Goebbels materialized on the back patio, right before we moved to Baltimore, and started chewing through the wicker love seat. We figured he was an escapee from one of the neighbors houses, probably the Flanagans two doors down. The Flanagans had a lot of pets, and the parents looked the other way while their sons, Pat and Paul, fed them various foods that animals shouldnt eat, like Twinkies and Pop Rocks, and then raced them to see how the food
affected their performance.
Cant blame the little guy for making a break for it, Mom said. She picked up the gerbil and stroked his tiny head. He pooped in her hand.
Here. Mom passed him to me. Hes yours.
Gee. Thanks. Im not exactly a rodent person. But we couldnt send him back to the Flanagan Torture Chamber, so I put the gerbil in a fishbowl until we had a chance to go to the pet store and buy a cage. He tried to scamper out, but the sides of the bowl were too slippery and steep. I fed him some sunflower seeds.
What are you going to name him? Mom asked.
You can name him, I said.
No, hes yours, Mom said, hurt creeping into her voice. You name him.
Okay, I said. Ill call him Goebbels.
We had just studied World War II in school and I was reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich that summer. Joseph Goebbels was a Nazi propaganda guy, very diabolical. I didnt know any German, but I was fascinated by the way the names were pronounced GOEbbels sounded like GERbil. That was the only reason I thought of the name.
You cant call him Goebbels, Mom said. Thats a terrible name.
You said I could name him.
What about Peaches?
Hes not a Peaches, I said, looking at his gnawing little front teeth. Id never saddle any living creature with a name like Peaches.
Oh, and I suppose its better to be named after a Nazi. Moms face pinched up, hurt, as if Id just mashed her finger in the door. The Pinch was a new look for her.
After lunch we drove to the pet shop. Mom waved to Motorbike Mike, the mustached biker dude who ran the costume shop in the same strip mall. Mom and I were frequent costume renters. We liked to dress up and create scenes from old movies, which I then photographed. It was just this thing I did. I didnt enjoy official extracurricular activities, like the Social Committee or the school newspaper, but I had to do something, so I took pictures of myself posing as, say, Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity or Elizabeth Taylor in Butterfield 8. When I looked at the pictures, I could almost believe I lived in that shadowy, glamorous, black-and-white world. Mikes shop had wigs, dresses, makeup, fake guns every thing we needed. But we didnt stop for costumes that day. We were on a gerbil mission. We bought a little gerbil cage with an exercise wheel, a bag of cedar chips, and some gerbil food.
When we got home, Goebbels was lying at the bottom of the fishbowl, dead.
Oh, Mom said with a catch in her throat that meant tears were only seconds away. Oh no. Why? Why-y-y-y?
I poked at Goebbelss stiff little legs with a straw. Maybe the Flanagans poisoned him before he escaped, I said. They probably fed him SweetN Low to see if it would cause cancer and it worked.
Well have to bury him, Mom said. Well have a funeral. She picked him up and cupped him in her hand. Then she started to cry. Were moving next week. Well have to leave him behind. Who will tend his tiny grave?
Excerpted from How To Say Goodbye In Robot by Natalie Standiford. Copyright © 2009 by Natalie Standiford. Excerpted by permission of Scholastic. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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