My outdoor shower is roomy enough for a few plants and a footstool, and for more than one bather, if that’s a necessity. It’s not. No one bathes there but me. My kids think it’s weird.
But I’m not the only visitor there. I have to keep the soap in a plastic container because otherwise it gets stolen. The thief seems partial to lavender but not lemon verbena, so I myself have become partial to lemon verbena.
I’m pretty sure the culprit is a rat. Or rats. I’ve seen the occasional evidence (re: poop). Honestly, I don’t mind if rats occasionally hang out in my shower, as long as I’m not there. I mean, there are approximately five bazillion palm rats in Florida. Surely, they nightly traverse parts of my yard that I later traverse myself. Nightly. That’s the key, the skulking about in the very dark recesses of night. I don’t mind knowing that rats exist in the vicinity. But for the love of Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint protectress against rats and mental illness, the rats must remain out of my sight. They must.
Well. Even though rats are very smart, even smarter than dogs, they haven’t grasped the concept that humans don’t want them around. I feel mean just saying such a thing, but c’mon. I’m sorry, rats. You’re creepy.
When we moved into this little house nearly eight years ago, we needed a little more space, so we decided to turn the garage into an adorable little bedroom for our younger child, who hated it from the day she moved in.
What remains is a kind of mini-garage, or perhaps a perfect little area for storing a couple of boxes 10 feet long and three feet wide.
As a result, garden tools and garage type stuff – extension cords, gloves, fire starter, a broken lighter, moldy sneakers – gets shoved in various receptacles around the yard.
One of those receptacles: a large chest of drawers. In its previous life, it lovingly held the adorable onesies and footsie pajamas of first one child and then another. Then it was rejected and lugged outside to become a storer of Stuff No One Wants To See.
I’ve been trying to clean up the backyard (hence the yellow jacket episode) and a few weeks ago, I decided to clean out the chest of drawers. I opened up the top drawer and saw a long brown cord I thought might be an extension cord. I reached for it. It moved. It was a rat tail, attached to a rat body that disappeared downward through the space at the back of the open drawer.
“OH, SHIT!” I shouted to no one. I shut the drawer, backed up, and contemplated my next step. I decided to call my sister. “Oh my god,” she said. “You’ve got to call pest control.” And tell them what? I have a rat outside my house? No.
I consulted my neighbor. “Well, you’ve got to kill the rat,” she said. So I headed to the hardware store to get some traps. “Don’t get any of those ‘no-kill’ traps,” she called after me. “Do you hear me?”
I bought two old-fashioned traps and some special rat food that looked like throw-up, and set one up in the drawer and one on top the dresser. I couldn’t put one on the ground because of the dogs.
For three days, I checked the traps, both hopeful and afraid I’d find something dead there. Crickets.
Finally, I decided I had scared away the rat. It was time to dismantle the very heavy formerly very expensive piece of furniture and haul it off to the trash.
I slowly took out the first drawer and dropped it on the ground. No noise, no squeaking, no rustling. It was safe. But I didn’t want to carry it. What if I touched rat stuff? What if the rat was hiding somewhere and jumped out and looked at me? I would die. So I got a piece of rope and tied it around the drawer knob and pulled it to the trash pile like a sled. For the second drawer, same thing. Now I could see the entire third drawer, and I stared in wonder. Taking up half the drawer was a masterpiece of an abode that the rat had assembled. It looked like an earthen hovel made of pine needles and leaves, with structural branches. It looked cozy. I thought of how nice the rat must have felt when it rained, snuggled deep down in the sheltered third drawer, chewing lazily on the garden gloves I had stored there.
It was such a nice rat house that I begin to doubt the rat had actually left. And what if it had babies?
I looked around and found a little garden shovel. I banged on the dresser a couple of times. Nothing. I banged again, harder and louder, and there it was, a rustle and a splash of movement, and the rat leaped out of the drawer, scurried away from me at the speed of light and ran straight up the downspout to my gutter.
Well, now. I was sort of rid of the rat! I carefully rooted around the rat house to make sure there weren’t any babies.
I called my sister. “You can’t let it stay in your gutter!” she said.
“The hell I can’t,” I replied. I probably already had a colony of rats in my gutter. #FloridaLife
I tied the rope around the final drawer, and dragged it to the curb. My neighbor came outside to see, and together we stared down at the rat house. “I wonder if it’ll try to find its home,” I said. I worried it would find its home, and be snuggled back in it when the garbage man hoisted it into the truck and everything got crunched into oblivion. I hoped not.
Sometimes, Mr. Rat, life is like that. You work hard to build a safe place, a sturdy comfortable home where you can hide from danger, and you ebb into an easy endless cycle of foraging and eating and pooping and hiding from bad things.
Then the very being whose presence made your home possible arrives with a shovel and bangs on the perimeter of your world, and suddenly everything you thought was true and real is not, not at all.
You can live in my gutter, Mr. Rat. From there, you can feel the wind in your fur and you can even watch a sunset on occasion. You will be fine.
Just stay out of my house, okay? Also, watch out for hawks.