I hear scratching and scurrying sounds in the ceiling above my bed. It must be birds on the roof.
I find a pile of sunflower seed shells dribbling from a bag of bird seed in the sun room. Outside the door is a fat squirrel innocently nibbling under the outdoor bird feeder. He’s the prime suspect.
I get a notice from the Post Office saying my mailbox is in an impossible place and causing intractable and unreasonable hardship to the mail carriers. Since my mail box is three feet from the road on a fence post, I don’t understand this.
I call my branch office, which can only be reached by calling national headquarters in Washington D.C., which connects me with my branch a mile from my home. A pleasant tenor voice tells me that because of the way my car is parked, the carriers have to put their carts in reverse and this is illegal. My options are to move my mailbox or park a block from my home, ceding the entire parking strip to the mail carriers who aren’t allowed to back up.
He tells me that my mail will be held for me until I move my box and that I have to give back all of last week’s mail. But this is a joke. I think.
Becky calls to talk about how homesick she is for New Orleans. She proceeds to denigrate everyone who has had the misfortune to be born in the Pacific Northwest and who hasn’t the wherewithal to either rise above their miserable lot or move. I ask how her psycho-therapy clients respond to that paradigm. No comment.
Neighborhood cats bring over lawns chairs and Mai Tais and spend the day lounging outside the sun-room door. Occasionally one gets up to paw and sniff around a pile of bricks. Edith spends hours crouched by a crack in the wall.
Chris and Wills come with their mother to help move the mailbox. They fight over who gets the post-hole digger and for how long. I time them—five minutes a turn. We move the mailbox just in time for today’s mail, which the mail carrier can now deliver not only without going into reverse but without even leaning over onto one buttock.
Early morning I watch a large rat strut across the sun-room floor as though his name was on the mortgage. I open the door. He pauses insolently. I make a loud thump and he scurries off but I haven’t the presence of mind to mark where he goes.
I immediately depart for the hardware store, still in bedroom slippers, to get rat poison. I understand that the poison makes them thirsty so they wander to the edge of one’s property and fall face down in a puddle of water in the neighbor’s yard. I have never seen this phenomenon but I don’t question it. Put bedroom slippers in garbage.
Mail not delivered today.
Becky calls. All Seattlites are Introverts, something that ranks a little above slug. We are social Neanderthals who don’t know how to have fun or make friends. She is going to write a scholarly book on the subject. I suggest that she doesn’t find me unfriendly and that it hurts my feelings to hear my home, family and friends being criticized so viciously. This surprises her.
No more scurrying sounds. No more sightings. However sunflower seeds now being extracted from fresh hole in bird seed bag, which I had moved to what I thought was an inaccessible place.
Yesterday’s mail comes today with little handwritten notes on four envelopes saying that mail was undeliverable because mail box was blocked by a car. It would have taken less time to walk around the alleged car than it did to scribble the notes.
To Die Fledermaus with Eleanor. Opera is charming but as Eleanor says, a little Strauss goes a long way. We go in my car and I forget to give her back her handicapped parking sign.
I fuss about the parking sign. Eleanor says not to worry. Her car is inoperable and she’s stuck at home for at least a day. Library lot is full and I am salivating to get the Anne Perry on hold for me. Pull into the handicapped spot, put out the sign, and limp theatrically into library.
John across the street and I agree to split the cost of a load of compost. We decide to have it delivered in front of my fence, well off the parking strip that is reserved in its entirety for the mail carrier.
Smell emanating from kitchen drain. Scrub out the sink. Pour vinegar and baking soda down the drain. Scrub out garbage cans. Scrub cupboard below the sink. Dust with soda, sprinkle with bay rum. Odor is noticeably stronger.
Becky calls with fresh tirade brought on by having arranged to meet someone for coffee and the two of them sat in two different Starbucks waiting for the other to show up. This somehow reflects upon the social skills of anyone born in the Pacific Northwest. I say I won’t listen to any more criticism but would talk about ways to help her feel more at home here. Long pause. She appreciates hearing “where I am.”
I am certain the rat I apprehended in the sun-room has died under the kitchen sink. There’s a clearance of only eight inches under that part of the house. I make a few tentative swipes with stick through the sun-room air vent but lose heart.
Ask Eleanor to come over with moral support and a hoe. Burn incense and essential oils all over the house.
The stench is staggering. I find a listing in the yellow pages with “RAT ODOR?” in caps. The voice on the end of the line is reassuring. Within the hour, Pete from Excel pest Control shows up to inspects the house, the sun-room, and the yard. He tells me that rats seldom work alone. They have families.
“Well I’ve only seen the one,” I say confidently.
Judging by the number of tracks, Pete estimates there are at least two families under the house. I feel blood drain from my face. He watches me and doesn’t say any more. I tell him about the scratching sounds above my bed. He goes to inspect the attic. I am sitting down, taking deep breaths through my nose when he comes back with a report that there are several more families in the attic. This information does not register at all.
“How did you come to have this job?” I ask chattily.
He answers all my questions matter-of-factly while my mind whites out, comes back, and whites out again.
“I’m sure there’s just the one rat,” I repeat.
He looks at me for a long time.
We walk outside and the fresh air clears my mind. We settle on a time for him to set traps and to seal the house. He sprays some vicious pine-smelling stuff into the vent under the sink. I spend the rest of the morning trying to find someone to remove all the contaminated insulation and to dig out a crawl space under the sink.
Wait all day for the compost to be delivered. At ten o’clock in the evening John calls to say the garden company wrote down the wrong address and couldn’t deliver but will come first thing in the morning.
Cook Chinese herbs while wearing a respirator mask.
Ten cubic feet of compost is delivered at 5:30 in the morning and wakes up the entire neighborhood. Next door neighbor calls to say she is having major surgery that morning—just wanted me to know. I run over to see her off.
Becky leaves a message. She is calling to say goodbye to our “friendship” and comments that I, in typical Seattle introverted Neanderthal fashion, am not picking up the phone so she has to get her closure by leaving a message. I intercept the call but she tells me she doesn’t see any point in talking and hangs up. I crawl into my cave, make grunting sounds and suck on my greasy hair.
Edith is beside herself wanting to go into the sun-room.
Contractor and a couple of workers show up two hours late and start on the insulation. Contractor is wearing a cap with a Playboy bunny logo and I look at it while he goes over the contract.
He says, “Now if there’s anything you want us to do or not do, just say so.”
I consider asking him to not wear that cap while on my property but decide against it.
My first student arrives. The guys have begun to explore the areas under the kitchen. They decide they need trench digging shovels. The Playboy goes off to Army/Navy. I ask the dirt-dobbers to please not make any loud announcements once I start teaching. They both smell as bad as the dead rats but I am very, very nice to them and give them sodas and ice tea.
Late afternoon I hear a shout and a lot of thumping. The guys pack up hurriedly. Evidently there is an ancient rat civilization complete with burial grounds under my kitchen sink, but they had only managed to pull out one skeleton. The Playboy tells me gravely that there is a live opossum with eyes as big as silver dollars under the house and he can’t let his men finish the work until all live animals are gone.
I burst into tears. That night I sit on the kitchen floor with a respirator mask on and talk to the opossum. I thank him for choosing my home and ask him to please go away now. I burn sage all through the house and don’t sleep very well.
END OF PART ONE