Romancing The Rat

It’s 5:00 in the morning and I’m sipping coffee and sitting on the left side of our couch in the living room. I always sit on the left side of couches. It’s probably because I’m left-handed and I guess my body leans towards the left side of things. I hold my coffee mug with my left hand, my legs are bent at a left angle, my neck tilts to the left side in order for me to see the pages of my book, which sits on the left arm of the couch.

I get up every morning at 5:00 to read for an hour. It’s a hard hour to wake, especially when it’s dark and raining as it is today, but I love this hour because nobody else is up and I get to sit on the left side of the couch and read without worry that anyone will ask for a snack or whether they can turn on the TV.

At 5:30, Jesse, my husband, will wake up.  I’ll hear him walk across the bedroom floor and turn the shower on. He’ll open closet doors, and run the electric toothbrush.  Like clockwork, he’ll come downstairs at 6am. He will walk over to me huddled on the couch, give me a swift kiss, tell me to have a good day, and be out the door. Thirty minutes tops from pillow to garage – and he’s on his way to fight hurricanes.

Years ago, when we were in South Bend, Indiana, and he was a student at Notre Dame, we’d get up together. I’d make coffee and he’d make tea; Earl Grey with about a teaspoon of raw sugar sprinkled at the bottom of the mug waiting to mix with the tea leaves and boiling water. He’d top it off with milk and I’d tell him the smell almost made me consider drinking it. Almost.

I would read in the same position I am in this morning – all to the left – and Jesse would play Madden football on the X-Box. In the fall I lit cinnamon smelling candles and we’d listen to an old stereo that was his grandparents’. It played records and the radio and Jesse rigged it so we could listen to CDs and tapes, too. The sound quality was amazing, and the stereo itself was a piece of furniture, like a large bench. It extended the length of one wall in our apartment. Jesse introduced me to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Herbie Hancock on that stereo. He’d put CDs on “spin” so that we didn’t know which song would come next, but soon I could tell “Blue Dolphins” was Hancock, “Love Supreme” was Coltrane, and “Flamenco Sketches” was Miles.

There’s a John Mayer song about a girl he wishes would come back to him. She’s a girl who looks good in sweats, or at least, he likes it when she wears them. She’s a girl who got into a grocery cart and somehow crashed into a display aisle in a grocery store. She has a potty mouth, and she knows the difference between Miles and Coltrane. My cheeks get warm when I hear this song and think about John Mayer singing about a crazy girl he once knew.

This morning I’m reading No Parking At The End Times by Bryan Bliss. It’s YA and I love YA; probably my favorite genre. Bliss spins a story about a brother and a sister – Abigail and Aaron – who are trying to come to terms with their parents’ religious choices that led them to sell their house and live in a van in San Francisco. It’s an intense, complicated story.

About half-way through the book, Bliss introduces Jess, a gal Aaron has an eye for (and she him). At the risk of sounding like a total weirdo, one of the things I love about YA is the romance part in the stories. I love when authors get that awkward newness right, and Bliss gets it right in this story. It’s the perfect balance of sweet and intense, humorous and dramatic.

I’m reading about Aaron and Jess as Jesse takes our ironing board and iron out of our laundry room. It creaks and bumps into the dryer as he lifts it out. I look up at the ceiling. I wish he’d done this last night. I don’t want him to wake the girls and that noise is annoying me. The second that thought leaves my brain, I roll my eyes at myself. Where are Aaron and Jess in the two of us? Where’d those kids who loved Miles and Coltrane go?

I look back to my book. Aaron and Jess are in the trenches of figuring themselves out, plus they’re dealing with this attraction that pulls at them. I don’t think Jesse and I have figured ourselves or each other out, but I wonder if we’ve sunk so deep into the daily routine, the to-do list, we’ve sunk so deep into the mystery of the mundane that we’re used to it.

Jesse bounds downstairs – he always moves quickly – and he walks to me and leans in to give me a kiss. This time though, I look at him and cup his jawline instead of offering him my cheek. We are still for a moment. He breaths in. “Stupid work,” he says. I smile and tell him to have a good day.

I’m still smiling when I look back at Bliss’ words. I can add a little Jess and Aaron to our relationship, I think. Today, I’ll send him texts telling him I’m thinking of him instead of, “Can you pick the girls up so I can work late?” Today, I will light candles at dinner.  Tonight, we’ll listen to Miles Davis.

