dontravis.com blog post #357
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Back to storytelling this week after an interesting poem last week. Probably more meaningful to me than to most readers since I was a subtle subject of the work.
This week’s short story was inspired by… nothing. I just sat down and dreamed up a rat and a mouse. Voila, a short story resulted.
I’m here to tell you, life as Rat Flanagan’s younger brother ain’t easy. Especially, when his moniker earns you the nickname of Mouse. I’m actually Ralph; he’s Finn, but when he went tough guy and got slapped with “Rat,” “Mouse” just came along automatically.
My brother’s the leader of a local street gang, not by dint of leadership, but by being the meanest, nastiest guy in the neighborhood. The same way he got his nickname, come to think of it. But he’s always been good to me. Looked out for me, you might say. Took me under his wing.
Until lately. You see, there’s this chick I met down at the college library where I’m struggling through my sophomore year. Roseanna’s her name. Blonde, blue-eyed, and stacked. Smart too. I made the mistake of bringing her around to meet some of the guys, and Rat went gaga over her.
“She’s too much woman for you,” he said to me after I came home later that same day.
“Naw. She’s exactly the right amount of woman,” I countered as a worrying flutter began in my stomach.
He waved a scrap of paper in my face. “We’ll see.”
“How’d you get her number?”
“How else, Rose gave it to me.”
“No way. And her name’s Roseanna.”
“She’s a rose to me,” he said before turning and walking away.
The flutter in my gut became a cramp.
My next date with Roseanna wasn’t reassuring.
“Course, I gave it to him,” she said as she concentrated on buffing the nails on her right hand. We were sitting in my ’98 Cougar in front of the college library.
“Why not? He’s your brother. If your mama asked for my number, I’d give it to her, wouldn’t I?”
“My mom’s interest isn’t Rat’s interest.”
“I don’t like that name. I like Finn better.”
“You don’t have a problem calling me Mouse.”
“Ralph’s such a plain name. Besides—” She tweaked my nose. “—Mouse is such a cute name.”
The rest of the date did not go well. She seemed to enjoy her malt at the SUB and dancing at the Disco, a nearby college hangout, but I spent the evening fighting an increasingly rebellious gut.
Things came to a head when she told me she couldn’t go out Friday night because “Finn” had asked her to a movie.
“I thought we were going together,” I said.
“Nothing official,” she answered, admiring her glittering scarlet fingernails. It looked like a professional job to me, and she couldn’t afford a manicure like that.
“Nice nails,” I opened my gambit.
She beamed. “You think so? I think it’s ultra!”
I went from subtle to blunt. “How much did it cost?”
Roseanna gave me her sweetest smile. “Have no idea. Finn paid for it. Wanted me to look nice for our Friday night date.”
I went from blunt to self-destructive. “You can’t date two brothers.”
“No law against it.”
“My law. You gotta choose.”
“You sure you wanna say that?”
She tossed her head, sending blond hair spraying in all directions. “Well, Mouse, Seems to me a rat’s superior to a mouse, so what do you think.”
“So you like the tough guy thing?”
“I like macho, sweetie. And Finn’s got it in spades.”
I left and retreated to my figurative corner.
No way was I gonna give up Roseanna without a fight. And fight with Rat was something I’d never done, had no idea how to do it. So I sulked through their Friday night date and through the weekend. By Monday, I’d figured out how to proceed. I waited about a block away from the shack on an otherwise vacant lot that served as the Rodent’s headquarters—Rodents… get it? Rat, Mouse—until Neal came along. Neal, alias Pudge, was more or less Rat’s second in command, although there wasn’t really a command structure.
“Hey, guy,” I joined Pudge on the sidewalk as he made his way toward the Rat’s Nest, which was our shack. Rat carried the theme all the way through, I’ll say that for him. “Sorry about the other day.”
Pudge lumbered to a halt. “Sorry about what?”
