The Existential Guinea Pig
What is the meaning of life? To run endlessly on a wheel that leads to nowhere, and piss where I sleep and shit where I eat? Are we all just guinea pigs living in a cage of our own making? (Short Story For Creative Writing Course, GWU, 2018)
Oh this is exciting. This is really exciting. I can barely contain my excitement. I pee a little on the the crumpled pieces of newspaper covering the floor of my carrier. I must be really excited, because I can feel my body jump high into the air. Not too high, this carrier is small, but high enough that my four stout legs lift from the ground. From the passenger seat of the car, I look at her again.
Her eyes are large and blue, but not in a menacing way. They are are comforting, and glisten in the sunlight that continues to shine through the windshield. When she smiles, the wrinkles around her eyes grow closer together and it makes her face look kind.
My new owner, taking me to my new home. I thought about this moment for as long as a I can remember. Each day I watched a friend get taken from me, the glass showcase that was all I had known since birth emptied a little bit each time. I thought of this moment. I am going home. My home.
I think we’re here because she took pulled the key out of its slot. I pride myself on my observational skills and deniable common sense; which is not seen very often within my kind. I know we’ve stopped, but I’m placed to low on the passenger seat to see outside. But I have this feeling, this sense, that I’m home.
Wait - where is she going? I hear a loud bang as the car door closes behind her. Is she just going to leave me here? What the hell?
“Hello?” I call out, hoping someone would hear me. I know she’d never understand my cries for help anyway. Upon leaving with her, I was warned of a language barrier between my kind and humans.
Oh wait, the door to my side is opening. My tiny pounding heart steadies itself, and my feet lift off the ground and send me hopping into the air again.
“Welcome home, Peppa.” There’s that smile. With one hand, she lifts me from the seat by the handle on top of my carrier. With the other hand, she takes the pamphlet that Carrie from PetSmart gave her: so you own a guinea pig, what do you do next?
My small face squished between the tiny gaps of my carrier, I take in everything about my new home. I can’t wait to run across the darkened wood floors like a meadowed field, the couches that enclose the living room are the mountains to my adventures. I can nustle my small body into the crook of her elbow as she reads a magazine and takes large swigs of her morning coffee.
This is my home, and I have free reign. I have freedom, something that we were deprived of in that damned glass entrapment back at PetSmart.
Wait, where is she taking me? Whats this? In the far corner of the room sits a fully decorated cage. Is this for me? Am I being subjected to yet another life trapped in a cage, on full view like a zoo animal that I clearly am not?
“I bought everything weeks before, as soon as I caught your gaze in the store.” She sat my carrier on a side table nearby, and placing a small, warm hand underneath my belly, scooped me out of the crate and into her arms. “They told me you were too young to adopt at that point, I think only three or four weeks old. But your striated brown fur and large, unblinking, black eyes intrigued me, Peppa. I bought everything that day, the cage, the bedding, the castle, and returned each week until you were old enough to come home with me.” She pulled me close to her, and rubbed her soft cheek against the top of my head.
Following her apparent prepared speech, she placed me slowly into my new home, giving me a chance to explore.
The floor is bouncy and soft from the fresh layer of fleece carefully lining my cage. Oh.. there go my legs again. I’m up in the air again, this time with the proper space to run freely around. I dart quicker and quicker from one corner to the next. I definitely ran into the plastic white walls more than once, but I don’t even mind. Each sprint is accompanied by an enthusiastic leap in into the air; I am truly free.
“Oh that’s just Peppa showing how happy he is. The book called it popcorning or something,” she said into the phone. Popcorning, so that's what all this jumping is about. Interesting. I should probably quiet down though, I don’t want to be this disruptive on my first day.
In all my excitement, I didn’t get the opportunity to properly investigate my new home. There are two levels to the cage, much larger than anything I’ve seen before. An intimidating hut sits perched atop the highest shelf, with access coming only form a single ramp. I scatter up the long ramp, its ladder-like structure a daring feat for my short legs. Reaching the top, I claim the prime piece of real estate. Standing here now beneath the shadow cast by the hut’s intimidating structure, I can see how large it really is. Its archway which grants me entry is sloppely plastered in a dull purple coating.
Within the hut, I am overcome by feelings of warmth and comfort. The bedding is softer, lighter than the bedding on the floor below. This is my bed, this is where I will sleep, and dream, and contemplate life, and make plans for my future.
I extend my neck through the arch of my hut, and peer around at all that I now have. The only other object on the second floor is a small, unsuspecting mouse. Oh great, another rodent. I run over to challenge him, but when I nip at his ear I hear a sharp *Squeak*. This pathetic stuffed creature is here for my enjoyment. This will be fun. I am still king of the cage.
I look below at everything that is mine: A large plastic bowl filled generously to the top, a plastic bottle filled with water suspended from a hook in the far left corner. A grainy treat shaped like corn hangs beside it.
This is all mine. My very own kingdom. My home.
At first, my new home was fun; it was exciting and new and big, with a new corner to explore each day. But the bedding soon dampened with pee, and I could no longer bounce as high. I am losing interest in the ramp, but I still trek up and down those poorly spaced bars each day to get to my food. On a good day, I can get myself to finish only half the bowl of food, which is quickly starting to taste like cardboard (I’ve eaten cardboard before, it tasted better).
Weeks passed by in the same general manner. I grew depressed and put on too much weight, she had to move my castle off the landing and beside my pee corner. I no longer jump off the ground with excitement; I could barely move.
“The Vet told me.. No you’re not listening.. He said Peppa might be depressed,” She sat on the phone in the chair beside my cage. Her eyes no longer shone like they did before, they were darker, sadder. So was I, I suppose. “I didn’t even know guinea pigs could get depressed.”
