately, stopped eating, and, empty-eyed, held a child’s funeral for the hamster family, Larry and I in mute attendance.
I cancelled all our appointments with Dr. Trevor. School ended with tears and a wrinkled report card. On a dark afternoon, I put the hamster cage in the trash.
Summer, blessedly, began, the days long and lazy. Sonny, sunburned and dirty, finally held hands with us again. Racing season started and we fled to the local auto racetrack on opening night, seeking solace in the bright lights, the screeching and skidding. Sonny devoured two hamburgers and cheered wildly for everything. He pumped his arms as his favorite driver won and yelled, “Mom! This is the best EVER, isn’t it?” He was flushed and hopping and full of burgers and life.
I nodded. My throat convulsed and I hugged his sweet, sweaty body. I screamed along with the crowd, although what I screamed within that din was not jubilant. It had nothing to do with a car on a track, and everything to do with a boy, his dead baby hamsters, and Dr. Trevor, dude.
Jane Banning lives in Oregon, Wisconsin with her husband and son. She has received honorable mentions in the 2008 Micro Fiction Contest and the 2009 Glass Woman Prize Contest. Her work has appeared in the University of Iowa Daily Palette, Six Sentences, Long Story Short, Boston Literary Magazine, Lyrical Passion Poetry and 52250 Flash.
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