Roscuro torments the prisoner, but of course he doesn’t really get what he wanted.
The man lit a match and looked at Roscuro.
Roscuro stared longingly into the light.
“Go on,” said the prisoner. He waved a hand in the direction of Roscuro and the match went out. “Yer nothing but a rat.”
“I am,” said Roscuro, “exactly that. A rat. Allow me to congratulate you on your very astute powers of observation.”
“What do ye want, rat?”
“What do I want? Nothing. Nothing for my sake, that is. I have come for you. I have come to keep you company here in the dark.” He crawled closer to the man.
The sad thing is, Roscuro might have genuinely wanted to befriend a human, if Botticelli wasn’t pushing him to view them as prey – and if he could ever get one to not treat him like a rat.
“Would you like to confess your sins?”
“To a rat? You’re kidding, you are.”
“Come now,” said Roscuro. “Close your eyes. Pretend I am not a rat. Pretend that I am nothing but a voice in the darkness. A voice that cares.”
The prisoner closed his eyes. “All right,” he said. “I’ll tell you, But I’m telling you because ain’t no point in not telling you, no point in keeping secrets from a dirty little rat. I ain’t in such a desperate way that I need to lie to a rat.”
The man cleared his throat. “I’m here for stealing six cows, two Jerseys and four Guernseys. Cow theft, that’s my crime.” He opened his eyes and stared into the darkness. He laughed. He closed his eyes again. But there’s something else I done, many years ago, another crime, and they don’t even know of it.”
“Go on,” said Roscuro softly. He crept closer. He allowed one paw to touch the magical red cloth.
“I traded my girl, my own daughter, for this red tablecloth and for a hen and for a handful of cigarettes.”
“And then . . .,” said the man.
“And then,” encouraged Roscuro.
“And then I done the worst thing of all: I walked away from her and she was crying and calling out for me and I did not even look back. I did not. Oh, Lord, I kept walking.” The prisoner cleared his throat. He sniffed.
They’re in the darkness together, but Roscuro chooses to steal what little warmth he can find.
“Do you find comfort in this cloth that you sold your child for?”
“It’s warm,” said the man.
“Was it worth your child?”
“I like the color of it.”
“Does the cloth remind you of what you have done wrong?”
“It does,” the prisoner said. He sniffed. “It does.”
“Allow me to ease your burden,” said Roscuro. He stood on his hind legs and bowed at the waist. “I will take this reminder of your sin from you,” he said. The rat took hold of the tablecloth in his strong teeth and pulled it off the shoulders of the man.
“Hey, see here. I want that back.”
“Hey!” shouted the prisoner. “Bring that back. It’s all I got.”
“Yes,” said Roscuro, “and that is exactly why I must have it.”
Of course, Roscuro’s lying – he doesn’t want the cloth either because it’s meaningful to the man or because it’s a painful reminder, he just wants it for what it represents for himself.
And he left the man and dragged the tablecloth back to his nest and considered it.
What a disappointment it was! Looking at it, Roscuro knew that Botticelli was wrong. What Roscuro wanted, what he needed, was not the cloth, but the light that had shone behind it.
He wanted to be filled, flooded, blinded again with the light.
And for that, reader, the rat knew that he must go upstairs.
Next time: Light, light everywhere…