There are rats in the house. They gnaw basket-straws, the cardboard edges of things.
Their shit, softening in repeated washings, hidden in the fingers of a glove.
Grey stains along the baseboard. They track each other, smelling. Eyes
dried berries, swiveling. The intelligence of their tails. Whisking, whiskering
and that murmur throughout the night, soft as water drops, or the hiss
of gas in the pipes of the house. They are deep inside the house.
To them, I am the tenant. They are owners, inheritors. I cannot help
arguing with this, in the strident manner of someone who is losing
ground. My human history is only a temporary reversal, and they know it.
They have no history, only time, which is on their side. I fill the walls
with various poisons. I sprinkle cloves and oil, barricade myself
with steel wool, witching my incantations. They do not bother
with laughter. It is their indifference that I hate, the way they do not
care for my thought. I follow them, begging for a reaction. They keep
gnawing. The house itself softens, warm and pliant as a cheese, a huge
moon-like cheese, riddled. They know about porousness. The house
is porous. A sponge. It absorbs me. They are very absorbing. Foundational
and the foundation is full of burrows. These burrows predate my tenancy.
They have tunneled into the concrete like drills. The house softens. Dampens
and warps, a book in a storm. They are not exactly plotting, besides
I’ve lost the plot. The house swells. I can feel it shift, lift. The house will
not resist. I should take that leaf from that book, but I can’t. The house,
loosening, has picked a side. It will float. It will float away, the rats furrowing
with their outboard motor tails. I’m left on the lawn with a croquet mallet,
gawking at my mistakenness. The house, listing as it floats, recedes.
Kate Cayley has published two short story collections and two collections of poetry, and written a number of plays, which have been performed in Canada, the US and the UK. She has won the Trillium Book Award, an O. Henry Prize, and the Mitchell Prize for Poetry.