The Life of Henry Fuckit
20 Rats. Big rats
The next day, Friday, he arose from his bed at the Young Men's Christian Association with no clear plan of action set out in his head. A decision was necessary but thought-block and perplexity were interfering with the important task at hand. He emerged from the decrepit building onto the pavement and crossed the road, half of which had just been scrubbed and washed by the water cart. As he proceeded to the corner of Shortmarket Street, having passed the intoxicating aromas from the Coffee Shop and C Jones Tobacconist, he was astounded by the apparition of a subterranean rodent, the size of a small cat, emerging from a grating at the curbside. It hopped up onto the pavement and turned the corner. He followed it as, without haste, it trotted some five paces ahead of him towards Greenmarket Square. Cheeky blighter, he thought, where does he think he's off to? One of Frikkie's jokes sprang to mind. Teacher is doing the alphabet and the kids must provide a word starting with a letter she points to. Johnny is very keen, has his hand up all the time, but she knows he's a foul-mouthed little bugger. Racks her brains and keeps passing him over. Then at R she can't think of anything obscene. Alright Johnny, a word beginning with R. Johnny: Rats, Miss. Fuckin' big rats. Henry chuckled to himself. Certainly this was a fuckin' big rat. Must be Rattus norwegicus, the Norway rat, aka wharf rat, aka sewer rat. Witherspoon had often entertained him with fascinating information about these active and adaptive creatures. It must have been close on a foot in length from base of tail to pointed nose, and the obscenely naked tail was almost as long again. He could see the spiky whiskers and beady eyes. Its grey-brown fur was wet and lank and he caught the whiff of watered-down human excrement. He knew them to be transmitters of at least twenty diseases, notably bubonic plague, the Black Death. As he watched its unconcern, its aggressive boldness, he began to feel a mixture of dread and revulsion. At Burg Street it scooted across the road, halted and looked back, as if waiting for him.
He stopped dead on the pavement. Good God! This was THE SIGN. God damn it, it was as if Braithwaite had engineered it. But what did it mean? It was like the stupid, superstitious significance people placed on the haphazard wanderings of black cats. There was no clear meaning. He hurried across the road and entered the foyer. There was no trace of Rattus norwegicus but, waiting in the General Office, was a close relative, the Chief Clerk.
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