Henri of Twin Brook

Just before the holidays, Raymond Hazelwitz, rodent activist almost always gets agitated, sullen, paranoid, frantic or aggressive. Today, it was all of those conditions. He paced back and forth on the table next to the window in the computer room. His lower jaw thrust out belligerently as he chattered at me. "I won't put up with that monster! Do you hear me? I won't put up with that spoiled, egotistical pup! He is destroying my life! I won't put up with it!"
The monster my friend was referring to, was none other than Dexter, the white rat who had crashed into our lives a few Christmases ago. It seems Dexter was back in town. And Dexter was organizing a new stage production for the community. I patted the rat on his head and tried to smooth his whiskers with my paw but Raymond brushed off my attempts at consoling him. "I know Dexter is a bit of a pain at times but he never vistits for too long and his productions will keep the rat scouts busy for the holidays," I meowed softly.
"You think!?" demanded Raymond, glaring at me. "Not only is he going to keep the scouts busy and occupied for the entire season but my mate Brenda will also be kept busy! She has to make costumes! She has to supervise the painting props and flats! She has to help make curtains for the stage! I never get my dinner on time just because Dexter, that monster rat is in town again! Can't he find another place to spend his winter break?"
Clarence my buddy from Belden Street was listening patiently to RAymond's rants and furious chatters. "Now, now Raymond. It can't be all that bad. So you have to get your own dinner once in a while but you can always come with me and Henri to the Dumpster."
"You don't understand, Clarence!" growled Raymond. "Dexter promised Brenda a part in the play. She's going to be the fairy god mother. As we speak, she is busy designing her gown and wings. She couldn't be happier or more excited!"
Clarence and I had a difficult time sympathizing with poor Raymond. He could get a few meals for himself if Brenda his mate was too busy sewing costumes for the play's cast. So we dismissed the rat's complaints and began meowing about the latest events in the neighborhood.
Merely ignoring a situation does not necessarily mean it will rectify itself or go away. Within a few days, Raymond was scratching at the computer room window, his face downcast, his whiskers quivering with rage. "What happened?" I meowed at the distraught rodent. "I'm going to strangle him! I am! I am going to strangle Dexter! Not only is he going to direct the play, he is going to produce it! Not only is he going to produce the play, he is going to cast the play! And he has chosen himself to perform in the role of Cinderatta!" The rodent was gasping for breath. "I just can't take it anymore!"
Clarence shook his head. "Cinderella, as I recall was a girl. He can't play the part the part of a girl! Boy, everyone will laugh at him!"
"He says way back in Shakespeare's time, female roles were often played by male humans. So he says that it is okay for him to play Cinderatta." Raymond's shoulders sagged. "That's not the worst of it. He has cast me in the part of the wicked step mother rat. I am so humiliated. I will have to wear a dress...." Raymond wailed loudly. "Did you hear me? I am going to have to wear a dress!"
"Well that will be a first, I'm sure. Imagine! Male rats in drag! You two will be the talk of Hamden and probably all of Connecticut!" Clarence patted Raymond on the head. "You might become famous and make all the gossip columns!"
"It's not funny, Clarence!" growled Raymond, baring his sharp white teeth, "I will probably need psychiatric counseling to help me get through this wretched play! And my health insurance doesn't cover rodent counseling either!"
I, too, thought that Raymond was over reacting. After all it is just a play and he will only have to wear a dress once. Within a few day, every animal who comes to see the play "Cinderatta" will forget that the wicked step mother is a male rat dressed up as a girl. Of course, Clarence and I might not let him forget it, if you know what I mean......
It seems, Dexter was very much involved in every facet of the play. He found three young female rats to play the wicked step sisters by promising them long, blond wigs to wear. They were also told they could pick the color of their dresses and shoes. Now the shoes had to be carefully designed because normally, rats don't wear shoes. Raymond has a pair of running sneakers which were carefully designed to fit his feet, but Brenda his mate told Helen, my housemate that the sneakers had cost a bundle!
Anyway, it was all decided by Dexter. Everything had been decided by Dexter. He was the great rodent decider! He selected the style of the gowns, the fabric and color of the gowns. He designed his own costume and glass slippers and even designed the stage curtains! "I am the only rat, knowledgeable in the matters of the theater!" he chattered.
For some days, no one saw a hair or whisker of Raymond. Carlyle, the leader of the Evergreen Lake Colony dropped by with Clarence and Rumsfeld. "Has anyone seen Raymond lately?" inquired Carlyle. "I'm getting worried about him."
We needn't have been concerned, because as Carlyle meowed, Rumsfeld, with his keen feral eyes spotted Raymond running down Bel Air toward my front lawn. Slightly out of breath, his scarf draped carelessly around his neck, he slowed to a walk and came toward us. "Hi guys," he chattered. He looked tired and somewhat frustrated. "It's good to get away once in a while for a little jog around the neighborhood."
"We were just talking about you," meowed Rumsfeld.
"Yeah," purred Carlyle, "we thought you might like to join us at the Dumpster for dinner."
Raymond shook his head. "Sorry guys, I can't. I'm having a fitting for my gown tonight."
"Your gown?" asked Clarence. "Is this for the big show that Dexter is producing, directing and starring in?"
