The White Rat
It was 10:32 on a Monday night In the spring of 1994 when I turned on the hot water in the hall bathroom tub. I turned the knob all the way to the left because I have skin like a Komodo dragon and I like my water hot.
Todd was in his music room with headphones on. The house was quiet. This was my spa time. I climbed into my lava water and tried to read for a few minutes. It only took two questionably written paragraphs to lull me into a coma. I laid my head back against the tile and closed my eyes. The buzzing of a florescent bulb and an occasional ripple in the water punctuated the silence, but not my peace.
At 10:43, my eyes popped open in shock at a sound that was as close to a murder at a county fair as I hope to ever hear again. I expected to see a Blair witch situation in the room with me, but nothing had visibly changed. I listened intently as I gripped the sides of the tub. It happened again and I was on my feet like a cat at a fish fry. What in the world? That time I was fully alert and knew exactly where the sound had originated. It was coming from inside the wall, 10 inches from my face.
I got out of that bathroom, into enough clothes to survive a Michigan winter, and into Todd’s music room in a minute 45. His face scrunched with confusion upon my panicked entrance.
“What area you doing?” he asked.
“There’s something in the walls,” I heaved.
“Huh?” he asked, removing his headphones.
“Something terrifying is living in our walls. I heard it in the bathroom. It sounds like the love child of a donkey and a wolf.”
Todd’s face registered raw bewilderment and he followed me into the bathroom where we heard nothing but daffodils and rainbows. Of course there’s never proof when you need it. But an hour later as we tried to go to sleep, I heard it again. We both did. Todd jumped up and turned on the light. But again, the creature was inside the wall. Light was no help.
At 8:01 the next morning, we called our pest control guy. We communicated our desperation. He’s told us we had a rat. He then told us to go buy a tray of DCON rat poison. He said one night of that would be all it would take and the rat would run out of the house and die.
Ok. Good plan.
We bought the DCON pack on our lunch break and stuck it just inside the utility closet door. On Wednesday morning, after a night of hearing the rattled spirits in the walls, we raced downstairs to see if the rat had eaten the poison. Sure enough. High five. It was empty. But that wasn’t the only thing the rat had eaten that night. The inside of the closet door was chewed up and out to the point that the rat had almost made it to the guest quarters of the house. And who’s to say he didn’t? What if he pulled an Ethan Hunt during the night and flattened out, spread eagle, and then slipped under the door? Good thing he’d be dead 12 hours from now.
I carried my relief with me that day like a pashmina. But that night I was forced to set my hope aside, because we heard him again. He was angry and clawing the insides of my wall with an unrelenting energy. Was this his manifesto? His 95 theses? I laid there awake for a long time, thinking about creative ways to destroy a rodent. The following morning I bought more poison and placed it in the closet on my lunch break . Second verse, same as the first.
He ate the poison. All of it. He did not die. Not at all. Nothing was dead. His limbs were all working. His voice was working. The only thing dying was my soul, little by little, night after night.
“I can’t take any more,” I announced to Todd before getting in bed Thursday night. “We have to move. Tomorrow.”
“Obviously we aren’t moving,” he answered. Why was that obvious? It was all we had left. “Just check the tray in the morning and surely this time, he’ll be dead.”
We laid in bed that night like wooden planks with googly eyes. Listening to our friend frolic in a townhouse we were making hefty payments on. Ridiculous. Maybe I will be the one to die, I thought. Or maybe I’m dead already. One of us has to die. Me or the rat. Tomorrow there would be a final showdown.
I woke up ready for a showdown, and tiptoed downstairs with a fly swatter. I stopped quietly at the door of the utility closet. Listening. When I didn’t hear anything, I opened the closet door and looked down at the poison tray. It had been disturbed, but not devoured. I tiptoed back up the stairs to get ready for the day and wondered if maybe I had just seen my first sign of progress.
Todd and I worked at the same company that year. He had a real job. I peeled labels off of floppy disks in the shipping department and made $5.25 an hour. I looked forward to lunches at home with Todd in front of Days of Our Lives. Don’t judge. I was young. And Carly was buried alive with a mic system in her casket. I had to know what was going to happen. When we walked in just before 1, I was greeted by a smell I wish I hadn’t recognized so easily. Death. In this particular case, it was a pungent welcome wagon. A fruit basket sent from long lost friends. It was Christmas. We were able to set the smell of death aside for our show (priorities) and spent commercial breaks looking for a carcass. There was the very real possibility that the fella had died in a section of wall we’d never have access to. But before I had time to again suggest moving, Todd uttered some sort of life changing exclamatory sound from inside the closet. Then he came out and shut the door behind him.
“I found him,” he said. “He’s dead alright.”
“And?” I asked. “What else?’ He looked like he’d seen Carly get up out of her casket, so I needed more details.
“He’s huge,” Todd replied. “I’m getting a shovel. Open the sliding glass doors.”
Now. I was very confused by this last statement, but I got the doors prepared while he went for the shovel. He went in with a flashlight in his teeth. There was a lot of knocking around in the closet behind the hot water heater. And then, they emerged. Todd, the shovel, and the largest white rat I have ever seen in even in national geographic articles of rat infested places. It was a foot long. Twelve inches. It almost didn’t fit in the shovel. Todd carried it out in front of him, holding the shovel as far from his body as he could. I was pressed up against the kitchen wall.
“What are you going to do with him?” I asked.
“Throwing him over the back fence,” he answered, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to heave a rat over a fence. OK, sure. Dead rat on conservation property. Circle of life. I followed Todd out because it isn’t a common thing to watch a rat get tossed like a javelin. Todd reared back, carefully keeping the rat level, and flung.
The rat went up.
The rat did not come back down in the other side of the fence. Todd and I looked at each other.
“Whoops,” he said.
“Where’d he land?”
Todd pointed to the sycamore tree in the neighbor’s back yard. Our dead white rat with stiff legs in the position of a sky diver, was hovering on a branch next door over the Millers’ back deck. Hanging over their propane grill like a piñata. The gentlest nudge from gravity or a single puff of wind would be just the thing to bring that sucker down and liven up their 4th of July barbecue. We both stood there for a second, thinking through the impacts on karma, neighborly relations, property values. And Todd motioned toward the door.
“Go inside,” he whispered. We slid the door shut behind us and saw that Carly was still in her casket and Vivian was still threatening to actually kill her. “Maybe moving isn’t such a bad idea after all…”