The Beautiful Rats
By © Stephen Melillo, IGNA 1 FEB 2023
Dedicated to Ed Lisk
“Hey, you ever heard the story of the ugly duckling?”
“Okay, so once upon a time there was this really nice Rat named Rocco.”
“Ha! Like you! Wait a minute. You’re talking about rats. I thought this was about ugly ducks?”
“Nah… this’ll be better.”
Rocco had a wise brow beyond his years and for some reason, longer than usual ears. Yep, just like Rudolf, his ears, instead of his nose, were oftentimes the subject of bad jokes and laughter. He was a gregarious teen, but as far as rats go, he was easygoing; never bothered anyone, pilfered food only when he was starving and couldn’t help himself; loved taking care of the little rats, and even guarded the mice. Good Dad material. He loved cooking for his family but could never quite reach that Ratatouille level. He settled for Rigatoni and that became his nickname. He liked Italian food better anyway.
Rocco Rigatoni the Rat rattled on with excitement. “So you see, Ralf, all these older rats send me emails and brochures, and…”
Ralf, Rocco’s younger brother, wiggled his nose. “About what?”
“Well, they want me to join this club and this and that organization and come to the annual rat convention where everyone pats themselves on the back.”
“That sounds pretty cool,” said Ralf.
“Nah, it’s not like you think.”
What d’ya mean?”
“Well, they all try to impress each other. Who can do this better, who can do that better? Which rats know the king rat? They cook, they play music, they sing, and they bother cats. It’s a pretty wild event. Rats show up from all over the country in the thousands for this thing!”
Ralf looked up to Rocco Rigatoni. Rocco, who Ralf often called “Rocky”, was his hero. “Oh, it sounds like circus jerkus.”
“I don’t know,” said Ralf. “Just something I heard the humans say. But look, bro, maybe we should go. We could go together.”
“Trust me, forget about it. Too much exercise. The climax of the whole shebang is a big race.”
“Yeah, like the kind you see the humans do in the Olympics and all that.”
“Well heck, we’re quick,” said Ralf. “Let’s go… we can kick some rat butt!”
Rocco Rigatoni put his paw near what would have been a shoulder on a human. He spoke like a loving father, even though he was close to Ralf’s age.
“Ralfo, my boy, my dear Ralfo Ravioli,” said Rocco Rigatoni with slowly closing eyelids and a wry smile. “In a rat race, who the hell wants to come in first?”
Ralf smiled. “Yeah, you’re right.”
As they sprinted home, running and running just for the fun of it, they skidded to a stop at a piece of broken mirror lying in the walkway. “Wow, our ears keep getting bigger and bigger,” said Ralf.
Just then, a little girl, who was also running with her Mom, suddenly stopped. “Look at the nice bunnies,” she said.
… and that’s why this is an ugly duckling story.