Alvin walked proudly all the way home, the paper sack he carried rustling and wiggling with every step. It was his, all his. He’d wanted one of these for a long time. It took several weekends of mowing yards for the neighbors and doing odd chores, but he’d finally collected the fifty cents he needed. He felt all grown up when he’d handed the money over, a nickel and a dime at a time.
Getting closer to the house, he had second thoughts. Maybe his mother wouldn’t be nearly as excited about his new pet as he was. He peeked in the door. Whew! She wasn’t at her usual spot behind the ironing board. He stepped in cautiously and moved slowly through the front room. Clanks and scrapes from the kitchen gave away his mother’s location. He tip-toed quietly back towards his room.
The old rusty cage he’d found out in the alley a few weeks back, discarded by the neighbors and set out with the trash, had cleaned up quite a bit. He pulled it out from under the bed and sat it on the orange crate that doubled as a chair, or nightstand, whatever it was needed for. After a few twists back and forth on the latch, the cage door sprang open, ready for its new occupant. Alvin gently unrolled the top of the brown paper sack and tipped the opened bag into the cage. The little white rat tumbled out and sat for a moment, temporarily dazed. “There, there, Buster, it’s all right,” Alvin consoled the confused creature. “I’ll go sneak you a piece of Mama’s bread in a little bit.”
He wandered through the kitchen, where Bea stood stirring a pot of beans. He tried to look casual. “Can I have a piece of bread Mama?”
“It’s too close to dinner, you’ll spoil your appetite.”
“Just one Mama? Please. I’m awful hungry, after walking all the way downtown and back.”
“All right Bubby, just one. Hep yourself, it’s over there.” Bea pointed to the counter, where a loaf of bread lay almost hidden behind stacks of breakfast dishes still needing washed. “You want some pear honey with it?”
“No Mama. I believe I’ll just have a plain slice of bread today.” Taking a piece from the bag, he took a bite, then shoved the rest in his pocket as he strolled out the back door to the tiny, cluttered yard.
The area around the clothesline was clear, excepting a pair of Papa’s overalls hanging next to a pair of sheets. Piles and stacks filled the rest of the yard. Old bottles, boxes, pieces of furniture that needed repairs, hangers, bicycle tires, more orange crates, a wagon missing a wheel, old skillets. It was a mish mash collection of everything imaginable. One of the side effects common to many of the people that had lived through the Depression. After years of being poor and not having anything, the survivors tended to hoard anything that was useful or may be needed in the future.
Alvin didn’t think too much about it. He didn’t remember the years when everything the family owned could be packed up in the car and moved across the country with hardly a thought. Now that they’d been settled in one spot for almost ten years, the ‘useful objects’ had slowly accumulated and was just there. Which made it handy for a nine year old boy in search of a water bowl for his new pet rat.
With the bread distributed to the rat and a small dish filled with water, Alvin went on about his business, playing and running around on the corner lot with neighborhood boys. He was so busy that he’d almost forgotten about his newly acquired pet until a screech sounded from behind the screened door at the front of the house. “Alvin Dale Jones!”
He went running. He knew that tone of his mother’s voice. He also knew it was never a good thing to be called by all three names. This was big trouble.
Bea stood behind the door as he entered. “What in tarnation is that in your room?” The whole neighborhood probably heard Bea and knew that she was not happy.
“That’s Buster. My pet rat.”
“You are NOT keeping a pet rat. I won’t tolerate it. You go let him go this instant.”
“But Mama …”
“Don’t But Mama me. No sassing back. Jist go do it. Now.”
“All right Mama.” Alvin hung his head and dragged his feet towards his room. He muttered under his breath, “But it’s my pet rat. I saved up the money and spent fifty cents of my own money. I should be able to keep it.”
“Alvin Dale … I can hear you.”
He bit his tongue and didn’t talk back anymore. But that didn’t erase the thoughts running around through his head. He’d worked hard for that money. It was his money. He should be able to keep what he spent his money on. Well, there was no way he was going to let this sweet little thing loose in the outside where a cat would probably find it and eat it. It was his rat, by golly, and he was going to keep it close. He’d let it loose all right. He walked up to the cage and reached for the cage door. He opened it and stood back. “C’mon Buster. You’ve got to go.” He stood back and waited. “C’mon little guy. After all, Mama didn’t say I had to let you go OUTSIDE.”
Buster scampered out, now quite sure what to think of his new found freedom. It didn’t take him long to figure it out. He flew away as fast as his little feet could take him. For quite a while afterwards, Alvin spotted him here and there and knew he was still around. He never did find out if his mother knew that he’d let Buster loose in the house or not.