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September 21, 2014

Noises Off

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You know sometimes you hear a noise in your house that you can’t identify? But one cat opens an eye and another one yawns. The third lifts his head up, but none of them summon a sense of danger or even curiosity. And so everyone relaxes. An hour later you find the shower curtain has crashed into the tub where you have an inch of bleach water, bringing with it the black skirt you had drip drying on the rod. And you think, “oh that must have been that noise.” And you’re so relieved that you’ve located the sound that you don’t think to castigate yourself for leaving your (favorite) black skirt so close to its mortal enemy til much later in the day.

There was a noise like that a few weeks ago, I’m sure of it. Now that the season is turning and the windows aren’t open as much, there have been a collection of such noises. I haven’t gotten them all catalogued yet but I did think I had identified one such noise last week.  As it turns out, it’s still a cold case.

The story begins with a different kind of house noise: the one I’ve been hearing for a few months. It’s a ticking sound in the ceiling above my bed. Sometimes it wakes me up at night. I know the sound of wasps in the wall and it wasn’t like that. I know the sounds of rats in the walls and it wasn’t like that either. So for a long time I told myself it was nothing. Crows maybe, picking at whatever they could find on the roof.

But the other night when it was chilly and we had our first rain in weeks, the ticking activity accelerated to the point that I knew Something Was Going On that couldn’t be ignored any longer. In the morning I did an inspection tour on the north side of the house and sure enough, there was a swarm of wasp activity at an air vent. Inside the house I slid open the door to the attic crawl space, which happened to be conveniently located three feet from the air vent that was providing the wasps their summer rental. A wasp came ambling toward me and I slammed the door shut.

“My god, they’re in the house!”

My voice was about two octaves higher than usual when I talked to Eden Pest Control but they re-assured me that what I was describing was not unusual. The only unusual thing was the amount of money it would cost to have them come out to neutralize the situation. They came within two hours. These guys are great, by the way. I think that a calm, matter-of-factly demeanor must be part of their job description. Enjoying the rescue and the sense of being a savior doesn’t hurt. I know two people in pest control who are Sagittarians.

After checking the outside, my savior inspected the attic. He shone his flashlight inside, then crawled in and had a good look. He emerged looking calm and reassuring while I sat on the stairs making hash of the inside of my lip.

“What I am going to do is spray the outside of the hive with a transference product. It’ll get passed around the hive until they all die. I’ll be back in two weeks to follow-up and when I do, it would be a good idea to remove the rat you’ve got up here.”

I felt the blood drain right down to my toe-nails and I started babbling.

“There’s a rat? There can’t be a rat. How did a rat get up here? I haven’t smelled anything. It must be from a long time back.” Like that mattered.

“It doesn’t look all that old.”

“My god. I set that trap fifteen years ago.”

“It’s a good thing you did.”

Aw geeze. There’s been a dead rat practically above my bed and I don’t want to finish this sentence.

But this is where I linked up one of those unexplained noises. Somewhere in the recesses of the last month there was an odd thump, I’m sure of it. It was the trap springing while my cats yawned. Or rather, the cats that bothered to wake up yawned. It turns out that was wishful thinking and that uncredited noise now exits the story.

What happened next is that I got to obsessing about the rat. I wasn’t going to wait two weeks to have it removed and I most assuredly was not going to crawl in and get it myself. I’ve removed dead rats from behind refrigerators and stoves and have scooped up body parts in the yard with a shovel but the truth is that I am rather phobic about rats and I did not want to go after one in a dark enclosed space and then have that memory to torment me. I don’t know why I feel I need to justify myself. No one would want to do it, not even a Sagittarian.

I asked my neighbor to do it. Not my neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything and who actually is a Sagittarian–I need her for too many of her specialized skills as it is—but my lovely, lovely neighbor, Bill whose little cat I adore. He didn’t look especially pleased to be asked, but he was very nice about it. I sat at the top of the stairs, looking like I do when the phlebotomist draws blood– that is to say, gazing in the distance– while Bill Went In. He reported that the rat was very light, suggesting that it had been up there longer than just a few weeks. A fresh helping of horror cascaded down my spine. How long have I been sleeping with a rat corpse above me while my useless cats hogged the bed?

I revisited the origins of my rat phobia by re-reading a piece I wrote in 1999 called “My Journal of a Plague Year” and decided it was time to buff it up and publish. It was written on a typewriter so I have to re-type it into the computer. Stay tuned.





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