Curated by Deltaworkers
May 30, 8:00pm, 2017
Siri Borgé is presenting work along with other Deltaworkers’ residents as part of Deltaworkers’ Spring Wrap Up at NPN’s Arts Estuary. Borgé’s research in New Orleans began with an exploration of the economic and socio-political similarities and differences between her hometown of Stavanger and New Orleans. During her residencies in the city she became interested in how humans project their own feelings and habits on animals. For the Spring Wrap Up, she is presenting a new installation and a performance.
The following is a transcript from a performance that Siri Borgé is working on during her residency in 2017.
Before I start this story- there are a few details that you need to know. This is a Christmas story, and it takes place in Stavanger, a city on the south-west coast of Norway. We have the Christmas dinner and open our gifts on the 24th of December, not on the 25th.
This is a story about me and my friend Steffen, and it takes place Christmas eve, 2002. At the time I was 17 years old, and celebrated the evening with my Mother and her “friend”.
But few guests did not mean that I could get out of the dress code tradition, so all three of us were wearing our classiest outfit to make the dinner party feel like a real celebration. Despite the fact that we are all non-believers.
After the appropriate amount of time hanging out with my mother and her friend, I was allowed to go visit my friend Steffen, and they even gave what was left over of the Aquavite- a traditional Norwegian, 40% hard liquor, that taste like liquid wood. Not that a 17 year old cares that much about what free liquor taste like.
Steffen was 16 years old, all alone, in a big house, celebrating Christmas eve- for the first time in his life. He grew up as a Jehovah witness, and Jehovah doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Steffen came out as gay to his parents in the summer that year, and told them he would not be baptized. And as long as you opt out before being baptized, you won’t get shunned. But you will not be invited to go to the family cabin in the mountains during Christmas either.
I walked right into their house, finding Steffen rolling a fat joint on the kitchen table. He had also dressed up for the occasion, wearing black pants with a plaid skirt, black nail polish and eyeliner. It must have been lonely but at the same time liberating for him. It certainly was for me. The days leading up to Christmas, he had stayed away from the house, staying with one of his lovers. I proudly presented him with the Aquavit, and complimented him on his rolling skills, which had improved greatly the last months. We smoked up, talking about boys and stupid parents, and about how Christmas would be when we moved out. We felt very mature.
Walking upstairs to use the restroom, i passed his bedroom. The door was halfway open, and the odour leaking out into the hallway was quite intense.
“Steffen, you pig!” I said when I came downstairs. “If you’re going to have pet rats, you could at least clean the cage! It stinks!” I told him.
Steffen looked at me surprised “I cleaned it a couple of days ago, it can’t be that bad!” He said.
I stuck my finger in my throat and rolled my eyes too make a point, and he went upstairs to check the cage.
I heard a high pitch scream coming from upstairs, followed by him dramatically running down the stairs.
“WTF is wrong?!”
“THE RATS….” he cried, “The rats! They killed one of their own!”
Steffen had two white female rats, and recently introduced a third rat to the party. They are social animals, and the owner thought it would be best to give this rat to Steffen, so it wouldn’t be too lonely after it’s sister died.
He went on describing the bloodbath in the cage, and how the the new rat had looked him straight in the eyes while holding the lifeless- and now headless cadaver of his pet rat between her paws. They were both bloody around their mouths, so they had been in on it both, he concluded.
“I used to have 3 rats, now I only have 2 and a half!”
What follows next is events that might have been very different if under adult supervision, if we were not stoned, and if we had internet in our lives. Here goes:
Me: This really scary thing happens when proteins from meat gets into the diet of a pet rat. It will actually become more aggressive, and crave blood. They can’t help it, it’s a chemical reaction.
Steffen: And they ate another rat, so they are basically cannibals now.
Me: So, basically- you will be alone in a house with cannibalistic killer rats.
Steffen: What to do?
Me: Well, we have to kill them.
Steffen is a patient and empathetic boy, and he truly did love his pet rats. Before me he did not really have any friends outside of Jehovah witness where most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses, making his rats the friends who comforted him after numerous pray circles, with Steffen as the centrepiece where family and other witnesses tried to pray away the gay. However, being 16 years old, and home alone in this big house with cannibalistic rats was too much for the kid. He concurred.
Steffen: How? The vet is closed now, but I won’t spend a single night with them!
We discussed over drinks the best way to do this. Neither of us had any experience from farms, and even though Google did exist in 2002, we did not really know how to use it.