She returned the next day with a wheel. A wheel. What am I, a hamster? I’m too fat for her. Too sad. She wanted a pet that she could show off, but look at me - I’m pathetic! She expects me to just run around this thing all day?
“It’s for your own good, Peppa.” She quickly turned her back to me after placing the wheel beside my food bowl. “This will give you purpose.”
For days the wheel sat in stillness. I can’t find the energy to get up off of my fat ass, let alone run on a wheel.
“One small hop.. That’s all you need to get onto the wheel, Peppa.” I’m so lonely, I’m resorting to talking to myself. Nevertheless, the self-motivation is working. I lift my heavy body onto the wheel, and move slowly in place.
Out of breath and with my dark fur dripping with sweat, I find peace in running around the wheel. It was difficult at first, I had been eating so much and moving around my cage so little. But with each jog, I shed ounces off my weight. With each jog, more of my troubles seem to slip away from me.
My feet make slight pattern against the purple plastic of the wheel. One side of the wheel sits open, exposing me to my environment that I am trying so hard to escape. But on the left side of me, I am enclosed by a wall of that same plastic. Either side leaves me unsettled, so instead I stare straight.
“Gotta get in my daily exercise.” I’m talking to myself again. I’m popcorning again, active again, and eating much healthier. She’s been feeding me red peppers lately, and they’re delicious! I’ve seen her eat a strip of pepper in one bite, but I have to nibble at it for hours to finish the whole thing. Each bite sends a cold liquid dripping down my chin, which has caused it to give off the same sweet aroma of the food.
“All day everyday, it’s the same thing.” I’m tracing the perimeter of my cage, attempting to find some source of satisfaction to this prison life i’ve been subjected to. She can’t understand me, she doesn’t understand the struggles of being a guinea pig. Each day I awake, pee in the same spot that I rest, and poop in a corner deemed too disgusting to be livable. I eat the same bland pellets that have filled my bowl since the day I arrived, and indulge in an occasional red pepper or carrot stick. I run for hours around the wheel, never advancing anywhere. I remain stagnant in time and space with no real joy in life.
She came home one day with a carrier. It was the same plastic, cheap crate that I arrived in.
“I’ve brought you a friend, Peppa.” She places an old, graying guinea pig into the far end of my cage. He just sat there. “You’ve been slipping into a depression, and the booklet said that guinea pigs need companions. This is your companion, Pippa.” And she left us to meet.
I looked at him, his long fur tangled and unkept, his right eye drifting slightly to the side. Pippa is old and blind, he is no companion for me. I need excitement, I need fun, I need entertainment.
“I’m Peppa,” I approach him slowly but firmly, I need to maintain my dominance in this place.
“You see that..that castle on the highest stoop,” my neck bends towards the direction of my castle. “That’s my castle, yours will be down here. But I remain up there.”
“Aren’t you worried she’ll hear us? She lying right over there on the couch,” Pippa struggled to get the words out.
“Nah, man, she can't understand us. All she hears is squeaking. Took me many failed conversations to realize that. Just follow my lead, I know everything that goes on in this place.”
Pippa’s lips turned upward, shaking slightly, as he bared his aging teeth in a smile. He seems kind, and I don’t see him getting in my way. This is still my kingdom.
Each day I grow closer with Pippa. He shares his stories about surviving abusive homes, and going under for a dangerous surgery to his heart, and seeing the birth of his first litter with the woman he loved. He has so much wisdom and experience in him that I will only ever encounter in stories. He tells me every day that he learns so much from me. He stays infatuated with my feelings of excitement at the slightest things, and how I choose to live in the moment. ‘You’ve made a home for yourself, Peppa. You’ve created something of your own. This cage is yours.’
He always says that, that I created something of my own. But I never understood what he meant, and I still don’t.
Pippa would walk laps around the cage, at a place slow enough for eternity to pass by twice over. With each lap he took, I ran hundreds of well calculated, precise circles around my wheel. Running the circle now, I no longer struggle with which direction to look towards. I simply turn my head towards the way of Pippa’s sunken body. Each time it leaves a smile on my face, with no fail.
There wasn’t enough room for two huts on the top shelf, so after weeks of long nights sleeping smushed in Pippa’s hut on the bottom floor, she finally moved our castles beside one another.
We share food, water, treats, and chew toys. There is never any issues between us, and there is always something new to tell one another. We have made a world for ourselves within this cage.
Months later and we still do everything together, just at a slower pace. Pippa is noticeably slowing down. His mind is forgetting information, and his body struggles to hold itself up at times. It’s really difficult for me to see him like this, and I know it hurts him to appear the way he does. I am slowly watching my one true friend die, and I am trapped in a prison of existentialism.
Who am I, really? Simply another guinea pig, one of millions trapped in cages of never ending repetitivity?
What is the meaning of life? To run endlessly on a wheel that leads to nowhere, and piss where I sleep and shit where I eat?
What happens when I die? What happens when Pippa dies?
It takes longer than I thought it would, but it hurt to see him suffer. Worse were the times when he refused food or water, or even his attempt to throw himself off the upper level. I only sit and watch, as my best friend goes frantic for an escape. And Pippa dies.
The empty castle that once belonged to my best friend now sits abandoned and sad looking. I am destined to live out each day with just my castle, stuffed mouse toy, and a bland treat that hangs from the gate of this cage. I don’t even consider that damned wheel to be apart of my home anymore. I used to run for hours on that thing, for what? I never ran anywhere, never accomplished anything.
This is my fate: to live, survive, and die trapped behind the four walls of this cage. Suddenly, I feel so small, as does my home.
lmO this is funny