Surprise

When I was eight years old, Mama bought me a hamster. I named him Sparky—after the hamster in my first grade class.

Looking back on it, this was the World’s most unoriginal name. Why didn’t I name him literally anything else?

In my defense, the hamster in Sister Jacqueline’s class didn’t really look like a Sparky—he looked more like a Pinky or a Toto, as he was nearly named instead. (We voted on the name. Sparky narrowly won.) I had voted to name him Pinky, after the lovable mouse from “Pinky and the Brain.”

My Sparky was the greatest hamster that ever lived. Much better than the Sparky at Sacred Heart elementary school. (Catholic Sparky.) Sparky loved nothing more than to crawl up and down my arms and legs.

Sometimes I would fall asleep on the couch watching TV, and Sparky would fall into my shirt. I’d wake up and find him in my lap, curled against the fabric of my shorts. Never once did he bite, scratch, or otherwise bother anyone. Every night I would descend the stairs to the basement and fill his bowl with food, and his bottle with water. Sometimes I would watch him exercise on his wheel—he never went very fast. Every night at nine I would look into the glass and wave him good night—before closing the lid and going upstairs. I never expected him to escape.

***

The morning Sparky disappeared was devastating. I ran down the stairs first thing in the morning to say good morning to Sparky. The lid wasn’t on.

Where’s Sparky?

I looked inside the cage; under the wood chips, behind the wheel, inside the plastic tube. No Sparky anywhere to be found. I asked Mama and Juli for help—they looked all over the basement floor. Nothing.

I started to worry. It was cold in the basement. Winters in Massachusetts get below freezing as early as October, and if we did not find Sparky soon—he might freeze to death. The concrete floor of the basement was littered with crumbs and debris from construction. Why would Sparky have escaped?

For a week we looked. Then two weeks. Eventually that turned into a month—still no Sparky. I was crestfallen. My first and only pet was missing, presumably dead. I begged Mama to buy me another hamster. She agreed. Then one afternoon, a full month after losing Sparky in the basement, Mama drove Juli and me to the same pet store to buy another hamster. We left the store with two—one for each of us—each inside a small, white box folded at the top. Each hamster looked like a Chinese to-go order.

Not wanting to replace Sparky outright, I opted for a different kind of hamster. This time, my pet was not a Teddy Bear hamster—it was a Campbell’s hamster, aka a ‘dwarf’ hamster. Juli’s hamster had white fur and red eyes. According to the pet store girl, he was a rare kind of hamster called an “albino.” That was why he had the red eyes.

Mama told us not to open our take-home boxes until we got in the house. Juli was too excited, and opened his box in the car. He reached a hand into the box to pet his new best friend. When he started bawling his eyes out, I knew something was wrong.

The hamster had bitten Juli’s finger. He was bleeding and crying, shouting at Mama that he didn’t want ‘Red-Eyes’ anymore.

***

The two new hamsters lived in Sparky’s abandoned cage. Hamster roommates. They seemed to get along—or at least, they stayed out of each other’s way. For a brief period of time, perhaps a month, our home lived in peace. I was even starting to forget all about ol’ what’s his name.

Then, one fateful afternoon, I went to the basement and got on the desktop. I fired up a computer game—Spy Fox in Dry Cereal—and started clicking away. When the game froze, I knew what to do. I opened the door to the desk to give the computer a good kick—90s tech support—and imagine what I found. Fucking Sparky. Chilling on the computer—alive, looking healthy as ever.

To Be Continued…

Part 2

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