"Yup!" chattered Raymond, sullenly. "He decided to let Yolanda, of all rats, design and make my costume and I hate it! It makes me look fat through the hips and the color is all wrong for my shade of fur! She has absolutely no taste in fashion!"
Carlyle nodded his sympathy. "That's a real bummer!" he growled. "No tom cat or boy rat would want to appear on stage in a outfit that makes him look like he has a big butt!"
"Of course that isn't going to happen to Dexter!" snarled Raymond. "The little rat-snot got Brenda and her sewing circle to make his ball gown! It's made of tissue faile with an overlay of alencon lace! The neckline of the bodice is bound with satin! Brenda's gown is made of layers of pale pink tulle with crystal accents. Even the wicked step sisters have better looking gowns than I have. It's not fair! My dress looks like burlap, leftover from old sacks!"
I meowed softly to the rat. "It's just a play Raymond. And it's all for a good cause, food for the Evergreen Lake Colony. We will all be there to watch your stellar performance as the wicked stepmother."
"I know you guys will be cheering me on and all that," replied Raymond, "but a rat has feelings, you know. I want to look good onstage. I want to be remembered for my performance. Well I have to go now. Tomorrow I have to help the scouts design sand build a carriage for Cinderatta for when he attends the big ball. It's a big undertaking but the scouts will put forth their best efforts."
Well I guess they did. The big effort resulted in a carriage too big for a quartet of rats to pull. A sextet of rats couldn't pull it along and when ten pairs of rats harnessed in tandem couldn't budge the carriage more than an inch, panic decended upon the rodent theater community.
Clarence, Rumfeld and I arrived at the theater thirty minutes before curtain time. Each of us were carrying one or two tins of tuna fish or salmon or some other type of food suitable for cats. We waved our paws at Penelope and Cynthia and Susan and Hillary. It was the night of all nights to see and be seen. I growled greetings at Twinkles who looked splendid with well brushed fur. Obviously, his persons got tired at looking at the clumps of fur hanging from his rear end. It was going to be a splendid evening. We were anxious to see Raymond perform as the wicked step mother and Dexter perform as Cinderatta. Oh yes! It was going to be a splendid evening but unfortunately, Clarence and I never saw the performance. We became part of it!
A frantic rat, strange to us both ran out from the wings and threw himself at our feet. "You have got to help us, Clarence and Henri! Raymond has sent me on behalf of the entire cast. We need two, big, strong, handsome tom cats to pull Cinderatta's carriage. It's so heavy no rats can budge it. Then Brenda, Raymond's mate approached us, resplendent in pale pink tulle. She had two harnesses made from cloth tapes covered in flowers, in her paws. "Put these on!" she chattered loudly, "and don't argue with me!" She bared two, very long, very white and very sharp teeth!
So Clarence and I donned the harnesses, got hitched up to the carriage. We had to wait in the wings until we were ordered to march across the stage.
"Step proudly!" ordered the carriage driver, an obese rat, dressed in a red velvet jacket. "Lift your front paws high as you march across the stage! Be proud horsies!"
Clarence and I tried to be "proud horsies" as we marched across the stage. "Boy, do I feel stupid," growled Clarence. "This is so humiliating! Look, Henri, everyone is looking at us and laughing!" Then Cinderatta raced down the palace steps, losing her plastic slipper before leaping into the carriage. "That's not Alencon lace!" hissed my partner, "that's a Venetian lace overlay on the skirt!"
Frankly, I couldn't have cared less about what type of lace Cinderatta was wearing. The fact that everycat and rat in Hamden was watching as we pulled the carriage across the stage was enough to make me want our efforts to be genuine. We had to pretend to be horses, which is not an easy feat for a cat, believe me! This was not the role I would have picked for myself to portray. I don't know how to prance and I certainly don't know how to talk like a horse either, both of which were required if we were to excel. I turned to look at Clarence. "Shut about about lace and neigh," I growled.
Finally, the play came to an end. The audience applauded widely. We had a standing ovation. Each actor was given a rose bud as he or she took a curtain call. Even Raymond Hazelwitz bowed deeply and blew kisses as he accepted two rose buds by a young rat scout. Clarence nudged me. "The gown does make Raymond's butt look fat, don't you think, Henri?" It did but I would never tell Raymond that. Cinderatta aka Dexter took his roses, pressed them to his heart and then began a long speech about world peace and end to hostilities between rodents and felines.
At the reception, when the audience and cast had assembled together to meow and chatter, I asked one of the rat scouts where they had gotten all the flowers. "There's a funeral parlor not far from here," he replied. "They always have enough flowers so if you borrow a few bouquets, they won't be missed, if you know what I mean...."
For weeks, the neighborhood cats and rodents talked about the play. They raved at Dexter's sensitive performance as Cinderatta. They hissed at Raymond's earnest interpretation of the wicked step mother and purred at Brenda's glowing vision as the fairy god mother. Even the rat scouts in their minor rolls were warmly chattered about. As for Clarence and me, we were often asked if we were going to enter next year's Kentucky Derby. We were not amused! No, we were not amused!
The End

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This story first appeared in the December 2007 issue of Jessie's famous Zine!