GeminiMAGAZINE
_____________
   RATS
            by Mel Fawcett


Michael left his flat at six-fifteen this
morning, the same as every morning, except
this morning wasn't the same as every
morning because of what happened last night.
His top lip was discoloured and twice its
normal size and his front teeth still hurt. And
yet it wasn't the physical discomfort that was
troubling him as much as the trauma of
having been mugged. He had thought of
nothing else since it had happened and he
needed to get to work to tell someone about
it. He had to get it out. But although he
wanted and needed to talk about it, he knew
he wouldn't be able to tell anyone what had
really happened. If only he didn't have to
keeping thinking about it.

After working late the previous day, he had
been sitting on the almost-deserted train into
town. Rush hour was long-since over and it
was dark. He noticed the two hooded youths
looking at him from the platform and he
breathed a sigh of relief when they boarded
the next carriage along. Once the train was
moving, however, they came into his
carriage. Michael shut his eyes, hoping they
would ignore him if they saw he was asleep.

He heard them coming along the carriage.
Then he heard them stop. His heart was
thumping but he kept his eyes tightly shut.
One of them sat next to him. The other one
sat opposite and kicked Michael's feet out of
the way. He had no choice but to open his
eyes.

'All right, boys?' he said, trying to appear
cheerful. They looked at him without
speaking. This was what he had always
feared. He hated getting the late train back
from work, but the contractor was under
pressure to get the job finished and Michael
found it difficult to resist the overtime. He
often tried to persuade Graham, the other
painter, a six-foot Glaswegian who would
frighten anyone, to stay and take the train
with him - but Graham never worked late.
Neither Graham nor anyone else was with
Michael now. He was alone except for two
youths and they weren't there to be friendly.

The one sitting uncomfortably close to
Michael, said, 'What's that disgusting stink?'

'That's paint, son. I'm a decorator,' Michael
said.

'Doesn't smell like paint to me. Does it smell
like paint to you, Del?'

'Smells like shit to me,' the youth opposite
said, cleaning his nails with the pointed blade
of a knife.

With a churning in his bowels, Michael turned
to look out of the window. He had to clench
his fists in his lap to stop himself shaking. He
would have liked to have moved to another
seat, but he was too frightened; besides, he
knew that his legs would buckle if he tried to
stand up. He was praying that someone else
would come into the carriage. He wondered if
the youths would let him get out at the next
stop. It couldn't be more than a few minutes
before they got there. It wasn't his stop, but
he didn't care - he just wanted to get off.

'Hey, look,' the youth next to him said,
raising his arm to point out of the opposite
window. Michael automatically turned his
head and as he did so felt the full force of the
youth's elbow in his face. Reeling from the
shock and pain, he put his hands to his mouth
and tasted blood. His eyes had shut in reflex
to the pain - and he kept them shut. It was
the only way he could deal with what was
happening. He was aware of hands searching
his clothes. They were like rats running over
his body, scurrying under his clothing, diving
into his pockets. His whole body was
shuddering in fear and disgust. It was all he
could do not to whimper.

The violation ceased as quickly as it had
begun. The train had stopped. He heard the
youths running away, laughing. Michael
waited a long time before opening his eyes.
The train was moving again. Two women
were sitting with their backs to him further up
the carriage. There was no sign of the two
youths. Michael checked his pockets. They
had taken his wallet and his mobile phone. He
fought back the tears as he relived the horror
of the hands running over his body.

He was still shaking when he got off the train.
He barely made it back to his place. His lip
was split and bleeding and one of his front
teeth felt loose. He didn’t want to be alone.
He needed a drink. He picked up some money
and went to a local bar. He bought some
cigarettes at a machine and ordered a large
whisky - even though he hadn't smoked for
nearly five years and rarely drank spirits. He
stood outside and smoked two cigarettes in
quick succession. Then, while ordering a
second whisky, he tried telling the young
barman about what had happened, but the
barman merely shook his head and shrugged
as though it was of no consequence.

Having smoked nearly all the cigarettes and
drunk far more than he was used to drinking,
Michael slept badly and awoke with a
hangover as well as feeling sore and
traumatized from the mugging. He would
have liked to have stayed in bed, but he was
needed at work - and he needed to tell the
lads about being mugged.

He got to the station the same time as
always. He was relieved that there were
other people on the train. Even though it was
daylight, he wouldn't have wanted to be in a
carriage on his own.

During the journey he thought about how and
what he was going to say to the lads. He
didn't know whether to start straight in telling
them about it as soon they got there, or wait
until the mid-morning break when everyone,
including Tony, the boss, would be in the tea
room. He didn't think he could wait that long.

As usual, he was the first to arrive. He
changed into his overalls and filled the kettle.
Then he just sat there, with his heart beating
too fast, waiting.

The others began to trickle in a little before
eight. Dave, the electrician, and his mate
were the first. The plumber arrived at the
same time as Graham; they were talking
football. When Ray, the labourer, came in, he
told everyone about a television programme
he'd seen. Michael didn't join in any of the
conversations. He was drinking his second cup
of tea when Graham gave him the opening he
had been hoping for.

