The Rat Man

by Babak Lakghomi

The man who’d turned into a rat had the same sickness, Ali says. You have the sickness if you dream of boys and want to press against them. 

This is something Ali has heard from the kids on the street.

My father has left me with Ali’s parents. He is staying with Mother who is hospitalized in the city. It was supposed to be only for days. But it has been weeks. 

Ali and I go to different schools. He is two years older than me. Ali’s brother is younger than both of us. I sleep in their room on a futon on the floor between their beds.

At night, their mother comes to the room, kisses them both, then kneels down and kisses me.

You’re like my son too, she says.

Ali and his brother take off their pajamas when they go to bed.

Each time I call my father he says Mother can’t talk. 

I don’t tell my father anything about being sick or the Rat man. 

Before turning into a rat, the man had thrust an eggplant into his asshole. It was only after his wife left him that he turned into a rat.

Do you want to watch it for yourself? Ali asks me one night. They speak in French, he says. 

His younger brother is sleeping. We check to make sure his parents’ bedroom door is shut.

Ali inserts the VHS tape in and turns on the TV, mutes it. I hear rustling as Ali takes off his underwear. 

Back in the bedroom, I cover my head with the blanket and try to go to sleep. 

I want to forget about the Rat man. 

I want to forget about the sickness. 

I want to sleep in my own bed again and kiss my own mother goodnight.

Babak Lakghomi is the author of Floating Notes (Tyrant Books, 2018). His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, NOON, Ninth Letter, New York Tyrant, and Green Mountains Review, among others.

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