THE DAY MY SON ANSWERED ME

I’d almost convinced myself that the cat’s recurring interest in what lay under the cupboards was just normal behaviour; not evidence of the rodent he’d lost the day he crashed through the cat flap mouth full of rat, and laid it at my feet. He’d stared astonished as the rat flipped onto its feet and sprinted for the kitchen where it frantically wriggled its fat rump under the impossibly tight gap of a cupboard.

“Bloody hell, Louis – not again,” I exclaimed. “When will you learn that they play dead!?”  

When I’d finished dismantling the kitchen and found no rat, I decided to call her Jody; to remind us that she was merely a creature seeking to survive and was understandably terrified and therefore hiding – too well. Having kept pet rats in the past I was not as freaked out as some people might be. I knew rats to be intelligent, playful little creatures, except when attacked. I left the back door open and told myself she’d get out at a moment of her choosing. She chose alright – to stay.

The house was abundant with resources and the best was in the kitchen. There was food, J-clothes and paper towels for bedding, a passage behind the cupboards, and a cavity into the wall that she’d chiselled out for a sleeping hole. It was warm and dry; she need not risk the danger outside. She could smell the cat. At night she gnawed through the back of cupboards and replenished her supplies.

It was the rank ammonia smell and the tiny holes nibbled through the dry food packets that alerted us. We were still shacking-up with a rat six weeks after the cat had lost her.  That night I opened-up the spaces under the cupboards while the cat hovered, sniffed and stuck his head under them.

“Do it properly this time!” I admonished as I went to bed.

When day arrived, I scanned the kitchen for a dead rat and was disappointed. Walking into the adjoining room I stopped. The cat sat upright, silent, eyes fixed on the wooden box across the room.

“So, Jody is out.” I murmured.

Safety lies in small dark places she thinks.

Shite.

I could hear the irritated tones of my 24-year-old son Isaac, awake too early.

“Not now Isaac.”I frowned running to his room. Picking up a CD I held the shiny blank side out to him asking hurriedly,“Music?”

He looked at it from the bed and reached out to touch it; his way of indicating, ‘Yes’ he did want the music.

“Yes.” I echoed rather too loudly so that he gritted his teeth and growled back at me.

Isaac continues to confound me with his ability to learn and I feel a tinge of guilt at the historic lack of expectation, from myself, his teachers, everybody. This is the first time, however, that I have felt it imperative to speak to him and to have him understand and answer me (preferably to the affirmative). I felt relief as we understood each other. I couldn’t explain the rat of course and if he had refused to touch the disk, I have no idea what I would have done.  

Pushing his door shut, I ran back to the dining room and glanced at the clock on wall 7.30am – half an hour before Becky (his PA) would arrive.

“Live rat!”I shouted up to Dad, Ewen, before he could come down.

He claims he has a phobia, he does, it’s inconvenient!

He yelled 16-year-old Zeina awake with a “Go help mum!” and shut himself in the upstairs office.

Zeina, usually a slow riser was already standing at the bottom of the stairs, peeping round the doorframe as I closed Isaac’s door. I armed her with broom and shield (canvas board) and began blocking off the sofa, dragging the boxes away from the corners, and arming myself. Very slowly, I reached out and shifted the box, just a fraction and suddenly everything was in motion: me up onto the box, the cat after the rat, the rat under the sofa and Zeina darting back behind the door frame. Then stillness, except for our heavy breathing, all four. And so, it went on, me stepping from chair to chair, to box, to sofa, with broom and shield in hand. Zeina guarding the stairway in the vague plan of ‘directing’ fat Jody down the hallway to the open front door. 

The cat meanwhile slunk, surreptitiously, down the hall and sat just outside the door looking back critically on the chaos of our noisy hunting.

Our triumphant cries aborted as Jody, finally nearing the front door, realized the cat, flung herself at his face, then wheeled around and shot back inside!

The cat, taken aback by her fierceness, sauntered off ignoring our shouts to “Get back in and finish the job!” feigning a deep love for a lavender bush.

I turned my ear to listen for Isaac and registered his still contented drone.

Good, I thought, turning my attention back to the task.

We took up our positions again and, leaning forward from the safety atop a chair, I aimed the broom into the corner where Jody hid. A shiver ran through me every time she squeaked, too loud for such a small animal. We squealed ourselves as we batted her away when she flew at us in terror.

When, finally, she streaked through the now unobstructed front door, we held our breath; but this time she continued out. The bright day was preferable to the violence within.

When Becky arrived at the door in sparkling pink cycling pink helmet “Why is Louis hiding under a car?” She wondered.

We babbled out our story tripping over each other’s sentences in adrenalin-soaked voices, as Isaac’s still contented noises confirmed he was enjoying the music.

By Sandra

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