CW: Postpartum Depression, violence
Like many new mothers, Muriel the hamster was stressed out. It had been a week since she’d given birth to a litter of two dozen brand new, pink pups, and she was literally wrung out. All those damn babies wanted to do was nurse. Half of them would suckle for a bit, then the other half would want their chance. By the time they had their fill, the first half was hungry again. She wasn’t sure she could produce a single drop of milk more.
It wasn’t just exhaustion. Muriel was showing signs of physical wear and tear too. Her golden fur, which in her younger days had been the talk of the pet shop, was falling out in tufts. Her appetite had dwindled to practically nothing. By the time the pups were done draining her, she didn’t have enough energy to nibble a grape. Even the delightful pinch of sunflower seeds the boy would sporadically deposit into the cage did little to pique her interest.
The average litter of a hamster her age was seven. Muriel supposed she should feel blessed. Some female hamsters spend their entire lives trying to conceive. Some would kill for the opportunity. And here she was complaining about it.
Her best friend Judith, who was a chubby dwarf hamster and lived in the girl’s room across the hall, boasted an easy transition into motherhood. It gets better, Judith promised when Muriel confided in her. Trust me. You’ll miss these days. But Judith had only had three pups, and the girl had removed the no-good father during pregnancy to avoid any domestic disputes. So, who was she to give advice? Twenty-four! Muriel thought and reminded herself that her best friend was full of shit.
What Muriel didn’t tell Judith was how once the boy had snuck a piece of cherry pie into his room after dinner. He had let Muriel perch on his shoulder as he poked a finger into the pie’s warm, gooey center and held the filling up to her nose. She sniffed, curious. Then she stuck her tongue out experimentally, as if the boy’s pinky were a new salt lick rock. It was sweet and delicious. Muriel had wanted more, but unlike the girl across the hall who shared everything with fat Judith, the boy was greedy and finished the pie in three quick bites. What Muriel also didn’t tell Judith was how recently the vibrant pink of the pups’ flesh started resembling cherry pie filling.
Night was falling and her husband John was beginning to stir beneath the woodchips. He stretched and yawned wide, revealing large incisors and a long, orange tongue.
Muriel told herself she wasn’t going to fight today, but John looked so sleepy-eyed and relaxed that it irked her beyond belief. “Look who decided to wake up.”
The drowsy hamster blinked and yawned again, rubbing at his eyes. “Don’t start.”
“I really could’ve used some help today. I. Am. Exhausted.”
John ambled over to the water bottle hanging on the side of the cage and drank from its metal dispenser. “What do you want me to do?” he asked between licks. “You want me to go lay on them?”
“They’re not eggs, John.”
“Jesus Christ. I know they’re not eggs. Eggs don’t keep you up all morning squealing.” John did a brief body stretch. “Okay. Let me go play with them or something. Where is the squirmy little horde?”
Muriel didn’t answer him. “Did you carry 24 wiggling peanuts in your uterus for two and a half weeks, John? Did you push 24 CASHEWS out of your vagina?!”
John held up two defensive pink paws. “Just calm down, honey. Calm down.”
“I AM CALM,” Muriel screamed, advancing on him. “I AM CALM!”
Backing up, John didn’t see the half-nibbled toilet paper roll, and he stumbled backwards over it. “You know, Muriel, most males attack their wives when they’re pregnant. I’ve been a good husband. Haven’t I?”
Muriel chomped down on the cardboard roll, flicked her head back, and tossed the roll over her shoulder. It crashed silently into the soft bed of cedar. “No,” she answered.
Not liking the look in her eyes, John squeezed himself into the corner of the cage. He turned around, stuck his nose in an open space, and made himself as small as possible, trying to get away. When that didn’t work, he gnawed at the bars. But there was no use.
John emitted a staticky scream, as Muriel made short work of his soft, furry body.
As she finished cleaning the remainder of her husband off her paws and whiskers, Muriel heard a squeak from the other side of the cage. She scurried over, and there, burrowed into a pile of cedar shavings, was a single fuzzy body.
She had decided to keep one. A little boy. Unlike his brothers and sisters, his fur had started to grow in, and when Muriel looked at him, she appreciated how his coat was a mixture of gold, like his mother, and sand, like his father.
Muriel was confident she could handle just one.
Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine. She was named a 2020 Best of the Net finalist. Her debut full-length, Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus, is out now with Cephalopress. Find her on Twitter @LannieStabile.