Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guest Post: Elegy for a Hamster

Author bio: Brian Wapole started telling stories to himself when he was five years old and is pleased to be sharing the experience with a wider audience. His first novel, The Feast of the Moon, is now available in paperback and as an e-book. Visit: to read a sample, order a copy and to read original short stories for kids.

Elegy for a Hamster

Emmie’s hamster was not repelling the intractable force of time with the same elan he once possessed in the May morning of his youth. In fact, he was dying. He was having a hard time passing pellets and urinating. His fur grew patchy. The world he watched wax and wane from behind the glass of his aquarium was dimming – his eyesight deteriorating. He was eating less each day.

And Emmie’s mom was not pleased.

"I want you to take Hamlet," Emmie’s mom said to me.

"Take him where?"

Emmie's mom’s eyes began to water and she waved away the question.

"I got it."

As I walked out of the kitchen with his traveling cage (a shoebox), his blanket (a strip from Emmie's old sweatshirt), and his water bottle, Emmie's mom said, "don't tell me, when."

I took Hamlet home. Emmie had approached me the day before and got me to swear that I would not have him put down. I told her that he would die peacefully in his sleep.

What I didn’t tell her was that the sleep would occur while he drifted on a cloud to the continent of Euthanasia the following day. Hamlet’s organs were shutting down – it was the humane thing to do. I would take him to my house that evening since the Vet was closed.  

I set the shoebox, thick with woodchips and plush remnants from Emmie’s shirt, next to me while I wrote. About two paragraphs into the evening I pointed a space heater at the box, buffering it with a pillow. I was concerned that he would be too warm – then not warm enough. I changed out the pillows, searching for the right insulation.  It was January and I knew he liked to be warm. Emmie always kept him snuggled in a little blanket. Then I turned to write.

For about five minutes.

I heard scratching form the box. Maybe he needs water. But he wouldn’t drink – not even when I held the water tube to his mouth.

I stopped trying to write. When I agreed to take Hamlet I thought, “He’ll be with me for a day, then I’ll take him to the Vet’s. I’ll keep him warm in the meantime.” Easy.

But within an hour he dominated my concerns. How to get him to drink? It was one thing if he wasn’t eating – but dying by dehydration…I didn’t want to witness that. I tried to get him to accept the water bottle. No way.

“Fine,” I thought. “What else can do I?”

I picked up my pen and focused on the novel I was writing  Nothing. I was a tundra of creativity. I let my eyes lose focus, staring at the page. I looked at the pen.


I took the pen cap to the sink and rinsed it off. I brought it back to Hamlet’s box and jiggled a drop of water onto the pen cap’s slightly concave arm. It was just wide enough to hold a drop of water on its tip. I balanced the drop on the end of the arm and tipped it into Hamlet’s mouth. He swallowed.

I spent the next few minutes coaxing drops of water into Hamlet, succeeding about one out of every six attempts – maybe eight drops before he tired of the activity. Every two hours we played the pen cap game. Before I went to bed I adjusted his blankets and set the space heater on low.

The following morning I heard scratching. Today, I was to take him to the Vet’s. I looked at the golden lump rise and fall with each breath. I decided to keep him with me. As long as he was drinking and eating a little (he had eaten one nugget of something) I was not going to put him to sleep.

In between seeing students (I am a tutor) and other responsibilities, I monitored Hamlet’s condition. When I tried writing, I could not focus on my novel.  I was thinking of Hamlet. So I started writing about him. Within a few minutes the ramblings morphed into a story. By that night I had a novel framed-out and ready for construction. The Feast of the Moon is that novel. Hamlet died peacefully in his sleep that night.

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