I was at war with a rat for four months. It was a losing battle; nearly every morning for sixteen weeks, we woke to half-eaten bananas and apples, their skins punctured a hundred times with pin-sized incisors and the flesh eaten out. The rat liked symmetry: the hole was a perfect O. He burrowed into it, as though cutting a path for a new home. He’d eat about an inch deep then leave it.
My wife Michelle hated the rat, not just because it was making itself at home inside our fresh produce. Michelle is. . .how can I put this daintily. . .you’d have to use a crowbar to pry a nickel out of her fingers. Tightwad? Oh, that’s being kind. I’ve heard dollar bills scream for mercy in her fisted grip. And she hates wasting anything, especially food. She’ll take a wad of week-old cilantro and spend twenty minutes picking all the putrid black out of it, which usually leaves her with three pitiful, pinky-fingernail-sized, half-green wilted leaves that are supposed to flavor a two gallon pot of black soup beans.
The rat put Michelle in a vexation so deep, it made her body rattle; she wanted to cut off the end of the banana where the bite was and eat the rest of it. But she had visions of the rodent, after his midnight supper, pulling out a top hat and cane and dancing up and down the banana before pissing on its stem.
I nailed closed all the holes in the house I could find. There was a particularly large one under the kitchen sink. But the next day, there was an apple that looked like Steve Jobs’ company logo.
That rat was brilliant. I set traps. The next morning I checked. The cheese was gone, the iron bar had been triggered, but no rat. He must have carefully stepped over the bar, putting each paw down on the trap’s wood base, then crouched over the cheese and its trigger, folding himself into a little mound, with his tail wrapped tightly around his butt. He plucked the cheese, the bar swooped over his little shoulders and head, missed him and slammed against the other side. He stepped off the trap with snack in hand. At least, that’s what I figure.
I can’t really say I was at war with it. I had just started this blog, and didn’t have time to deal with a fruitarian rodent (he never touched the veggies). I tend to get lost in writing. I didn’t notice that so many months had passed, even though most mornings I heard, from the kitchen, my wife’s usually sweet voice, say “Son of a bitch!” followed by a piece of fruit hitting the bottom of the trash can.
One night, I looked over from the supper table and saw the little guy running across the kitchen counter. He hopped onto a loaf of my homemade honey-wheat bread, bounced off it and into the batter bowl. He was a good four, five inches long, not including the tail. He dove behind the refrigerator. It hit me: he wasn’t entering the house through a hole. He’d been living with us all that time. I pulled the fridge out and yep, there it was: a nice, thick spread of poop pellets. He was subletting the bottom of the fridge, but I hadn’t gotten any paw-signed checks.
But, he didn’t stay in his apartment; obviously he liked checking out my digs; my daughter Raquel ran out of the bathroom and said in so many screams that there was a rat in the toilet. I made a little joke, “Maybe you pooped him out,” but nobody heard me, not with those howls of hers. I checked, and there he was, doing breast-strokes in the bowl.
“Well, old buddy,” I said, “you’ve made it easy for me,” and I flushed. But he was a fighter. He spread his paws out and pressed them against the porcelain, right atop the hole, and hung on for dear life.
“Is it gone?” Michelle asked. She and Raquel were peeking around the door frame.
“Get me a bucket of water.”
I flushed and poured two gallons of water in at the same time. This created a stronger vortex; the water whipped into a thick swirl. It caught him, but he tossed his tail like a whip and wrapped the end around one of the toilet seat’s hinges. He rode the top of the spinning water on his chest, like a body surfer, kept his head from dunking then turned to me. I didn’t like that look in his eye. Both women were in a conniption fit. Raquel pressed her palm over her mouth. I said “Be gone!” like an evangelical and pinched the very tip of his tail. It was like untying a knotted-up shoe lace, I had to use both hands. And he just stared at me, I’d never seen such defiance in a mammal’s eyes. But he was tired; perhaps he was as tired as we were; maybe his own life hadn’t been much more than one battle after another, having to eat so late in the solitude of night, negotiating rat traps, living alone in the basement floor of the fridge, always in hiding. A weariness slipped over his vision; but he struggled to the end. Just before the water pulled him under, he stuck his head out from the vortex, gave me one final, hardened look, raised a paw and threw me a middle finger. Then whoosh he was gone.
I expected cheers from the women behind me; the women I had protected, like the man of the house should. But they were silent. They stared at the toilet, at me, confused then horrified. “Oh my God!” Michelle said, “You, you killed it!” then went on about how horrifying it must be, death by drowning. She didn’t talk to me for two days.
We are now beginning the Fiction section of our class. Stay tuned.