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Nancy was not amused as I relayed the night’s events with her.

“I thought I told you to stay away from him,” she whispered in an odd, low tone. Being we were the only ones in the room I doubted anyone could have heard us through the stone walls.

I sat on the bed facing her. “Yes you did but you didn’t give me a good reason to,” I replied. “I saw him and figured what the harm was. He looked nice enough.”

Nancy sighed in frustration. “I didn’t say he didn’t look nice. I said you shouldn’t be with him. There’s no telling what he will do.”

I couldn’t comprehend her reaction to a simple late night talk. “What do you think he’ll do? All he was doing was sitting there reading a book. I don’t understand what your problem is. ”

“He doesn’t have to do anything for me to know he’s no good.” I heard my mother in her words. “Did you ask him about his father? That’s all the information I need.”

“No, I didn’t ask about his father,” I snapped back, getting annoyed by the bizarre third degree. “All I did was share some food and hold a very basic conversation with him. As far as I could tell there’s nothing wrong with him except he’s lonely.”

“It’s only a matter of time.” Nancy nodded her head with conviction. “You’re too good natured for your own good.”

“I think you’re relying too much on gossip for your information.” I jumped off the bed with annoyance. “Just because his father was an jerk doesn’t mean his kid is going to be one. Judging from was I saw last night, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”

“Jenner killed Nicodemus. He was our beloved leader and he took him away from us.” Nancy puffed out her chest in defiance to my criticism.

“Of course you have to hold it out on Jinnai,” I replied with as much defiance. “Look, I just shared some bread with him, okay? Nothing happened.”

Nancy’s demeanor softened as she realized that we were fighting our first morning together. She walked over to me, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” she said softly. “You’re new here. I just don’t want to see you get hurt.” I placed my hand on hers, giving a little smile.

“You don’t need to worry about me,” I replied. “I grew up in New York. It’s my second nature to figure out who’s okay and who isn’t. Thanks for caring though. I really appreciate it.” We embraced, reinforcing our friendship. Nancy pulled away but still held me by the shoulders.

“I don’t know about you but I’m hungry. I don’t have that much time to spend because I have to join up with Arthur soon. Want to grab a quick bite?”

I shook my head. “No thanks. I’m still running on the soup from last night. I figure I spend the day exploring on my own and gathering my thoughts.”

Nancy nodded and we wished each other a good day. As she closed the door behind her, I let out a disgruntled sigh. Already I was beginning to get pushed into personal feuding and politicking. Living with the rats was going to be less idyllic than I had hoped.

The cool spring breeze swayed the sweet green grass, the area alive with the sounds of rats working hard and being grateful for it. I sat on a rock staring out over the rat’s home, the sun feeling warm on my brown fur.

Eddie was entertaining himself jumping around barking and yapping, chasing giggling rat-children who delighted in his rambunctious company. At least he had found something to do.

I needed keep my mind busy, I just couldn’t decide on exactly what. I could work in one of the gardens or in the kitchen but I was afraid boredom would set in quickly.

The rats depended on this work for their survival, being more than happy to do their share. I on the other hand needed more than a menial job that literally only fed me.

I remembered what Jinnai said about rats transcribing books. That seemed intellectually stimulating, forcing me to concentrate on something other than my self-pity. Surely they would need help doing that. Pleased with my choice, I made my way back in.

I was beginning to walk the halls with the confidence of a resident, not worried about getting lost. As I made my way towards the library, sounds echoed up ahead. I was immediately intrigued. These were not the sounds of mundane work, instead resonating with a musical tone. As I neared the source, I realized it was indeed music, guitar music to be exact.

The lounge was on the community’s second tier, the perfect place for relaxation, something I wasn’t looking for at that moment. A solid bank of windows forming one wall flooded the room with natural light, decorative hanging lamps swaying unused. A small wooden platform with a folding screen for a backdrop was set up, surrounded by sofas, easy chairs and game tables.

On the stage a light gray rat playing a guitar sat on a stool, practicing as a brown rat in the front row listened on. He scribbled away on some papers, checking the timing and mistakes of the guitar notes with the playing rat doing the same on his own papers propped before him.

While they worked on the music, other rats were working the room, pushing and pulling chairs to form a semicircle in front of the stage.

