I didn’t mean to kill him. Honest. But he was a biter, nothing like his predecessor, Oscar Meyer, who was one gem of a hamster. Oscar spent most of his life outside his cage, squirming up my sleeve to rest against soft my neck and tackling the miniature obstacle courses I built out of Legos, Tinker Toys, and cheese. One time he got away, and my mom and I spent the better part of a week trying to catch him as he darted in and out from beneath furniture. “There he is!” one of us would screech, and we’d scramble toward him, only to watch him disappear under the nearest appliance. I wondered how a ravenous and dehydrated rodent could muster the energy to play Hide and Seek day after day.

When we finally caught him, I put him in an extended time out. I think he got depressed in his cage because it wasn’t long before he made his transition to hamster heaven. We wrapped him in toilet paper, put him in a chicken pot pie tin, and covered it with aluminum foil. I made my mom poke holes in it because I couldn’t bear the idea of him suffocating, even though he was dead. We dug a grave under the weeping willow and held a solemn ceremony, complete with all five stanzas of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”

It was most unfortunate for Oscar II that he followed so closely on the paws of the first because all I could do was compare them, which I knew wasn’t fair. Nevertheless, I was passive-aggressive, reluctantly offering a friendly gesture one day and “forgetting” to feed him the next. When I found him stiff in his cage one morning, I was stricken to realize that I was the cause, but I told my mom that he must have been defective.

Fifty years have passed and I still suffer the shame of being a hamster killer. Sure, he was just a rodent and I was only ten, but the fact that I’ve never told anyone tells you a lot about me.

5 Comments

  1. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “I made my mom poke holes in it because I couldn’t bear the idea of him suffocating, even though he was dead.” Great descriptions throughout this one. I love the idea of animal funerals, hamster eulogies. Do all dogs go to heaven? Wrapped in toilet paper in a chicken pot pie tin is so vivid. I don’t think you need to include the final paragraph. It seems a bit too ‘in conclusion’, and ending prior with “but I told my mom that he must have been defective” is a nice way to close, holding the blame but not releasing the secret.

  2. Bud Smith

    Oh nice. I had a couple hamsters too when I was a kid and they died terrible deaths, usually having to do with the hamster wheel. It was so gruesome and really made me realize how fragile life and it didn’t take too long before I started to think that having gold fish and hamsters was just training for when grandma and grandpa would die later. I understand why the narrator would forget to feed the hamster but I wanted to know more of the details as to how this new hamster showed up, was it foisted upon the little girl by her mother and father so she could continue to have a pet but she didn’t want one? Something like that would go a long way to understand why she is being passive aggressive.Or I guess just the fact that he isn’t as good as the original Oscar and bites is reason enough to be passive aggressive and even — cruel. We never get the good thing again. It’s never as good as the first time. So we lash out. Against it and then for fifty years, we lash out at ourselves. I also had a little nudge to the organization of the story, and maybe it solves a bit of the riddle I was considering:

    Sin of Omission

    Oscar Meyer, was one gem of a hamster. Oscar spent most of his life outside his cage, squirming up my sleeve to rest against soft my neck and tackling the miniature obstacle courses I built out of Legos, Tinker Toys, and cheese. One time he got away, and my mom and I spent the better part of a week trying to catch him as he darted in and out from beneath furniture. “There he is!” one of us would screech, and we’d scramble toward him, only to watch him disappear under the nearest appliance. I wondered how a ravenous and dehydrated rodent could muster the energy to play Hide and Seek day after day.
    When we finally caught him, I put him in an extended time out. I think he got depressed in his cage because it wasn’t long before he made his transition to hamster heaven. We wrapped him in toilet paper, put him in a chicken pot pie tin, and covered it with aluminum foil. I made my mom poke holes in it because I couldn’t bear the idea of him suffocating, even though he was dead. We dug a grave under the weeping willow and held a solemn ceremony, complete with all five stanzas of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
    It was most unfortunate for Oscar II that he followed so closely on the paws of the first because all I could do was compare them, which I knew wasn’t fair. I didn’t mean to kill him. Honest. But he was a biter, nothing like his predecessor. Nevertheless, I was passive-aggressive, reluctantly offering a friendly gesture one day and “forgetting” to feed him the next. When I found him stiff in his cage one morning, I was stricken to realize that I was the cause, but I told my mom that he must have been defective.
    Fifty years have passed and I still suffer the shame of being a hamster killer. Sure, he was just a rodent and I was only ten, but the fact that I’ve never told anyone tells you a lot about me.

  3. Kara Vernor

    So many great details in this, Traci, like burying Oscar in a “chicken pot pie tin.” I liked this as is, and especially the ending, but the ending made me see even more potential in the story. I think it could be fun to imply more darkness on the part of the narrator, that perhaps Oscar 2 was just the first of many murders to come. But of course, that’s just an idea. Thanks for this piece.

  4. Silas Reeves

    “I didn’t mean to kill him. Honest.” is such an engaging opening, like something from a film noir interrogation. As if the guilty party is trapped and knows they are guilty but just can’t bring themselves to admit that maybe, yeah they did refuse to feed Oscar 2 on purpose. I also like what Bud suggested with moving that towards the later paragraphs. Loved being inside the narrator’s head, seems like they have an internal struggle between wanting to be gentle and compassionate ( the holes being poked and the singing ) and their easily hurt vulnerable side that when provoked drives them to their passive-aggressive actions. Also, a great job of capturing that time of childhood where kids explore life and death, with unintended consequences. I’m interested in who the narrator might be confessing to. Perhaps they are writing a diary or on their death bed, or during a mock trial organized on behalf of concerned hamsters. Or simply a story shared with a trusted confidant. Maybe a therapist specializing in the treatment of hamster killers? And I wonder how carrying the weight of this experience has changed the narrator’s life?

  5. Bill Merklee

    So many great details — the obstacle course, the pie tin and the air holes, the graveside hymn. It says a lot about the narrator that they still carry the guilt (as opposed to when we hear how adult sociopaths used to torture small animals and insects without a second thought). I go back and forth on the opening sentence. On the one hand it pulls you right in. But I also like the idea of starting with “Oscar spent most of his life outside his cage…” and, like Bud suggests, bring Oscar II into the picture later. And possibly ending with “…I was stricken to realize that I was the cause. I still am fifty years later. But I told my mom that he must have been defective.” Well done.

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