The Rat. That was the title of a book my mother brought home from the library for her 6-year-old daughter. It had won awards and was lauded for its brilliance. It was terrifying. A little boy draws a picture of a big black rat with glowing red eyes in his school art class. Night after night he can hear scratching and squeaking. In his nightmares it hunts him, it’s eyes a beacon of horror. I can’t remember how he defeated the rat; surely it must have had a happy ending. What I do recall is the fear and desperation as he tried to outrun the monster he had created.
I have hated rats ever since and that feeling was only compounded by the Rats of Nimh and the Black Plague. I hate their scaly tails, their skittering little paws and the horrible intelligence in their eyes. I can easily believe they knew what they doing offering transportation and logistics to the parasites that caused the Plague.
I am not so much afraid of them, as completely repulsed by their very existence. When a close friend began to carry around a black hooded rodent on her shoulder, I can honestly say our friendship waned. After I almost caused a multiple car pileup on the highway when it stuck it’s little face out of her hair and after that she couldn’t forgive me for my prejudice.
They probably perform some crucial ecosystem function, but I’d just prefer it if they did it somewhere else. Specifically not in my kitchen! I am currently landlady to a rodent who took up residence behind my washing machine last evening. Not to be cowed I recovered from my glimpse of it streaking across the floor and called Small boy aged 9 to the front.
“Right,” said I with confidence, “What I need you to do is open the back kitchen door.”
“Why?” asked Small boy aged 9 with fascination.
“We need some air,” said I breezily despite the arctic conditions outside.
“Why are you sitting on the counter?”
“Just open the door.”
“Cool Mom, there’s a mouse! Can I give it some cheese?”
“No,” voice now rising to a shriek, “Get it out!”
It might be a mouse. I can’t tell the difference. I reminded myself of one of the primary reasons women get married in the first place and promptly called the Man of the House who is happily ensconced in warmth and tropical splendour in Mozambique.
“What on earth do you want me do about it?” ejaculated Man.
“Tell me what to do?” shrieks wife.
“Put a bowl or something on it?” suggests Man.
“Do you know how close I have to be to it to do that? Are you insane?”
“Probably,” Mutters Man “Give the phone to Small Boy aged 9.”
Small Boy aged 9, “Dad! Dad, it’s so cool, there’s a mouse in the kitchen, but Mom won’t let me feed it cheese.” Pause, “No, it’s really small, but Mom’s going on about it like it’s the size of the dog.”
Traitor. Who cares what size it is? It’s there, is that not enough?
Left to my own devices I built a wall of Lego boxes, ice cream containers and assorted Tupperware between it and me. I opened the door and left a trail of apple and bread leading into the wilderness beyond. And then I went to bed and dreamed. I dreamt of rats, huge salivating rats raising families the size of the Sicilian Mafia. It was not a good night and I ended up sleeping with Small Boy aged 6 for comfort and protection.
I have no idea if it is still there. The food is gone, but that could be the dogs who have lost interest in the small furry mammal they’ve introduced into my existence. My cats are too damn pampered and aloof to do anything so banal as catch a rodent. It is far too beneath them. Aside from which as little as I want to deal with a live rat, I want to deal with its corpse even less. Small Boy aged 6 suggested using karate on it and if that fails stomping on it. Yuck, yuck, yukkity yuk!