I slipped in, taking an unmoved sofa in the back. I had wondered what the rats did for entertainment, pleased to hear the first music since starting my trip into the valley.

I listened to the soft melody, memorizing the chords despite the numerous starts and stops. I didn’t even realize started humming along until the music paused. Startled, I opened my eyes to find both the rat on stage and the one in the front row staring.

The rats moving the sofas continued their work uninterrupted.

“I’m flattered you’re enjoying this considering it still needs a lot of tweaking,” the guitar player said, not sounding insulted.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to distract you from your work,” I replied, embarrassed.

“It’s not work at all. We’re just getting ready for a concert tomorrow night. You are going to be here aren’t you?”

“Sure, I wouldn’t miss it,” I answered, never even knowing they held concerts. “It’s been a while since I’ve been to one so this would certainly be a change of pace.”

The rat in the front row looked over at me again. “You have such a lovely voice,” he said. “Do you sing?”

I chuckled at the question. “Only in the shower when no one else is around.”

The two rats turned to each other, saying things I could not make out. They both nodded, the gesture making the guitar player stand, motioning me forward.

“Please, grace us with a song. Our regular vocalist has come down with a cold and can’t perform. But if you can…”

I blushed even harder but still found myself walking towards the stage. “I’m far from good enough to entertain other people,” I said, fidgeting. “I mean, that was something I did when I was little and that was only to family.”

“Well, then pretend we’re your family.”

The stage had a small set of steps by its side. Each wood plank creaked as I went up, the sound making me even more nervous at what I was about to do. The brown rat placed his guitar down next to him, extending a paw in greeting.

“Hi there, my name is Alex,” he said. Alex then pointed to the sitting rat in the front row. “That’s Norman. He writes most of the music we perform.”

“And I rewrite the rest that Alex does,” Norman teased, laughing at his partner who made a funny face at him. I chuckled politely.

“Anna,” I answered, shaking Alex’s hand. The two rats gave excited smiles.
“Oh, so you’re the new girl here,” Alex replied. “It’s an honor.”

I blushed at the words. “Oh, I’m not that important,” I answered.

Alex picked up his guitar, plucking out a few random notes. “You’re here, that makes you important enough in my book. Now, about that song.” He pulled out a couple more miscellaneous chords trying to entice me to sing.

“I’m not familiar with any of the music you were playing,” I said in a faint attempt to talk myself out of singing.

“That’s okay,” Norman answered. “I’d like to hear you without Alex’s noise getting in the way.”

“Hey, you wrote that noise,” Alex shot back from behind me. Their playful banter made me smile.

I felt jittery as I searched my brain for a song I knew all the words to. I could have made up something and the rats would not have known but it would not have sounded convincing. Whispering a couple of first lines, I chose a song and began to sing.

The ice is thin come on dive in
underneath my lucid skin
the cold is lost, forgotten
Hours pass days pass time stands still
light gets dark and darkness fills
my secret heart forbidden…
I think you worried for me then
the subtle ways that I’d give in but I know
you liked the show
tied down to this bed of shame
you tried to move around the pain but oh
your soul is anchored
The only comfort is the moving of the river
You enter into me, a lie upon your lips
offer what you can, I’ll take all that I can get
only a fool’s here…
I don’t like your tragic sighs
as if your god has passed you by well hey fool
that’s your deception
your angels speak with jilted tongues
the serpent’s tale has come undone you have no
strength to squander
The only comfort is the moving of the river
You enter into me, a lie upon your lips
offer what you can, I’ll take all that I can get
only a fool’s here to stay
only a fool’s here to stay
only a fool’s here…

As my voice trailed, ending the song, I was surprised at how I was able to get through without stuttering or stopping. Every word came forth as if I had always sang them rather than just listening to them over and over on the radio. Even the rats moving furniture had stopped, listening from the back of the room.

Applause greeted the end of my little performance, not out of politeness but out of sincere enjoyment. Alex and Norman immediately pleaded for me to repeat it tomorrow night at their concert. I became apprehensive at the thought of singing in front of a real audience. At the same time I enjoyed the thought as well.

I told Norman I wanted him to back-up my set for that night and that I would try to show him how the music should go. I suddenly became too busy to think about wallowing. I now had a show to put on.



Lyrics © Sarah McLachlan from the album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy”

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