Rats! Lots and lots of rats...
|The Rat Infestation
You are so happy when you discover the rats. There is no way to explain the relief. You live by yourself now, and for the last five days you thought the very worst had happened. But, it's only rats!
“You can do this, Gerald,” Doctor M had said the day they let you go.
“Oh, yes!” you had said, nodding your head in total agreement.
“Gerald, you will do this!” the good doctor had said in that way of his, of saying something to you with his face too close and looking deep into your eyes. Through your eyes. Behind them.
“Oh, yes!” you had said, a weak smile on your face, nodding your head, letting him look, nodding your head—letting them all look—nodding and smiling and nodding and nodding and nodding your head.
Believing it? No. Hoping it? Dear God—yes, you were hoping it, in the please please please please, fucking please kind of way of hoping it. Hoping for something to be right in your life. Not weird. Not wrong. Not crazy.
Hoping most of all they would just let you finally leave. Twelve years is a long time.
They promised you the voices would stop, and they stopped. But little weird things began five days ago. Right around the time you first thought you could do this. That you could live alone. That things could be right.
Little weird things at first. Little weird things you might explain to yourself when you live alone and you have to explain things to yourself. When you want so much for all things to be explainable.
“I must have done that,” you whisper to yourself in the morning standing barefoot and shirtless in your new boxer shorts in the murky gray light of your spotless kitchen. You must have done it. You did it! Who else could have done it? You have only you. You left the faucet running. You left the refrigerator door open. And if what happened would be difficult to explain to others, so be it. You can explain it to yourself. You kind of have to, don’t you? The lamp falling over! The kitchen chair in the driveway…
You don’t want to go back.
When you live alone and you want to make your life work after being released and you do not want to go back to Ward D, your options are limited. You know that…
You want things to work. No voices to ignore. Nothing weird. Go to work five days a week at the supermarket bagging groceries. Come home. Eat a frozen dinner or two. Clean the kitchen until it is spotless. Go to bed. Sleep without dreams.
Twelve years is a long time in a place you can’t sleep. Plenty of time for your wife to leave you. For her to take your kids. For your friends to disappear.
You begin hearing little noises in the ceiling. Mice, right? Not voices in your head… Guess again. They can’t be mice. Mice are small. Mice don’t push floor lamps over at night as you’re watching tv. Mice don’t make that eerie humming noise behind walls that sound like a woman’s laughter. Mice scatter and skitter along the floor. They don’t rearrange pictures on the walls, turn them upside down. They don’t open refrigerator doors.
They don’t and you know they don’t.
So you hear the noises and you get out of bed and you walk barefoot out to the hallway and then you’re looking up at the sound coming down from the ceiling, and what do you do? The attic. You have to look up there, don’t you? In the attic? Oh, yes, you can do this. But it will be dark up there and you get your flashlight from the hall closet. Oh yes, you will do this. You have a flashlight! You pull the little funny ladder down from the ceiling and you climb, slowly, your heart may fail at any time it beats so fast, so hard you feel it in your ears, and still you climb. You climb and you hope that what you find up there will make sense. That it will not be weird or wrong or crazy.
You lift the little door just enough to stick your head through the hatchway. It’s dark. You knew it would be.
You switch the flashlight on and the little musty empty attic springs to life. Rats! The whole room is filled with them. It smells of them, like unwashed clothes. They look at you with their red eyes glowing in the beam of your flashlight as they twitch their whiskers and wrinkle their noses looking at you and looking at you and not moving now, but laughing at you like your mother laughed at you; they have her voice. They have her hissing laugh!
You are so happy about the rats in your attic. There is no way to explain the relief. Mice are too small to open refrigerator doors. To leave faucets running. To laugh like your mother.