'What's up, Michael? You all right?'

'Not really, Graham. I had a nasty experience
going home last night.'

'What was that, Michael, some old tart get
fruity with you?' Dave, the electrician, said.

Michael stared at him and waited for the
others to stop laughing.

'If you must know, I was mugged.'

'Seriously?' Graham said.

At last, everyone was looking at him, waiting
to hear about it.

'It's not the sort of thing I joke about,
Graham. A couple of kids jumped me on the
train.'

'Go on, what happened?' the electrician's
mate asked.

Michael told them how the two youths had
attacked him while he'd had his eyes closed.

'I thought you looked a bit different,' Graham
said. 'Your mouth's swollen, innit?'

'Yeah, one of them got me in the face.'

'Your lip's really big. I can see it now.'

'Did they get anything, Michael?' Ray asked.

'Yeah, one of them got my wallet and my
phone while I was tussling with the other one.
The one I was tussling with had a knife.'

'The little bastards,' Dave said. 'You were
lucky not to get cut.'

Michael shrugged.

'I would have given them a bloody good
kicking if I'd been there,' Graham said.

'I dunno, Graham,' Ray said 'You have to be
careful with kids today; you never know what
they might pull. You don't know what they're
on, do you?'

'That's true,' someone said.

They began discussing mugging in a more
general way. They weren't talking about what
happened to Michael any more. They seemed
to have forgotten that it had happened to
him. Then someone mentioned work and they
began drifting out of the room. Michael was
the last to leave. He felt dissatisfied, even
cheated. He went upstairs to the room he was
painting and closed the door.

Later, Michael heard some laughter in the
hallway and Tony, the contractor, burst into
the room with the electrician and his mate.

'Michael, what's all this about you being
mugged?'

'What can I say?' Michael said, glaring at the
electricians. 'It's no laughing matter, being
attacked by two kids with a knife.'

Dave looked at his mate and pulled a face.

'You don't need to tell me,' Tony said. 'The
same thing happened to me a while ago,
except with me both of them had knives. I
thought my number was up, I can tell you. I'd
been having a drink in the Old Eagle in
Camden Town. I suppose I'd had a few, but I
wasn't pissed or anything...'

Michael frowned. He couldn't understand what
that had to do with him getting mugged on
the train. But that was typical of Tony; all he
cared about was himself. And he was always
telling far-fetched stories. But why did he
have to do it now?

While Tony was talking, Graham sidled into
the room. Graham always made a point of
listening to Tony's stories.

'I'm telling you straight, I was walking home,
minding my own business, when they came at
me from either side and started throwing
punches at me. One from the left and one
from the right, then another from the left and
another from the right. They were using me
like a goddam punch-bag!'

'What did you do?' Graham asked.

'I got one of them with a right-hander, didn't
I? But that's when they brought out the
knives. I thought I was done for. And I would
have been, if I hadn't remembered a trick an
army mate had taught me. You know what I
did?'

Michael was shaking his head.

'Go on,' Graham said. 'What was that?'

'I dropped down on one knee and grabbed
both of them by the goolies - one with my left
hand and the other with my right. They were
squealing like stuck pigs. There was no way
they were going to use their knives when I
had them like...'

'Shut up!' Michael shouted, throwing his
paintbrush to the floor. 'For God's sake, shut
up.'

Tony's mouth dropped open. The others
stared at Michael in disbelief.

'You're so full of shit. You've no idea what it's
like to be mugged. Everyone knows you're
talking shit - and I know it more than anyone
because I've been there, I've been mugged,
I've been humiliated by those bastards. That's
what it is, humiliating.'

Tony and the others were too stunned to
speak. Michael wanted to shout some more,
but he couldn't think what to say. So he
pushed his way out of the room and slammed
the door behind him. He stood outside on the
landing for a moment, trying to stop himself
shaking. That's when he heard the burst of
laughter. He couldn't believe it. They were
laughing at him. Even Graham, whom he
considered a friend, was laughing.

Michael bit his lip in an attempt to keep back
the tears. He went downstairs to the tea-
room, picked up his coat and bag and made
for the front door. As he went down the path,
he heard someone calling his name from an
upstairs window - it was Graham - but he
didn't look back.

It was a long walk to the station. Michael
began to have doubts about whether he had
done the right thing in leaving like that. He
wished he had responded when Graham had
called him. It was too late now.

He waited five minutes on the deserted
platform before he heard the train coming.
His whole body went rigid at the sound; all
the horror of the previous night returned. He
dreaded the thought of finding himself in a
carriage on his own. But what else could he
do? He couldn't go back. In his fear and
loneliness, he felt like throwing himself in
front of the approaching train. On thinking
about it, he moved to the edge of the
platform. As he looked down at the track, he
saw two enormous rats running between the
rails, away from the train. His body convulsed
in a spasm of horror.


Mel Fawcett lives in London. His stories have been
published in many magazines, ezines and anthologies,
including 34th Parallel, Skive, Stand, Gold Dust,
Smokebox, and The Delinquent.