Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Rattus Sculptoris

One of my neighbors is a rat.

I don't mean that he tells the police what criminals are doing.

The kind of rat I mean is Rattus mindorensis, the Mindoro black rat. This kind of rat usually lives in the Phillipines, not America, but my neighborhood is unusual. It is popular amongst wealthy and eccentric immigrants. I do not know why.

I have become friends with my rat neighbor. Sometimes I see him poking his head out of one of several little windows on the front of his house, and I start a conversation with him. His name is Iqougguef, but he had to spell it out for me before I could understand what he was saying. I asked if his name was common in rat society, and he said he had never known any other rats by that name. He said that it was derived from the name of a god worshipped by ancient rats. The advent of Postmodernism in rat culture has made religion unpopular.

Iq is a sculptor. I used to see new works that he had completed sitting on the grass in front of his house, but he has started putting his sculptures in his backyard because the other neighbors were stealing them. They do not recognize that rats can legally be property owners.

The sculptures are usually carved from columns of basalt that Iq has imported from Iceland. He polishes the sculptures to make them shiny and black. Many of them are depictions of ordinary objects like ceiling fans and street lamps, though I think seeing these objects carved from basalt makes them seem special. I once asked if I could purchase one, but he told me that he doesn't sell them. I often wonder how he gets the money to buy the stone or to pay the mortgage on his house, but I do not ask because I think it would be rude. Basalt is a very hard stone, so Iq uses powerful machinery to help him carve it. Even if he used soapstone, I think he would need the machinery because he is a fairly small rat. He is also very shy. He doesn't let me watch him sculpt.

But Iq often invites me and my son into his studio when he is not working. My son plays quietly, and Iq and I sit and drink coffee and watch his pet birds wandering through the garden in his backyard. There is a large rock face and two tall wooden fences surrounding the garden. To the birds the garden is a perfect little sanctuary and the sculptures are like ordinary rocks or trees. The largest of Iq's birds is a blue heron that never makes a sound. One of the other birds is a guineafowl that makes a sound like a crow. "Ka ka ka ka ka ka ka!" he says. The heron watches him solemnly like an old man watching his grandchild.