Rats at Night
I’m supposed to use the small light to read in the dark, but often I use it to walk through the house at night, and make sure the rats are in place. The rats are not alive, which is why they have “places.” I would never keep live rats. My stone rats can be cleaned with soap and water. Live rats move too fast to be washed and they may carry diseases.
It’s a wonder I don’t have live rats because I also like to eat when I walk off the bad dreams at night. In the morning, I find trails of rice cake or cracker crumbs—so I know where I’ve been. I have to sweep right away, to dump a dustpan full of crumbs and hair (there’s always hair) in the trash. The stone rats don’t move on their own, of course. We use them to hold doors when the windows are open and it gets windy. They sit on closed toilets while I scrub floors.
The Chinese say, that those born under the Sign of the Rat (which depends on the year of your birth) are clever, resourceful and brave.
Except for chewing crunchy foods, I’m very quiet in my night wanderings. I never wake my husband. I watch him for long periods of time to make sure he’s breathing because he’s a quiet sleeper. Sometimes I put my hand on him to make sure he’s warm.
He’s never quiet when he’s awake. He stomps and stumbles, plays music, mumbles to himself, watches sports and yells at the players on tv. But at night I have to check him for breathing and make sure the rats are out of his way when he gets up to go to the bathroom because he’s not entirely awake and he can be a bit clumsy. My husband was born in a Year of the Rat and, though he’s not Asian, he’s absolutely the Chinese version of Rat.
Outside my windows there are other lights and sometimes in the summer when windows are open, I hear voices from the street—not so loud that I can tell what they’re saying, but loud enough to prove there are people up and about at all hours. It’s good to hear voices and see lights so that you know there are other people awake in the night. I know who’s watching television in the neighborhood because I can see the light flicker in their windows. Are they fending off bad dreams and insomnia like me?
In the early days of pandemic in the city, cars were rare and people huddled inside. Days got quiet except for sirens which were relentless night and day.
When I was awake in the night as a child, I didn’t dare walk around and risk waking my parents. I watched the shadows on my wall and drifted off into hypergolic fantasies. There were few lights outside my childhood bedroom window and only the occasional sound of a car or a far off train whistle. Sometimes I wondered if the world was really still out there, or if it had disappeared and left my family behind.
In the summer there were crickets and sometimes the crickets got so loud I wanted to scream. Then they’d stop all of a sudden, and the world would become alarmingly quiet. I stayed up half the night worrying about what might be out there that terrified them so utterly?
Generally, nights are quieter than days in this part of the city. There’s a smattering of light, sound, movement. I contemplate the darkness and note each hopeful glint. I’m not alone with my little light, my stone rats, and my sleeping husband.