Of Rats and Men
by Luna Adler
On the eve of Thanksgiving, you open your front door to find a dead rat sprawled in the middle of the sidewalk. The animal resembles a half-smashed piñata, shapely but definitely battered, with blood leaking from its body. Sure, you believe yourself to be handy—you know the difference between a Phillips head screwdriver and a slot head and, to the chagrin of everyone who loves you, have never been afraid to mess with a few electrical wires. But you have major issues with vermin and in the past your boyfriend would have dealt with it. Now, three months after your break-up, there are less than 24 hours before your mother arrives for Thanksgiving dinner and a giant rat lays dead by your doorstep.
Panicking, you decide to post on social media, offering comestible compensation for anyone who will brave the late-November elements to trek to your Brooklyn apartment and remove the rat. You opt for an Instagram story, which means you have to make the situation look both dire and aesthetically pleasing. Checking the fridge for rewards, you find a day-old doughnut, its chocolate glaze flaking. If the doughnut was a woman you would call it “wise” or “mature” or, sotto voce, “past its prime” and find a younger one to photograph instead. But the doughnut is a doughnut and society is more lenient with baked goods than women, so you place the pastry on the table, arrange it at an alluring angle, and snap a photo.
“Day-old doughnut!” you type. “Reward for removing cat-sized rat from the sidewalk in front of my building!” When you awake the next morning there is nary an offer to help. To make matters worse, the 288 people who have seen your story will know the reward is now two days old. Even for a doughnut that seems like pushing it.
You brush your teeth and shuffle to the corner hardware store, where you know you will find the usual bevy of men engaging in laborious tasks that show off their well-toned biceps. Opening the door, you try to put aside your shame at playing into such blatant stereotypes. It’s okay, you tell yourself. People are always telling you to ask for help. This is growth. You clear your throat.
“Oh hell no! You live by that rat?” One of the guys asks after you tell your tale, whipping out a phone and pulling up his Instagram account. He, too, has been sharing stories of the deceased rodent. “You can borrow the dust pan but I’m not going near that thing.”
“I’ll buy you a coffee.”
“I’ll buy myself a coffee.” He turns to help a young woman looking for sandpaper. She seems happy and innocent, not infected by the bitterness of having spent Thanksgiving morning dealing with a rotting corpse. “Sorry,” the guy says over his shoulder as he leads her away. You don’t blame him. The sandpaper is located on aisle four above the WD-40 and he’ll look like a stud climbing the ladder to get it down for her.
Because the idea of trying to sweep a disintegrating rat into a dustpan makes you feel ill, you leave, buy yourself a coffee as a reward for absolutely nothing, and sit outside your building sipping it. If you can’t be content at least you can be caffeinated. Is that how the saying goes? It no longer matters. Your grasp on everything that has once felt certain is slowly slipping away. Every few minutes, you hear an “OH MY GOD” and look up to see a bill-paying, voting-age adult leap-frogging away from the site. “That’s just wrong,” one man sporting an ambitious array of facial piercings bellows as he sees the rat at the last minute and hustles by, glancing back with a shudder. After thirty minutes of this, sufficiently caffeinated and filled with the clear white light that comes from spreading one’s suffering, you go inside to find your phone.
“Thank you for calling 311,” says a sterile female voice. You explain your problem, feeling prissy. “This sounds like a sanitation issue,” she says and, suddenly, it does. Who knows how many gnarly diseases are lurking beneath that hairy pelt? By simply making the call you are halfway to hero status. Hell, you’re practically putting in a bid for future sainthood.
“We’re experiencing delays due to the holiday, but your complaint has been filed. Someone will be sent when we reach your ticket number: 31,159. Have a happy Thanksgiving.”
You spend the rest of the day cooking. Your mother will be arriving soon and she’ll be none too excited about having to step over a dead rat to get to dinner—the least you can do is make her a nice meal. You’re suddenly grateful you opted to cook vegetarian. You text the ex-boyfriend and explain your predicament. “Sounds rough!” he writes, then sends a laughing/crying emoji to show that he understands mixed emotions. The bubbles start, stop, and start again. A few minutes later, another message pops up: “Still loving being single?” You don’t respond.
A day later, the sanitation department removes the rat, leaving a long smear of blood on the sidewalk. With the rodent gone, you sit outside your apartment and eat the three-day-old doughnut. It tastes like cardboard but also like victory. Victorious cardboard. You think about opening an artisanal doughnut shop only offering doughnuts flavored like paper products but decide against it. It would be the biggest thing in Brooklyn for a while but then you’d be stuck running a has-been concept shop. Besides, how would you explain your career to your future grandchildren when all highly caloric food items have long ago been replaced by flavored, scented holograms? It doesn’t seem like a smart investment.
As the days pass, you begin to forget about the rat, the only reminder your daily march past the blood-stained patch of sidewalk. You reason that the rain will come and wash the blood away or someone from the bougie wine store next door will decide it’s detracting from sales and take care of it. It’s comforting to know that you live in a country where you don’t always need to summon your inner strength or rely on a man—there are weather patterns and systems of capitalism in place to handle these things.
Luna Adler is a writer and artist living in Brooklyn. She likes to think of herself as an agreeable Scorpio. You can find her online here.