The School of Rats

There was a drain in the floor that the rats came through when the creek out back flooded. It was futile. When the creek flooded, the basement flooded. The waterline disguised ten inches up from the cement floor in crumbled mortar and dust painted a subtle history. Some storms were worse, some not as heavy, but over the last 83 years or so, ten inches was the average. The rats came before the water and you’d catch jolts of them darting about in the dim light from the stairwell. It was a sign to get anything worth saving off the floor. There wasn’t much in the way of hiding places in the basement, not after the first spring.  If  the water took longer to recede than they had endurance, they drowned.

Not many rats stand more than 10 inches high. Sometimes I’d sit on the steps and watch them cling to the porous brick down there, tails jerking to avoid the water and maintain a sense of balance. The hope was that the tornado roared through on the front end of the storm, so you could ride it out before the rats came.  After the storms were gone and the heat of summer consumed the standing water I cleaned up their dead.

Stomachs sunken and mouths agape, there was a fireplace shovel that I’d scoop them up with. It was in the basement when we moved in, the house never had had a fireplace. It was nice of the previous owners to leave it for us. I left one rat there in the basement to see what would become of it. To my surprise it never drew insects or skeletonized. It just grew more sunken and agape. Not nearly as gross as I had anticipated. He sat in the corner through most of the summer before I got bored with the experiment and buried him in the garden. He’d earned a proper burial. I hadn’t learned rat anatomy, but I had learn that you earn your burial.

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