Al crawled up the inside of the drain pipe, hurried along the gutter and made his way into the hole beneath a loose asphalt shingle above aluminum flashing. The bar was busy tonight. A Walkman blared tinny music from ear-buds suspended in the rafters and several rats gyrated in synchronized rhythm on the make-shift dance floor. Al looked to the bar where Tony sat hunched over a thimble full of stale beer, slouching on his stool, his long leathery tail drooping to the floor. He made his way over to the laminated popsicle-stick bar-top and took a thread spool beside his friend.
“How’s it wigglin?” he inquired with a good natured grin and gentle slap on Tony’s back.
“Eh…,” Tony responded without much enthusiasm.
“Oh, oh.” Al had seen Tony in this kind of mood before. “What’s up buddy, Agnes again?” Al ordered a beer for himself.
His companion looked up. Tony’s nose twitched sending his long whiskers into a frenzy. “I swear to God Al, I just can’t please her. If it’s not one thing it’s another. She’s always busting my balls.”
“He heh…,” sniggered Al. “…and that ain’t easy. You got some pretty hefty balls.”
Tony chuckled half heartedly and repositioned himself on his spool.
The gerbil behind the counter handed Al his order. After a long slow draught, Al wiped his paw across his muzzle and asked with some resignation, “Well, what is it this time?”
Tony paused, looked at Al, and turned to stare once more into his beer. “I ate two of the kids.” he responded somewhat sheepishly.
Al’s beer spewed from his mouth, spraying the gerbil full in the face. “Sorry Mac.” Al apologized. The bartender toweled his face dry, all the while complaining mightily under his breath.
“Geez Tone, not again!”
Tony groaned. “I know, I know,” he complained. “But, yah know…,” he struggled for the words. “I’m out here every night, scurrying around in sewers for any moldy morsel I can find, scouring back alleys and dumpsters for a lousy piece of cheese, and then I come home to a rat-hole full of 75 kids and Agnes…”
“Seventy-three kids!” Al corrected him,
“Yah! Now!” Tony admitted reluctantly. “I swear, all I want at the end of a hard night is to sit back, put my paws up, have a God damn beer and relax for five minutes without six dozen rug-rats crawlin’ all over me.” Tony’s arms fell to his side as he threw back his head and exclaimed, “And now I find out, there’s another litter on the way!” Tony slumped forward again and returned to whatever comfort he hoped to find at the bottom of his beer.
At that exact moment, Paul Anka’s “Having my Baby” crackled onto the over head speakers.
Ignoring the ironic musical interlude, Al placed a sympathetic paw on Tony’s shoulder. “C’mon Tone, cheer up. Aggie will forgive you. What’s two rats outta …” he did a silent calculation relative to current progeny and average litter size, “…eighty plus kids?”
“Agnes loves you, no matter how many kids you eat.”
Tony was not to be consoled.
Al continued in an effort to comfort his friend. “You know Big Carl… you know him…. the big dock-rat that comes into O’Malley’s?” Tony nodded weakly as Al continued. “I heard he ate a whole litter of his kids after he got off the boat from his last cruise, and in a matter of weeks he and his old lady were knockin’ out a brand new brood.” Al’s two sharp front teeth glistened in the neon bar-light as he attempted to smile away Tony’s sour mood.
Tony turned to Al, brightened by the thought of Big Carl’s more serious infraction. “Yah know, Agnes and I’ve been together for over eight months, the best months of our lives. We’ve been through a lot.”
Al took another drink, nodding in agreement. “That’s the ticket. You guys were made for each other”
“She’ll get over it.” Tony’s disposition was definitely improving. “I know she loves me. And I love her too.”
“Sure you do.” offered Al. “Let’s have another beer to celebrate your renewed dedication to each other.”
Tony thought about it for a moment,”Nah…The sun’s coming up and I’m going home to tell Agnes I love her. She’ll take me back.”
Tony and Al shared a glance and Al winked. “She always does Tone. She always does.”
Tony smiled his best rat smile. “It’s been a long night. I’m going home grab a bite then crawling into the mattress with Agnes.”
“A bite?” asked a genuinely concerned Al.
Tony tipped his cap and made his way to the hole in the shingle, “Don’t worry buddy, only cheese for me tonight… nothing but cheese.”