No. 2

ImageI had a pet hamster named Speedy when I was 9.  He spent most of his time storing food in his cheeks and running on the wheel and burrowing in cedar chips.  I liked him but he didn’t like me.  

Speedy’s cage started to smell and my mom worried that guests would notice his stink and get the wrong idea about us.  She put his cage on the landing, out of the way.  

My 3 year old brother Jeffrey thought that Speedy was lonely up there.  It became his prerogative to visit the Habitrail daily.  He’d shuffle up the stairs to watch Speedy exercise, hoard food, and dig.

One day I noticed that Jeffrey was clutching a No. 2 pencil whilst ascending the stairs.  He crouched above the Habitrail and from afar, appeared to be innocently observing the hamster with toddler curiosity.  

But he was actually poking Speedy in the flank with the pencil over and over again.  Had this vacant look in his eyes while he did it, too.  I asked him to stop.  He complied.

I put on a pair of gardening gloves and picked up Speedy.  He had no visible injuries.  I set him down.  He lapped at some water and buried himself under the cedar chips.  

Mom and Dad interrogated Jeffrey.  Why would you want to poke Speedy with a No. 2 pencil?  Don’t you realize that he is a living, breathing thing?  How would you like it if you were stabbed in the ribs with a No. 2 pencil?  

Jeffrey admitted that he had been jabbing Speedy for quite some time.  He really didn’t know why he did it.  Didn’t have much to say beyond that.  Pretty remorseless overall.  Mom said he probably didn’t know what he was doing.  

Speedy died a week later.  He was partially buried under the cedar chips when I found him.  He still had food stored in his cheeks.  

Mom didn’t want Jeffrey to know that Speedy was dead.  She’d have Dad take care of the body while we were at the grocery store. 

Jeffrey offhandedly mentioned the Habitrail’s disappearance at dinner the next day.  Mom winced and gave Dad a look.  Dad said Speedy had gone to heaven.  

Jeffrey fell into silent contemplation.  He furrowed his brow and looked at my Dad.  Opened his mouth to speak, but it took a long time for the words to take form.  

Heaven’s in the dumpster?

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