“Why does she keep taking the cheese when she knows it makes her sick?”
Paul doesn’t look up.
“Not only that, but she gets more and more sick each time.”
“Well, obviously Sarah Anne, that’s because the cheese is different every time.”
“Don’t ‘obviously Sarah Anne’ me you fucking prick.”
“I wouldn’t have to if you just read the variable breakdown before opening your mouth.”
The rat stays still, she feels the tension fill a reality she can not comprehend: a shoddy cardboard maze in the sad excuse for a lab-meets-classroom.
“Way to go, asshole, you scared her. Look I get the cheese is different; we keep blowing our nonexistent budget on the artisanal stuff."
Sarah Anne walks over to an open package of brie, and digs her nails into it. Paul shudders.
"What I’m trying to say is,” Sarah pauses, she knows better than to let pathos come out in regards to a matter that was created without ethos.
“Like…come on, this rat is smarter than this. We place the exact same amount of cheese in the exact same place, with the exact same easy to open wrapping..."
“You wouldn't take free treats if they were falling from the sky?”
“I guess,” Sarah begins to entertain a different perspective and stops, “It’s hard to say, because I know why we’re doing this. So I’m biased.”
“Yeah well, don’t let your bias fuck up my thesis.”
“You’re giving cheese to a rat, none of this is novel. What we do know is that these are smart creatures--”
“Sure, but it’s still a rat. What else does it have going on?”
“Haven’t you seen her paintings?”
(Shapes of rat claws and paws in different pinks, yellows, and blues cover a wall in the maze, matching footprints lead out of that section.)
“Or her ability to work with fabrics?”
(A piece of yarn is chewed to shreds next to thick embroidery needle.)
“Or what about her love for writing?”
(A small typewriter, with 56 pages of “My First Draft” piled nicely beside it.)
"She's a smart rat!”
“If that really were the case, why does it continuously fall for the cheese?”
Sarah is quiet.
“She can be intelligent and still a slave to her desires...”
"Well then write that observation down, and maybe I'll consider putting it in the footnotes."
Sarah is annoyed at the lack of dreaming that comes from Paul.
“Maybe I just want to give her cheese that isn’t poisoned. Just once.”
Sarah dangles her oily, saliva-residue fingers in over the maze.
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
“Relax. I’m not going to sabotage your work, I’m just saying I wish I could.”
“Why are you so attached to this thing anyways?”
He reaches down into the maze for the rat. It scurries away.
“It’s just a rat. Why even sign up for this major if you can't handle simple lab work.”
Sarah stops herself from arguing each and every one of those words.
“It's frustrating. I want her to make a new choice. I want her to say no to the cheese, waddle back to her corner of pellets…”
(A large pile of dry food and seeds are untouched and overflowing.)
“…and have a day where she’s not folded over on the maze floor in agony. Look at where she stops and pukes…”
(All the puke spots are inches from the paint, the thread, and the most puke surrounds the pathways to the typewriter.)
“Woah, why are you screaming?”
“Sorry. I just. I can’t watch her go insane like this.”
“We don’t know that she’s going insane.”
(Vicious claw marks are dug into the broken down moving boxes that make up the walls of the maze. The tears are next to every spot of puke.)
“What happens if she never changes?”
“The rat poison will kill her.”
“I’m kidding. We don’t administer enough and it’s basically just watered down ipecac for rodents. So it sucks, but it won’t off her.”
“Right. Right. Look I don’t know why this is bothering me so much today. I’m going to head out early, I’m probably just tired.”
“Long night at Phi Kap?”
Sarah Anne enters the room, approaching their work station. She looks down at the rat, who is cautiously sniffing the lone chunk of gouda.
“She's gotta know…”
The rat steps back, still staring at the cheese.
Sarah looks around the ceiling corners of the room, “Fuck it.”
Sarah picks up the rat, who squirms in panic at first before finding footing and comfort in the cradle of the human's forearm.
Sarah pulls out a stool with her foot and takes a seat, freeing up a hand to pet the rat’s head, gently running her thumb down to the center point of her shoulder blades.
“I want the best for you. I know you can’t understand what I’m saying, but I want you to be okay.”
Sarah stays lost in her own thoughts while the rat dozes off in her arms.
"So the weirdest fucking thing…”
Sarah looks up groggily at Paul.
“Shit, you spend the night on a frat bathroom floor or what?”
“What’s so ‘fucking weird’?”
“Rat didn’t touch the fat piece of cheese I left it last night.”
(The rat is asleep, curled up next to 108 pages of “My Second Draft”.)