I suggested hammer to the head. It seemed so brutal at the time, and since I did not want to touch the rats, and Steffen never hurt a fly in his life, this was too violent for his taste.
We looked for poison, there were none. Ibuprofen overdose? Nah, they won’t eat it. Drowning? No. Rats are great swimmers.
Then we figured that since people die all the time from carbon monoxide poisoning, without even knowing that it’s happening- this would be the most humane way to kill the rats.
As luck would have it, Steffen’s mother left her car in the driveway, and the keys was just lying there, between our shitty hashish and liquid pine tree liquor on the kitchen table.
I resolutely grabbed the keys and and said to Steffen: Get me a towel, and a bucket with the two rats in it. We met by the car, and I remember the bucket with the rats being a beige, vintage plastic bucket with brown flowers on it. I later learned that his mother had a full set of cleaning supplies with the same pattern on it.
Anyways, Steffen turned on the car and let the engine run in park. I placed the towel over the bucket containing the two rats, doing my best not to look at them. I glanced over at Steffen who gave me a determined nod, and proceeded to put the exhaust pipe tight between the towel and the bucket.
At first it went precisely as we expected, there was no sound or movement, and we waited for the rats to fall asleep.
Suddenly they started to run around in circles in the bucket, very very fast, and I looked over at Steffen who was just as terrified as I was:
Me: What should we do?! Can I stop??
Steffen yelled: NO, JESUS CHRIST, DON’T STOP NOW, THEY ARE PROBABLY PISSED OFF AND BRAIN DAMAGED!
I kept holding the bucket still, feeling like the biggest asshole in the world. Then, they started to jump. They were big rats, and they jumped so high that you could see their heads in the towel, like small ghosts. Steffen was screaming, and I was laughing nervously and loud.
After a while the jumping stopped, and the only sound you could hear was from the car engine. “Meheheheeeep”, the bucket said.
Steffen: This is NOT funny, Siri, don’t make that sound!!
I turned to him with a serious stare, and then we heard it again: “Meheheheeeep”. The final death rattle from his beloved rats.
Just to be sure I held the bucket for a little longer, put the bucket down, and shut off the engine.
Steffen removed the towel and looked into the bucket: “I’m pretty sure they are dead, the pupils have dilated”
Me: Do they even have pupils to begin with?
Steffen: Well, Siri, they shat themselves, I think that’s evidence enough!
With his head hanging low and the bucket in his hand, he headed towards the bio trash bin.
Norwegians recycle everything, but this might be taking it too far…
Me: Steffen, are you crazy? Are you throwing dead rat bodies in the bio waste?!
Steffen: Uhm. Yeah?
I was not sure if this was a bad or a good idea, and I did not know where the bio waste actually went or how it was processed, but it would be a gruesome sight for his parents returning from their non-Christmas.
Me: Have you never seen “I know what you did last summer?!
“Do you want murdered cannibal rats to haunt you?!” Whispering: “I know what you did last Christmas…”
Off course he agreed.
This taking place in Stavanger in Norway, the ground was frozen solid in december, so a proper burial was out of the question.
After a quick brainstorming, we decided on a Viking burial. Burning the evidence. While I rolled a joint to take away, Steffen gathered his 2 and a half rats and the bloody saw dust from the cage in the bucket, turpentine and some old newspapers. In Norway the age limit for getting a licence is 18, so none of us were legally qualified to drive, and contemplating the fact that it would be completely irresponsible of us to drive while under the influence- we decided to steal his mother’s red Toyota and drove to the nearest lake with the bodies in the trunk. After all, it was freezing outside.
The streets were empty, everyone was inside, still opening gifts and eating seven kinds of cakes. We drove the car as close to the lake as we possibly could, our logic was to get water from the lake to put out the fire if it got out of hand.
Steffen did the honors and sat it all on fire. I remember it being a really beautiful night. The sky was pitch black and clear, so we could see the stars. I don’t think we said much while the fire was burning, just smoking and spitting. And Steffen was soundlessly crying, both of us still wearing our finest outfits, freezing in the cold night.
Then I realized that the bucket we brought with us to get water from the lake, still containing the dead rats were melting in the fire. Because Steffen really did set it all on fire…
What are we going to do? How will we put out the fire? I ask Steffen.
Steffen: Well… I kind of have to.. uh. Pee?
I will never in my life forget the sight of my dear Steffen, with eyeliner streaming down his face, lit up by the fire, lifting his plaid skirt, pissing on the remains of his cannibalistic Rattus Norwegicus. And to this day, his mother is still looking for that beige, vintage bucket with brown roses.