There is either a rat or a squirrel in the space between the ground floor and the second floor of my home. I can hear it middle of most nights chewing, or scratching, or burrowing, slowly destroying the infrastructure. It doesn't move much, there’s no sharp-nailed skittering back and forth between the joists, and for a few days I thought perhaps it was trapped, or nesting. Now I realize that it is more than that; it is working on my downfall.
I might be dreaming quite happily of Trump’s demise, bearing witness to some fantastic impeachment at Mar-a-Lago, when in the distance, like some gone-mad tunnel-digger, I’ll hear the damn rat again. And with that - before the climactic impeachment, some carting off of the madman in a padded van - I’m awake mid-night on Charles St, wondering whether the animal is about to appear in the bedroom closet of one of my kids. Is the little bastard right now, I wonder feverishly, free of that liminal space between floors and shimmying down the light cable above the dining table like some buck-toothed pole dancer? It ain’t always pretty downtown.
The thing is, How the hell do I get at the animal? If I cut into the flooring and get it wrong, I’ve just made a mess of the pine, carved a forever reminder of my fix-it inadequacies. And if I get it right, then I’ve made an escape hatch for the rabid, cooped-up pest. Next thing you know it’s chasing me around the house foaming at the mouth, while my kids bawl on the back deck.
And so I’ve opted for inaction. The out-loud rationalization is that the rat will find a way out, or simply tire of the game and leave me alone. But the darker possibility is that the rat will die under those floor boards, and then will rot and stink and I will once again have to decide what to do.
Perhaps this is another musing about procrastination. Maybe I’m writing this so I don’t have to go looking for a screwdriver with which I can open up the attic hatch and go crawling around up there (like some bigger hunched beast) hunting for tunnels in the fibreglass, droppings in the soffit. That’s distinctly possible. I am eminently capable of avoiding the tough stuff. Or maybe it’s that I want to write about something other than houses (while actually still writing about houses).
But this is most likely an early morning attempt to dig a little into what fear feels like, to poke around its insides. The idea of coming face to face in a confined space with a rat provokes in me Edvard Munchian levels of panic. Picture, if you will, The Scream scribbled large over a map of the Inner Harbour, like a haunting red fog. I’ll do anything just about to avoid that future. But thinking on it ever so lightly, from a big soft chair in the kitchen, to touch tentatively with inadequate words the outer grey edge of what I’m comfortable with, is oddly compelling, at least for me.