“Rat:” Some Insight into “Dr. Bindelof”
Gil Roller, who was so creative in so many ways, did a lot of writing. He had only one book published, A Voice From Beyond, put out by Popular Library in 1975 and dedicated to his mother, Olga. When he died he left behind the manuscripts of at least one novel, one play (about D.D. Home and Katie King) and many short stories. In looking through his papers after the death of his widow, Marion, I came across one short piece he penned for a creative writing course entitled “Rat” that struck me as being the quintessential Gil Roller and that I believe supports my contention that “Dr. Bindelof” was an alter ego of Gil’s.
Childhood memories are to me somewhat like those single lights at night. Most have gone. I daresay that if I were compelled to give an account of all the hours of my childhood, it would be as though I never had one — so few events remain as imprints on my memory. I am quite suspicious of people who profess a madly happy childhood, fields of clover, white Christmases, Sunday school, boundless love and a magical puberty full of glorious awakenings.
Be that as it may, of almost all the lonely faint lights of my childhood that have faded to extinction, some do remain—and why they do, is difficult for me to understand. They are not monumental, they are, in fact, quite trivial, and should have faded with the rest of my childhood. But for some reason, they remain. I remember one in particular.
I was twelve perhaps. It was a warm afternoon, and I climbed by myself among the rocks bordering the shores of the Hudson River. In the eddies near the rocks floated the sewerage of the city—contraceptives, excrement, rotted food, bottles, cans, and all the other things that are the residue of an orderly society. I stopped abruptly. On the rock ahead of me was a large rat. He looked at me but did not run. I looked at him. He was wet. His fur was matted and came together in hundreds of tangled points. He was very large.
He still looked at me, and made no move other than to open and close his mouth. I knew, I could tell, he was dying. He was very old, I could tell that too. I held the stick near his mouth, but he ignored it. I moved closer. I could reach him now, if I chose. I was on his rock. “Hello rat, are you sick?” I was not afraid. For some reason, I was compelled to reach toward him—hesitantly, uncertainly—I extended my finger and touched his head. He kept looking at me. I reached again and cautiously stroked his head, smoothing the matted hair. “Hello rat, you’re sick, aren’t you?” I stroked him again. We continued to watch each other. Perhaps I could put him in a box. He might get better. I could keep him under my bed in the box, or that old lady I knew who liked cats—maybe she could keep him for me till he got better. These were my fleeting thoughts, heroic and senseless, as I suppose, most heroic things are.
And then it happened. He moved. He rose trembling, and came slowly toward me. I was not afraid. I touched his head again and waited. He came directly to me, looking up at me all the time. I did not change my squatting position. He came slowly—slowly, and stopped when he was between my feet. But he was still looking at me. Suddenly I felt enmeshed. I stroked his head. “Rat, you’re sick, you’re very sick.” As soon as I ceased stroking his head, he would look up. His eyes were cloudy. When his mouth opened, I could see something that looked like spit or foam. Again he moved—toward my foot. He pulled himself partly on my shoe so that his head and front paws rested on it. He looked up, and again I stroked his head.
The rat suddenly became my own rat. He was alone, the same as I. How could I leave him there, how could I move my foot? Could I pick him up, could I carry him? Where could I take him? My family hated rats. If I left him he would feel betrayed. All these agonies raced through my head as I stroked him. And then I resolved to take him. Somewhere, somehow, someway, I could make him well. I reached down with both my hands. “Don’t worry rat, I’ll make you well.”
I picked him up carefully, gently, and as I did--as I lifted him from my shoe, his head fell limp over my fingers. “Rat, rat,” I said. I held him in one hand and stroked him with the other. “Rat, rat, answer me, rat.” I stared at him. His tail hung limp at one end and his head at the other. He was dead. I remember saying just “Rat.” But what I meant was, if I had only known, if you had only told me, if you had found me sooner, I could have saved you. We could have been friends.
I slipped him into a deep recess of the rock and stared pointlessly. Dinner would be ready soon. I had to go. I took one long look, and remember so well saying, “Rat,--rat.”