It was the summer andI was living in a row house in the City. I had grown up in the suburbs and gone to school in the suburbs but now I was a lawyer and living in the city. I had moved in during the winter and now we were coming into the hot part of the summer. There was a redwood deck in the back of the house. The deck had been a big selling point when we bought the house. We were out there all the time. We had a barbeque grill and a table and some lawn chairs and we cooked out there whenever we could.
It was a very hot day. For some reason I was home by myself. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and I was barefoot. I looked out at the deck from the kitchen window. There was a rat sitting on the deck. You could tell it was a rat by its tail. The tail was pinkish and lay like a rope on the decking. The rat’s fur was matted in the back and he had whiskers. The rat was huge.
I looked out the window, speechless. We can’t have a rat, I thought. Not on our deck. I knew there were rats in the city, but not at my house.
I hated having that rat on the back deck. I had to take action. That rat was going to be very sorry he chose to sit on my deck. I looked around for something to use to teach him a lesson. There were a couple of steak knives on the counter. I reached to grab one, but thought better of it. How was I going to get near the rat with a steak knife in my hand? He would surely see me coming. Also, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to get as close to the rat as the limited length of a steak knife would require. Yes, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed wise not to get too close. City rats were likely to be nasty in every way. They probably carried bad diseases and would bite on instinct.
No, a much better plan was to deliver the necessary justice from a distance. I began looking around my kitchen for something to throw. I found a small glass spice jar filled with cinnamon. It was good weight and fit my hand nicely. I picked it up and gave it a heft or two. I liked the feel.
On the deck, the rat hadn’t moved. He looked through the window at me with a bored and, frankly, insolent expression. As if he suspected I was just the type of person who thought that a cinnamon spice jar was a weapon. Something in that look really bothered me. I needed something bigger, something that would wipe that look off his face. The spice jar was too small. Too oddly shaped. That rat should not have any illusion that he’d walk away from a direct hit.
I looked around the kitchen again. Nothing sprang out as the perfect weapon. I looked in the cabinets: plates, bowls, glasses. I opened the refrigerator and saw a grapefruit, but that wasn’t hard enough and I didn’t want to ruin it anyway.
I walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room. Our dining room table was formal; we used it only occasionally for dinner. Most of the time it was piled high with the detritus of our city lives. Right in the middle was the gym bag from the softball team I was playing on. I saw the bag and the thought hit me at once. A bat! I’ll just go out and slug that rat. That will show him.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a bat in the bag. There was one up on the third floor but I couldn’t take my eyes off the rat that long. If I wandered off, who knew if he’d still be there when I got back? No I couldn’t take that risk.
I looked out the window again. He was still there. Still looking at me. He was even larger and even more insolent than he had been before. I think he was talking bad about me to other animals outside my field of vision. He was calling me a loser.
I reached into the gym bag and felt around and then I found it. It was a softball, just about perfect. The size of the grapefruit, but hard and made for throwing. I picked it up and hefted it. Oh yes! One good shot with this softball and that rat would be singing a different tune. Oh yeah! Time for justice.
Silently, I stepped out the back door and onto the porch. Slowly, slowly, I stepped forward. He was about ten feet from me. He was easily the size of a groundhog. Up this close I could see he was covered in slime. His eyes were bright red.
He looked right at me. Irritatingly, he did not find me a threat.
I took two steps forward. I was now six feet from the rat. How could he have let me get so close: the fool!
I bent my knees. I got myself into a position of athletic readiness.
I played baseball throughout the years when I was growing up. I played different positions but they all took advantage of the strength of my arm. I could throw a runner out at second base from behind the plate without needing to stand. And when I pitched, I rarely went an inning without striking out a batter. I had speed and power growing up. And I still had it. I might have been a lawyer now, but I still had it. I felt right.
The rat had no appreciation of what was about to happen to him.
I gave the softball a firm squeeze. I leaned my weight back onto my right foot. I reared back.
By the way, I wasn’t going to pull any punches. I wasn’t going to sugar coat it. I was going to deliver what this rat needed: a flat out fast ball with every bit of steam that my 6’4” frame could deliver. Shock and awe. Shock and awe, baby.
I pulled my arm back to its zenith and then I whipped it forward. As my weight transferred from my back leg to my forward leg, my arm came over my head in classic form. Everything clicked; I launched that ball with the most force I had ever brought to a single pitch.
In the instant after I let the ball go, I felt a small trickle of doubt enter my consciousness. Immediately thereafter I heard an enormous bang. The softball hit the deck, a foot away from the rat, and bounced wildly over the fence at the back of the yard.
Almost simultaneously there was a pain in my shoulder unlike anything I had ever felt before. My arm seemed to disconnect from my body.
I yelled at the top of my lungs. I grabbed my shoulder. Jesus Christ! Oh My God! I bent over so my arm hung down to the deck like the trunk of an elephant. I manipulated my shoulder with my left hand in an attempt to make the pain stop.
A second passed. The pain was literally blinding. I sank to my knees on the deck and tried to pull my shoulder back into my body. I must have done something right because the pain started to subside, but I had a hollow feeling in my stomach, as if part of my core had been scooped out of me. I groaned and rose to my feet. I opened my eyes.
The rat was still there. Smug, corrupt, insolent, indifferent. A gray mottled rat with a pink tail and red eyes looking at me with, there is no other way to say it, pity.
I could not abide that look. But there was nothing I could do. I was still holding my arm. I couldn’t have thrown anything even if I could have found something out here on the deck. I had bare feet so I couldn’t even kick him.
Before I could come up with any strategy, the rat, apparently bored by the proceedings, took three slow and deliberate steps forward and went over the side of the deck and disappeared underneath.
Oh My God, could anything be worse? I failed in removing the rat, I failed in frightening the rat, I failed in delivering even a stern message to the rat. And now, the grim truth: the rat lived here! He lived underneath my deck. I began to think of the implications. Was he married, did he have children? Did I have an entire family of rats living just underneath the redwood deck where we walked around in bare feet and lay exposed on lawn chairs soaking up the dim slices of city sun?
I thought of all the barbeques we had had on the back deck and all the hamburgers that fell from the grill that we swept indifferently through the cracks. My God, we’ve been feeding them! We’ve been raising a brood of rats! We have been filling them with ground chuck, extra lean. No wonder the rat was so big.
Damn it. I was living with a rat.