“Sorry my brother dissed you in front of the others like he did.” Rat had noted that Pudge was packing on the pounds.
“Aw, that’s just Rat being Rat.”
“If you say so. Just sayin….”
I caught up with Billy—gang name “Goat”—as we broke up that afternoon. He was a skinny tough with a sharp chin.
“Sorry about my brother dissing you today.” Rat had said in the club house just a few minutes earlier that a real goat would have chin whiskers. Goat probably couldn’t raise whiskers anywhere.
“You know about the whiskers.”
“He didn’t mean nothing. You know how he is.”
“Yeah, I know. Puts us all down.”
There were six of us in the club, and by the end of the week, I’d talked to all of them except for Gene, who went by the name of Randy. And if you want to know what I think, he was “randy” for Rat. He idolized my brother, and a couple of times I thought Randy’s britches got fuller when he was gazing adoringly at Rat. Wouldn’t surprise me if my bro wasn’t letting Randy have his way once in a while, but that’s not my business. Course it would make things simpler if Rat paid more attention to Randy and less to Roseanna.
Things were a little tense around the house, especially when Rat went on a second date with my girl. We didn’t talk to one another so much that Mom asked what was the matter? We both brushed it off.
I made my move at our Monday meeting. We hung around together every day, but on Monday, Rat insisted we have a “meeting” to plan the week’s mischief. Since he’d gotten so wrapped up in Roseanna, he wasn’t doing so much planning, which fit right into my plan.
“I got something to say,” I announced after Rat finished spouting a lot of nothing.
He gave me the fish-eye. “And what’s that?”
“Things aren’t going too good lately, Rat. Not since you got so pussy-whipped.”
Rat turned red in the face. “What the hell you talking about?”
“If you’re gonna spend so much time with your chick, somebody else oughta lead the club.”
“Somebody like you, for instance?”
“Well… yeah. Me or Pudge. We both got ideas of how to make things better.”
“Well, we all oughta have one of them telephones you carry around with you. Those cell phones. And the club oughta pay for them. And what kinda name is ‘Rodents’ for a club?”
“You got a better one? And how’s the club gonna pay for six cell phones?”
“You’re making my point for me,” I said. “You used to come up with ways for us to turn a few coins, but not no more. Now I got a few ideas that’ll keep us in beer for a while.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Like?”
“Like if I tell you, you’ll claim it was your idea. Like you always do. You diss us all, Rat, and we’re tired of it. It’s time for a change.”
“And that change is you, huh?”
I shrugged. “Why not? At least I got some leadership qualities besides beating everybody into line. And we’re sick of that, Finn.”
“So what are you gonna do about it?”
“We’re gonna have a meeting and choose a new leader, that’s what.”
“You’n who else, little brother?”
I got up off the crate I was sitting on and planted my feet. “Who’s with me?”
Everybody got up and came over to stand behind me except for Randy. Rat looked shocked but he didn’t put up a fuss.
“From now on, we’re the Hustlers, and I’m the leader. I got a sign we’re gonna put over the door that says so. And that’s what we’re gonna do, hustle our asses and make some money. Old man Maloney’s got a yard full of junk he says we can cart off and sell. It’s got lots of metal in it, and I know where to take it. That oughta get us our telephones. Then I’ll figure out how to pay for the service. What do you say to that?”
Finn didn’t have much to say, which surprised me. And he wasn’t Rat anymore, which meant I could become Ralph. When I caught up with Roseanna in the library, she already knew something was happening.
“Rat isn’t Rat anymore,” she said.
“Nope. He’s Finn. And I’m Ralph, and I don’t care how plain you think that name is. It’s me, you hear?”
“Sure, Mo… uh, Ralph.”
“No more Finn. Make up your mind about which brother you want.”
“That’s easy. I want you.”
There’s something to be said for being tough… up to a point.
Brains over brawn, they say. Worked for Ralph. Wish I could get it to work for me. Hope you enjoyed the story.
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See you next week.