The back door bangs open and slams shut and I jump off the couch, startled. Jesse comes stomping into the living room. He has the hood of his blue raincoat pulled tight and his glasses are foggy from the humidity outside.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“THE RAT’S DEAD.” He practically yells it. “WE GOT IT!” Jesse is triumphant.

We’ve had a rat burrowing in our backyard. I saw it once while I was sitting at our kitchen table reading the first Divergent book. It was walking around our yard looking like Templeton and I swear if I had stepped outside it would’ve stood on its hind legs, and through gritted teeth said, “CHARLOTTE’S NOT HERE TO HELP, BIATCH!”

I texted Jesse ASAP. “RAT. RAT. RAT. We have a rat. In. Our. Backyard.” I snapped a picture to prove my point. I didn’t even have to enlarge the frame on my screen to be dramatic, it was that big!

Later that night, I circled the kitchen while Jesse researched how to kill a rat on Google. “Where did it come from? How long has it been here? It’s because I’m an awful housekeeper, isn’t it?”

“It’s a rat, Callie, I don’t think it put much thought into where it chose to live.”

I sat down across from him and tapped my fingers on my copy of Divergent. What would Tris do in this situation?

She wouldn’t have texted pictures of it to Four for one thing. She would’ve gone outside, picked up Templeton by this tail, wound her arm around a few times, and flung him over the garage.

“Can we just hire someone?” I asked Jesse. If there is one way to make Jesse angry, it’s to suggest that we could hire someone to get a job done. Jesse is a mix between Luke Danes and Ross Geller. You don’t tell guys like that they don’t have what it takes to get rid of a rat.

So he’s standing in the living room and raindrops are dripping off his blue jacket and his glasses start to unfog so I can see his bright blue eyes and thick black eyelashes and he says it again: “WE GOT THE RAT!”

I love that he includes me in this victory. “We” got the rat. As though I had anything to do with it except worry and nag. But that’s the sort of guy Jesse is.

I laugh and we run into the kitchen to the window. We are like two kids, running for the door to get out of school before we are caught ditching class.

“There it is! There it is!” he taps on the window and I press my forehead to the window to look into the still black morning. Sure enough, Templeton’s belly up in our backyard, and the trap is about two feet from him. FYI, rat traps are about 10 times the size of mouse traps. Also, our rat, Templeton, knew how to get at the food without setting off the hinge that would end him. If Templeton knew how to do that, then he totally knew about my lousy housekeeping.

“What do we do now?” I ask while Jesse and I are still looking outside.

“I’m gonna put it in the trash.” He walks over to the white garbage can in our kitchen, picks it up, and brings it to our back door.

I open my mouth to scold him; to tell Jesse that under no circumstances is he allowed to dump a rat into our kitchen garbage then BRING IT BACK INSIDE, but I stop and remember sweet Aaron and Jess. The two of them, they had problems. I’m talking about questioning their parents’ decisions, wondering where they’ll live, and if there is a God. But they held hands and explored the city together and I’m not sure the two ever figured out the mystery of who they are or what they believe, but they kept each other company and they made each other blush and smile.

So I say nothing. I stand there watching my husband of seventeen years, a person I’ve known since I was nineteen, lift the garbage bag out of the can, slip on work gloves, and walk outside.

I stand at the window and watch as Jesse picks Templeton up by his tail and lift him up so he’s dangling above the garbage bag.  Jesse looks at me, and smiles. I can see he’s laughing, too. I remember the first time I made him laugh like that. We were walking down Superior towards Gino’s East in Chicago for pizza. He’d come to visit me for the weekend, and I hoped to impress him enough to be my boyfriend. A few months later he would propose in the city, and I would say yes and he laughed again. Jesse’s laugh is contagious and mischievous and his eyes sparkle so that even if you don’t know what the joke is, you laugh anyway.

He dumps the rat in the bag, brings it over to the garbage next to our garage, and slam dunks it in. He rips off his gloves and dumps those in, too. I watch crows land on the roof of our garage and notice the sky has begun to waken as hints of blue seep through the black.

“See you tonight!” Jesse yells from the garage door. I wave, and blow him a kiss. He closes the garage door and the crows jump at the sound.

I rinse my coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher. I walk into the living room and see the wet marks from Jesse’s feet from when he came in to tell me about the rat. I see the dents in the left side of the couch where I was sitting. Bliss’ book is open and resting on the arm, so I walk over to close it until tomorrow when I’ll read more about Jess and Aaron.

It’s a good story, and tonight, I’ll play Miles Davis. 

Written by Callie Feyen. Photo by Taylor Johnson.