Saturday, March 28, 2009
(I was making a collage of some lines from old books, a Chinese envelope for money gifts and some Chinese lettering when I decided that I needed to stuff the envelope with a story that tied all the elements together. Here is what I came up with. I'll post the collage when it is finished. It isn't my usual sort of writing. Tell me what you think).
Once upon a time there was a family of rats that lived in Paris. At that time the cat population was particularly ferocious and the poor rats no longer dared to leave their holes. “Ooh, la la,” the rats said. “If we do not eat soon, we shall starve.” An old, wise rat told the younger rats to bide their time. “The cats have to sleep eventually,” he said. “Then we can get some food.” He cautioned them of the dangers of leaving Paris. “To the east, is the Wild Wood which has terrible dangers.” He told them of the owls, hawks, foxes and weasels which, he said, made the Parisian cats look tame. “Beyond the Wild Wood lies the Wide World, full of unspeakable dangers. There is no escape from Paris. We must stay here as best we may.”
One little rat, Valois, had a short attention span or perhaps he fell asleep. He missed the part about the Wide World. When the cats at last began their afternoon naps and the other rats were foraging for food, Valois climbed aboard a barge which was tied up on the banks of the Seine. He sniffed around and found a likely hiding place behind the bread box. After gorging on a crust of baguette, he slept.
A sharp nip to his left ear awakened him. He must have leapt six inches in the air, his legs and tail outstretched in all directions. There behind the bread box was another rat. “What’d you do that for?” Valois demanded.
“You ate my bread crust,” the other rat replied.
“Oh, sorry. I was starving.”
“Well there’s more where that came from,” she said, for one sniff had told Valois that she was a young female rat. “My name’s Colette.”
“I’m Valois,” he replied.
Suddenly Valois noticed that the counter he crouched on was swaying back and forth. “What is happening?” he asked, his hair standing on end.
“Haven’t you ever been on a boat before?”
“No, I have always lived in a hole next to a wine cellar.”
Colette tutted. “Well, you’re in for a surprise. We’re off to see the Wide World.”
“Is that safe?” he asked.
“Safe or dangerous, that’s where we are headed.”
. . . . . .
In the interest of time, I will not relate all the adventures of Colette and Valois. Suffice to say that their barge traveled the length of the Seine and, much later, the two rats were loaded onto a merchant ship, tucked in alongside a cask of dried meat and biscuits. Like rats will do, they matured quickly and Colette gave birth to many litters of ratlets. Grand children and great grandchildren followed. An entire dynasty of rats traveled the world until at long last the merchant ship docked at the port of Hong Kong. Colette and Valois sniffed the air and decided it was time to return to land.
Contrary to popular legend, China had never seen rats of this type before. The cats there were fat and lazy for the local mice were far too easy to catch. It took generations before the Chinese cats adapted to these meaner, overgrown mice, as they saw them. As the cats slowly wised up, the rats overran Hong Kong and from there the rest of China. After all, as we all know, rats breed like, um, rabbits. A time of human famine followed and the weary and hungry Chinese people added a new sign to their zodiac in the belief that this would appease the rats who were perhaps jealous of the ox, monkey and snake. Of course, what really happened was the cats finally learned to control the scourge of rats. But forever after, in the Chinese calendar, there will always be a Year of the Rat.