During the warm weather, my cats come and go as they please. They prefer doorman services, but they have cat doors: one from the house into the sun room and another from the sunroom to the outdoors. I sometimes prop a house door open to spare them the onerous inconvenience of pushing through two flaps. In any case, they have a lot of freedom during the summer.
In the autumn, however, the house goes into lockdown and the cats have to go through security in order to come inside. This usually goes into effect after the first rodent incident. I won’t tell you how I developed what might just reach the level of a rat phobia; I want money for that story. But I have several junior stories.
I had been asleep for several hours one night when a growl from the hall woke me. I fumbled for the light. There in the door were the three cats. Artemis and Freud were dancing with interest around Winston, the 18 lb tabby, who had an enormous rat dangling from his mouth. He had it by its middle so it was drooping on either side of his mouth, a surreal moustache. I recognized the peculiar quality of his Proprietary Growl. Every cat owner knows it. It’s the one that says, “I caught this; it’s mine. Back off Whisker Boy!”
I slowly and tentatively put my feet on the floor. Winston and entourage moved out of sight, heading toward the living room where there’s a piano to crawl into, a closet with a file cabinet to hide behind, a couch to gnaw into the heart of, and a Lazy Boy chair from whose mechanical workings I have expelled any number of mice by nudging them along with a chopstick. I put on shoes and bravely advanced to the edge of the living room. The posse was crowded around the Lazy Boy.
I thought, “I hate this. I really do. I need my sleep.” I backed up, went into the bathroom, found a half a Xanax, and went back to bed, closing the bedroom door firmly behind me. At 4:00, Freud and Winston were keeping watch at the opening between the refrigerator and the wall. I took the rest of the Xanax and went back to bed.
When I finally got up at 7, the house was quiet; the cats were snoozing in their various approved sleeping quarters. I woke them up and made them walk around with me while I tried to get a reading on where they might have left last night’s reluctant guest. They were completely uncooperative and in addition, did not seem hungry. I tentatively went about my morning routine, thinking that I should be on the lookout for uneaten body parts rather than an entire animal.
My house has a circular floor plan and what’s called a Pullman bathroom. There are two doors on either end– like on a train car. I end up using the bathroom as a thoroughfare for just about any journey I take in the house. So by 10:30 that morning, I had gone in and out of the bathroom dozens of time. It was around then that I started thinking something smelled a little ripe. Then I noticed blood on the shower curtain.
I slowly pulled back the curtain to reveal the rat lying in fetal position in the middle of the tub. I froze. My heart was the first body part to move again and it started to race.
“You can do this,” I told myself in between deep breaths.
I dragged a garbage can into the bathroom. I put on a pair of latex gloves. I put a pair of leather workman gloves over the latex ones. I covered my right hand with two plastic grocery bags. My plan was to rip open the shower curtain as fast as I could, reach down, grab the rodent, and wrap the bags over him, chuck him in the garbage and haul the garbage out to the curb all without thinking about it too much.
I ripped open the shower curtain. The rat leapt up! It scuttled frantically down the length of the tub. My scream caused the shower curtain hooks to rattle. I pulled one door closed, exited the bathroom and slammed the other door shut and groped my way to the telephone.
I called my neighbors who have rescued me from any number of rat invasions over the years. Usually David comes over. It’s like a scene from Rear Window: I dial the number. Through my front window I see David answer the phone, then he looks across the street and waves at me. We converse, hang up. I stand by the phone, wringing my hands, hardly breathing, and watch him walk through his house, and go out his back door, all the while putting on gloves. He comes across the street and picks up the offenders. I never see them again. He’s a one man Rat Mafia.
On this particular occasion Grace came over with a bucket. She went into the bathroom as calm as a surgeon and emerged 20 seconds later.
“Wasn’t it there?” I asked wildly.
“No, it was there,” she said.
“Did you get it?”
“Oh yes, it’s right here. It’s a little worse for wear. But there’s some blood and a few tracks in the tub,” she sounded almost apologetic for leaving me with such a mess.
“Oh, Grace, thank you. It’s okay; I can clean it up as long as I don’t actually look at it.”
She laughed kindly. She’s a saint.
I threw out the tub rug. I laundered the shower curtain, the liner, the floor rug. I wiped down not only the tub and shower, but every inch of the bathroom, floor to ceiling; first with bleach, then hot water and soap and did a final finish of rubbing alcohol.
And I closed the cat doors for the season.