Lost & Found – Smelling a Rat

Saturday is the day for chores. Cleaning out the garage, I find the cause of the foul smell that’s been wafting into our living space for the past couple of weeks. There’s a dead rat wedged in a narrow space between two crumbling cardboard boxes filled with old baby clothes and record albums.

When I go out into the garden to collect a spade and a potato sack, my wife tells me that she has just got a phone call from a neighbour. The man three doors down has lost his job on the stock exchange.

Apparently there’s an investigation pending, something to do with insider trading or falsified investor information. I do my best to appear concerned and surprised. Secretly, though, I’m delighted. I have always known that the man was a crook, have always disliked his smug smile, his limp handshake, his family’s matching thousand-dollar track suits, his yappy little designer dog, his ostentatious silver SUV.

Heading back to the garage, though, I feel guilty for my gloating. Perhaps not guilt so much, if true be known, as a vague worried sense — childish superstition or the sour, metallic aftertaste of a faith that I long ago spat out – that my enjoyment of somebody else’s misfortunes may bring down bad luck on my own head. I’m over forty now. There are prostate exams. There is that nagging bronchial rattle.

The decomposing carcass must have been there for quite some time, because it’s dried out and stiff. Amazed by how light it is, balanced on the blade of the shovel like that, I look at it for a few moments. It’s lying on its back, eyes closed, one sharp tooth sticking out, no heavier than a ball of frayed yarn or a dried and withered onion bulb.

Walking out toward the back alley garbage can, sack in hand, I pass my daughter. She’s standing on a step ladder plucking pears from the tree. She asks me what I’m carrying. Just some garbage, I tell her. She’s seven years old and believes that her father wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Hypocrite that I am, I help her to rescue drowning wasps from mud puddles, transport banana slugs safely across sidewalks. I don’t want her to know about all the spiders crushed by the soles of my elementary school shoes, all the ants incinerated by my magnifying glasses or dissolved in my chemistry set solutions. I don’t want her to know about the small plastic pouches of sweet yellow poison scattered about the attic and garage. One of which is now ripped open.

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