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.

smells like…

   I chase the odor from fridge to garbage, garbage to drain, drain to pantry, pantry to beneath and beyond cabinets. My diligence only results in expanding the miasma’s awareness of me. Once It becomes aware, It stalks me in earnest. No amount of showering, scrubbing, or sanitizing, will deter it. Escape is impossible. Even outside, the breeze brings sudden wisps of…what is it? The redolence of Dismay? The Stench of Disappointment, Betrayal?
   It’s not innocent like the odor of pubescent children in a fourth grade classroom, or the miasma of wet dog.
   It’s not contrived like the odor of tar or burning rubber.
   This is a darker funk. It begins in nightmares, circumstances beyond my kitchen.
   Recent worldly concerns seep into awareness, despite my withdrawl, and are foul indeed. But are they intense enough to disturb vital senses?
   “Today is Stephanie’s birthday,” my computer announces. But Stephanie died years ago.
   “Warning: the following pictures are disturbing.” I’m already disturbed.
   “Have you no empathy for one who lashes out in anger, one who gives orders to destroy?” NO! I do not.
   I prefer the smell of cinnamon, lemon. A bathed and powdered baby.
   Chocolate.
   Coffee.
   Freshly steeped tea.

   I will not be overcome!

   What’s a person to do?
   Forgive and forget. Cultivate compassion. Blow softly on your thumbnail. Press on the point above your lip. Walk away. Walk as far as you’re able. Stay upright. Move forward. Don’t dwell on the past. Don’t fret the future.

   Still, something smells wrong.

Hair Today

    Howie says it’s time to cut my hair and, as much as I hate to break protocol and admit my husband is right, I think he may have a point. Much of my hair has fallen out clogging hairbrushes and drains or wafting into corners. Despite that, even my pitifully thin ponytail is beginning to give me headaches. My hair can only be described as “white-trash” hair. Waking up to someone my age with thinning grey hair halfway down her back can’t be a pretty sight for my long-suffering husband and may frighten the grandchildren..
I’m cultivating ferocity to counteract dotage but as much as I try, I’m more hag than goddess. I’m not Patti Smith or Judi Dench.
I’ve let my hair grow throughout the pandemic in the hope that I might miraculously turn into a lesser, homier version of Emmylou Harris or Diane Keaton…wellllll, the truth is, I’m just not comfortable going into a salon filled with potentially contagious air.
One problem is that the fellow who used to cut my hair knows me too well. That is, he knows I’m neither ferocious nor cool, and tends to give me a cut that doesn’t match my inner brilliance—which may be, in some measure, imaginative. But who is he to say? I need someone new who’s willing to assume that underneath that bland, aging exterior, there are quirky tattoos, multiple piercings, a shocking past, and a rakish present.
The other stumbling block is that I’m totally inept at stying my hair. I do not now, nor have I ever, owned or used a curling iron, spray, or gel. My hair is stubborn; it refuses to hold curl or stay in place when engineered, even by skilled hands. I’m strictly a “wash and run” kind of person. For this reason, a good cut is crucial—at an equitable price, of course.
It’s a dilemma, both within and upon my head. I’ve read about people being poisoned by their own body chemistry, strangled by their clothing. Is my hair out to get me?

Insect Apocalypse

In the second year of the pandemic, in the depths of a blistering mutant summer, amid the throes of planetary climate change, we began to hear talk of an Insect Apocalypse. Certainly, they’d multiplied beyond nightmare. Humans limited their time outside while animals endured and suffered.
We kept our windows closed but, alas, a fly found its way into the house. It was extraordinary because of its meager, even less than traditional, size; in a time when bees had grown to the size of adult thumbs, mosquitos the size of an open hand, and spiders constructed webs that spanned rivers. This tiny throwback to picnics of bygone eras had managed to find sanctuary in our midst, a near impossible feat as we are twenty-one stories up and never open the windows.
At first we took pity, beguiled by the wonder of it.
But the fly was a pest. It loitered on our food, buzzed about our heads when we tried to sleep. took irritating treks on our skin. We waved it off in the hope that it would conform to our ways. But it was defiant in its right to infringe on our lives and prove its superiority.
It was faster than us.
It teased.
It contaminated.
It tortured.
It was confident in its primacy.
We began to believe that this was the thrum of evolution, the New Normal in the form of a revised ascendancy of species.
We acquiesced and the fly accepted our capitulation.
Time passed and we began to accept our amended status. An alternative place in the universe had imposed itself upon us.
One evening as my spouse watched the news and I scanned the newspaper for some evidence of scruple, the fly lingered on the table before me.
Slowly I rolled the paper and adjusted my body to a more forward but unthreatening posture. I raised the ploy.
WHAM!
The experiment in coexistence ended, the insect a smear on the glass, my karma defiled (alas, not the only occasion). A life canceled, the evidence wiped clean with Windex and paper towel. But I’m repentant and will work to stave off further rash instinctive reactions in an effort to improve my standing in the karmic system of a precarious cosmos.