Halfway across the room, the rodent sensed danger and stopped moving. He crouched, concentrating on the silence, ready to pounce or flee, but all was silent as his eyes darted about seeking the cause of his sudden unease. He waited and then resumed his journey towards the cot where the three-year-old lay sleeping. He could smell the milk, dripping from the discarded feeding bottle onto the linoleum. His nightly treat was almost within his reach. The child always left some milk. When she grew tired of the bottle, she would push it aside and sleep. Tonight the teat was poking between the bars of the cot and he would not have to struggle to reach it. He started lapping at the puddle, rejoicing in the creamy flavour and welcoming the nutrition so freely given. He felt gratitude towards his young benefactor, if a rat can feel such a thing. The sense of danger returned and he looked up from his supper to meet the little girl’s curious gaze. She was peering down at him.
“Hello...,” she paused, thinking of her next word. “Mousey?” She seemed to know that wasn’t quite right, but it was near enough. The rat resumed his drinking while she watched.
“Hungry,” the child was beginning to whimper. She picked up the bottle and began to suck the last drops from it. Dismayed, the rat squealed and leapt after his food source. Squeezing between the bars of the cot, he found himself staring into the eyes of his tormentor.
I don’t want to hurt you, I just want the milk. He knew she couldn’t understand him, but he had to have the milk. The ache in his belly still needed to be appeased. Give me the milk.The child stared back at him as she continued to suck. At last, she cast the bottle aside. It was empty, drained completely. The rat sniffed around the teat, licking in vain. The little girl lay down, pulling the quilt over her shoulders as she prepared to sleep again without a thought for her still hungry guest.
Her chin is flecked with droplets. I could have those. No-one is here to stop me. The big people are asleep next door. This little one likes me. She talks to me and calls me ‘Mousey’. He crept towards the drowsy child and licked the milk from her chin. She chuckled at the tickling sensation of his rough tongue, too tired now to resist. Her pudgy little fingers stroked between his ears until finally, warm and comforted he fell asleep locked in her embrace – a grotesque parody of a teddy bear.
The morning sun cast a spotlight on the scene when Maria entered the nursery to investigate why her little one was sleeping late. She crossed the room and smiled indulgently as she removed the bloodstained quilt from the cot and dropped it into the laundry basket, shaking her head.
“Joe, get in here will you? I need some help cleaning up.” She lifted the child from the cot as Joe entered the room carrying a plastic bucket. “It’s in the cot. I can’t see what she’s done with the head this time, but she’s got real case of ‘morning breath’.”
Joe looked at his stepdaughter who was now awake and smiling, reaching for him.
“In a bit, sweetie.” He said. “Mummy’s gonna give you a bath and help you brush your teeth while Daddy sorts out this mess.”