The time I spent sexually stimulating female rats may not have been the best job I ever had, but it wasn’t the worst either. It was in the warm, it wasn’t difficult and no one ever shouted at you, which made it better than 90 per cent of all jobs. It wasn’t even that boring, not at first anyway. And I learned some things about myself, about what kind of person I was.
What I had to do was, I had to gently – so gently – stroke the clitoris of each female with a tiny, specially designed brush. Which makes you think. Makes you think this: that once upon a time there was someone who was given the brief to design a product for this purpose, then someone else had to calibrate a machine to make it, then someone else had to package and distribute it.Then someone else had to market it.
I wondered if the production of these brushes was a monopoly or whether there was competition. Maybe there were conventions and conferences where rat clitoris brush manufacturers unveiled new refinements and where tips for best practice in customer service were shared.
You can probably tell that it was a job where you were left alone most of the day and so a job where you could let your mind wander a good bit, and I’m interested in the mechanics of business, always have been.
The point of the job was to try and prove that female rats were more sexually active than the males. To an observer it might look like they were just lying passive, holding themselves still with their hindquarters all raised ready, making things easy for the male to penetrate, but the theory was that this was actually the culmination of a process of aggressive courtship by the females. Also – and this is where the clitoris brushing came in – that these girls were appreciative of stimulation. In other words the programme was to test whether they demonstrated will and desire. And I have to say from my observations it would appear that they did.
I’m no scientist. You didn’t need to be, you just needed to be able to be a calm presence around rats. That was the entire skill-set necessary. The day I started, my boss, Dr Krell, told me that it was only the fact that I wore my Ramones T-shirt to the interview that persuaded him to hire me, said it showed I had attitude. He also said that they were one of his favourite bands when he was a kid. They kicked butt, he said.
‘They were a band?’ I said. ‘I didn’t even know.’
Dr Krell laughed like I was joking. He shook his head and stroked his little beard.
It was true though. I didn’t know The Ramones were a band. Those T-shirts were just what people were wearing that year.
Tell you what I didn’t like about that job. I didn’t like the way he used to call me Dee Dee, which he did because that was what one of The Ramones was called. I didn’t like that because of what we called the rats. All the female rats were called Debbie and all the male rats were called Dave. D and D. Dr Krell maybe never made the connection though. That’s the thing about academics, they can be quite dim. And Dr Krell had awards and prizes and qualifications coming out of his arse, but he might have been dimmer than most.
Anyway, I may not be a scientist but I would say the tests were pretty conclusive. Those girls went crazy for the clit-brushing. If you tried to stop they would dig their claws in to your arm or try to bite your wrist. Thank God for that special thick medical latex. But it wasn’t the biting or the scratching that really demonstrated will and desire. It was what they did before mating.
You spend a lot of time around the Debbies, then you quickly see they’re the ones leading the Daves on. It’s in the body language when they’re with the males they fancy. They have a weirdly coy way of head-pointing at a chosen Dave, they dance near him then away, they hop and they quiver. In fact they have a whole choreography of solicitations, of ways of inciting Daves to put their paws on their flanks. They pick out a particular mate and make it absolutely clear to him that they’re up for it and they don’t stop hassling till they get it.
And they make sure they get something out of the actual sex too. If you give her the chance Debbie always controls things. She might lie there all still and everything but she knows how to prolong things – she shrugs Dave off when he’s coming close to climax and she runs away and hides for a bit, and then lets him know when she’s ready for action again. She allows him in, throws him off, allows him in again. Generally keeps things going as long as she can.
I saw this with my own eyes. We had this special space for the rats to do it in – we called it the boudoir, or Dr Krell did anyway – though it was just a big plexiglass box with a clear lid with a hole in the top which had a slidey cover which you could close after you put Debbie in.
No, I don’t know why he chose these names, but it made things easier because obviously the rats didn’t last long before they had to go off and have their brains sliced open with the special knife. This was so Dr Krell could see what they were thinking or feeling during mating. He said that if you sliced away the exact right collection of neurons and looked at them under the exact right microscope then you could more or less see what the rats were feeling about anything that was happening in the moments just before their death. To make the test work properly you had to see the same patterns in a lot of rats who had been doing the same thing just before they were whacked. What I’m saying is, you didn’t want to have to think of a new name for each rat because pretty soon you’d have gone through the whole alphabet from Andy to Zoe, and it would be obvious how many rats we were getting through. How many Daves. How many Debbies. And that might have been depressing.
I wondered who made these special rat-brain slicers. Was it the same company that made the clit brushes, or was it a different outfit?
Whacked. That was totally a Dr Krell word. Murdered, that would be another word, but not one Dr Krell would ever use. He did say ‘martyred’ once.
‘These guys and gals are little saints, Dee Dee. Martyred in the cause of science.’
Sometimes we divided the boudoir in two with a plastic wall with a little door and I’d stimulate the latest Debbie with my little brush and put her and the latest Dave together and she’d raise her butt and then be lying there perfectly still and ready and Dave would get aboard and start going for it. He’d be pumping away and she’d be almost rigid, stunned-looking, but then she’d suddenly do this twitch thing, almost like a judo move. It would sort of catch Dave by surprise and he’d be there blinking, panting, wondering what just happened and Debbie would escape through the door in the wall and Dave would have to follow if he wanted the action to continue. It would take Dave a few seconds to recover from the throw, and a few more to find the door in the wall, and then when he did he’d find Debbie on the other side waiting for him. This might happen several times in a session.
