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  • They are everyone's dirty little secret. I'm sure that we all have a rat story, from somewhere. Whether it's from that low-rent hotel in China, or the greasy spoon restaurant you worked in, or that first apartment in the city. They say the most rats in Victoria live in Oak Bay, one of the poshest neighbourhoods. No doubt this city has thousands of rat stories. This is mine.

    It was my "summer of rats." The worst moment was when I had one looking down on me from the ceiling of my bedroom. Or maybe it was when I hit one over the head with a rolling pin. But let me start at the beginning.

    My mother was still alive, and I was struggling to come to terms with giving up my own life to look after her in a house that was crammed with her things. Let's say that my mother didn't find it easy to throw things away - she wasn't quite a hoarder, but the house was packed pretty tightly with "things."

    One afternoon that summer, I went to look for something in the basement, and spotted what was unmistakably a rodent dropping of Some Kind. Just one. Round and meaty. Fairly fresh. Too big to belong to a mouse, and although I tried to kid myself that it might be a squirrel's, in my heart I knew it was rat shit. And where there was one bit, there was likely to be more.

    So I instituted some clearance of the basement (easier than upstairs, because my mother was in a wheelchair and couldn't see what I was doing). Stale dry dog food and old bird seed went into the rubbish bin.

    Then I found some droppings in the hall cupboard, which was crammed with boxes and mismatched shoes. Clearing that out, there was evidence that Someone had been spending time there. By this time, I couldn't any longer keep the situation secret from my mother, but she shared my shame and unwillingness to ask for help, although I don't know now whether she realized that her own habit of collecting things had exacerbated the problem. In any case, at no time did we discuss the possibility of getting an exterminator.

    While I cleaned the cupboard, there was a lightning flash of movement in the corner of my eye. The cat suddenly became very interested in the cold air return vent in the floor.

    On a night soon after, I was awoken in my basement bedroom by scrabbling over-head. When I turned on the light, I spotted through my open bedroom door a sleek, swift figure skimming across the basement floor. I realized that they were coming in at ground level through my bedroom window, running across the ceiling, dropping down and across the basement floor, and up the stairs to the kitchen.

    So I bought some heavy chicken wire and covered the outside of my bedroom window. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that I had trapped at least one rat inside the house, because the next night I came face to face with the one in my ceiling. He (she?) was near the window, trying desperately to get out but thwarted by the chicken wire. My window had a deep sill, sunk in the basement foundation, and I had a solid glass pane that swung downwards, held open with a hook. Somehow I managed to jump across the bed and slam the window shut while the rat was next to the chicken wire. Then, unable to face a night with a rat in a "cage" above my head, I took my quilt and went miserably upstairs to sleep on the couch.

    I had no idea what to do about the rat in the window, but, fortunately for me, perhaps, my chicken wire did not keep the rat in, and he (she?) escaped at some time during the night. After that, I kept my bedroom window closed.

    However, there was still another. Perhaps it was the one that had hidden in the cold air return vent, because one night soon after that I went through the kitchen in the dark and heard squeaking. This time, I was determined to catch the thing, but was not able to cope physically with the spring-loaded traps or emotionally with the idea of a live-trap, and didn't want to use poison in a house with a cat and two dogs (and a fat lot of use THEY were). So I bought one of those very impractical things that are a rectangle of plastic, coated with a very sticky adhesive. The idea is that you put it where the rat will run and its feet get stuck. Yes. You can imagine, although I obviously didn't at the time. I put the trap down behind the fridge.

    Squeak squeak THWACK. Squeak squeak THWACK. Squeak squeak THWACK. That was the sound of a very angry rat caught by his tail and hind legs on a sticky pad of plastic.

    That was when I got out the rolling pin. There was a horrible crunch when it hit the rat's head, and, in an instant, the rat was No More.

    That night, right then, I broke down and cried. I cried for myself, having to deal with this crisis alone. I cried with exhaustion, with shame, with helplessness, for my mother's refusal to compromise with her living situation and for my own powerlessness.

    And I cried for the rat.
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