Nibbling thoughtfully on the tart, green skin of the grape, Wonton looked about the small apartment he shared with Grace. It was a modest, one-bedroom apartment with an open floor plan and a decent view of a dirty side street below.
Wonton had been living with Grace for a year now, but it never ceased to amaze him how much filth she could fit into such a small space. Used dishes overflowed from the sink, covering most of the kitchen counters. Clothes, both dirty and clean, covered the couch and the floor. A visible layer of dust coated the rarely-used television tucked into the far corner of the room.
Grace was a scattered, messy person who rarely slowed down long enough to let her feet touch the floor, much less relax. Of course, that was why Wonton was here.
Tucking the last piece of grape into his tiny mouth, Wonton crawled out of the fruit bowl and across the counter. As he moved, he grabbed the banana peel with his paws and pulled it to the edge of the counter, letting it fall into the trash can below.
Grace wouldn’t notice, he thought. For the past year she had attributed every little inconsistency in her environment to her own forgetfulness. Of course she would. Who in their right mind would suspect a rat of doing housework?
Wonton moved across the stove, slipping down onto the oven handle and climbing down the crusty dish towel hanging from it. He slipped down to the kitchen floor, accidentally pulling the dish towel down with him as he did. Oh well. He’d meant to put that in the wash anyway.
Slowly, he made his way into the bathroom, clutching the towel in his teeth. It tasted of mildew and dish soap. He’d tasted worse.
This was his life for now, he thought. Wonton could remember the day he met Grace. Or rather, the day he had called out to Grace.
On a damp autumn day, Grace had been walking back to her apartment, following her usual route home. She’d walked down this street countless times, passed by the same pet store more times than she could remember, but something stopped her. Or rather someone. She’d been rushing home, her hair wet and sticking to her forehead from the constant drizzle of rain, but something unnamed within her pulled her toward the pet shop.
A sign on the front said, “Come in and meet your new best friend.” She left thirty minutes later, carrying a small cardboard box under her jacket.
She’d named him Wonton and he accepted it. It’s not like he could have told her his real name.
The rat paused in the middle of the bathroom floor. His light golden fur began to shift, the air around him swaying like the distant blacktop on a hot summer day.
After a moment, the rat was replaced with a crouching man. He sat on his haunches, his fingertips pressed into the bathroom floor for balance. His naked skin was pale and porcelain. His golden hair pulled back into a tight bun that accentuated his thin face.
The man stood up slowly, rolling his stiff shoulders as he did. Staying in one form for a long period of time was always taxing on his body. He relished the time Grace spent out of the apartment. It was his only reprieve from his constant watch.
Stepping out into the living room, the man grabbed a handful of grapes from the fruit bowl, pushed a pile of clothes from the couch, and sat down, spreading his legs wide and groaning in pain.
This assignment was beneath him anyway, he thought as he popped a grape into his mouth. Calling him Wonton was just adding insult to injury.