Dr Krell said this prolonging of things was all to drive the Daves frantic with desire, so that they thrust in deeper each time they caught up with Debbie and that this helped the sperm find the target quicker in the end. I didn’t see it that way. It looked to me like all the Debbies were controlling things to make sure that they were properly satisfied. I had a conversation about it with Dr Krell.
‘What do you think, Dee Dee?’
‘I think it’s all very thought-provoking.’
‘And what thoughts does it provoke?’
‘Wouldn’t you like to know?’ I said.
And Dr Krell looked at me in this way that he had. Like he would like to slice into my brain with a specially designed knife.
A bit after that, I started to imagine what it would be like to sleep with Dr Krell. To have a proper thing with him maybe. To get married, to become Mrs Krell.To have some little Krells. Rugrats of our own – though not called Debbie or Dave obviously. That would be wrong.
Maybe we could have our first dance to a Ramones song. Remember, I’d never heard anything by them at this point. I have now, and I bet people have gone down the aisle to ‘Baby, I Love You’ or first-danced to ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Go’. There would be a certain kind of person who would do that.
As I say, it was a job that allowed a lot of time for daydreams.
Dr Krell had his dreams too. Just after I started fantasising about our life together, he took me for pizza. It wasn’t a date, but it wasn’t quite not a date either. It was then that he told me that rats were unsatisfying as subjects. It was rhesus monkeys he really wanted to get his hands on.
‘I’ve seen them in zoos, Dee Dee, and I think they’re no different from our Debbies. I think when it comes to courtship and pleasure they’re in charge, not the males.’
He took a bite of pizza and a long stalactite of cheese hung from his lip as he chewed. There was tomato puree on his lips.
‘And you know, Dee Dee, rhesus monkeys aren’t so different from us. Hell, rats aren’t so different from us. I reckon maybe strip civilisation back just a little bit and we’d all be like them.’
‘Duh,’ I said, ‘Dr Krell, doesn’t matter what species, the girls are always in charge.’
‘You think that might be really true, Dee Dee?’
Academics. Dim. Some of them don’t know anything about anything until they’ve sliced into it and stared at it for hours under a special microscope. He could learn this stuff from reading just one issue of Red or Cosmopolitan, he didn’t need to make little saints of our Debbies and our Daves.
During our dinner he told me of his hopes for the research. He wanted a big job in America, he wanted to work on the team making a pill that would deal with the lack of female desire in long-term relationships.
‘Women are dissatisfied with their partners, Dee Dee. But they don’t want to break up marriages that they have invested a lot in. They don’t want to lose the lives they’ve carefully curated. Houses and whatnot.’
Maybe they just don’t want to hurt people, I thought. Not their husbands, or their children. When they leave it’s because they have to.
But what I said was: ‘If you can find a pill that makes them desire their husbands you’ll be quids in.’
‘Exactly so, Dee Dee. Quids in. That’s where our research is leading. To finding the triggers for female arousal, and we know that’s in the brain.’ He blinked here. ‘Not between their legs.’
Well, of course it’s in the brain, I thought. Who would think it wasn’t?
‘Dr Krell? Can I say something?’
‘Yes?’ He looked intrigued, and I almost told him that I had a secret crush on him just to see the look on his face. In fact he sort of looked like that was what he expected me to say. Though I don’t know why. Dr Krell was not a handsome man.
‘Please don’t call me Dee Dee,’ I said. A shadow crossed his face. He was annoyed. I’d sliced into a mood somehow. It was clear to me there would be no little Krells.
I tried to make things right by paying for the pizza. Even though I was only on £7 an hour in that job, I wanted to. People with money like it when poorer people pay for them. It makes them feel loved. Makes them feel you must really like them. Yeah, people with money are impressed by money. Easily bought. And people with money are scared that they’re not actually very nice, that they’ve got where they are by hurting people.
The pizza and the drinks and the garlic bread he had on the side came to £19.85. Nearly three hours work to pay for it. He did leave the tip though. Two pounds exactly.
I wore my Ramones T-shirt to work the next day. I guess I was trying to show there were no hard feelings. Maybe I was even letting him know he could carry on calling me Dee Dee if he liked. Maybe I was doing that. But he didn’t ask me out for pizza again. He didn’t speak to me again, not really, not until my last day.
On my last day I found a package in my pigeon hole in the canteen
A Ramones CD. And a Virgin air ticket to America.
‘No obligation,’ he said. ‘No strings attached.’
He had been in the kitchen bit next to the pigeon holes pretending to make tea but really he had been watching me open the package.
‘I got the dream job,’ he said.
‘Well done you,’ I said.
I looked at the ticket again. There was something funny about it. Took me a few seconds to work out what it was.
‘First class?’ I said.
He gave me that funny look again, his I want to brain slice you look.
‘Still no obligation,’ he said.
I had the sense that this was a big moment in my life. I wanted to think about it.
‘Do you want tea?’ he said
I did. It was a rule I had then. Never refuse a cup of tea. I closed my eyes. I thought of a naked Dr Krell behind me. Dr Krell inside me. His little beard scratching against my neck and shoulder. Because there would be strings. Of course there would. There always are. I thought of all the little saints that had passed through the plexiglass boudoir. I thought of the little collection of neurons pooled in a tiny sliver of a Debbie’s brain and preserved in catalogued slides in the lab.
He handed me a mug of tea.
And I made my decision.