The rat unleashed a horrible scream, and her skin bubbled up with goosebumps. The stupid rodent wedged itself into her backyard fence, its legs still stuck in a spring trap she had set underneath her back stairs, and its torso shoved through chain links. Every time it moved, it pulled itself more tighter into its predicament, and the fence closed around its body in a vise.
What must that pain be like? Had it in her brain. Slasher flick. Like a teenager in a slasher movie, when the killer in the raincoat finally shoves the pig-sticker through the beauty queen’s chest plate, and all she can do is let out one last wailing death shriek.
That goddamn sound.
Must have been washed out in last night’s rain. A late summer thunderstorm pounded the city late in the evening. She had watched it roll in, the pregnant clouds blotting out the robin’s egg blue flatness. A cold front arrived with the rain, and she enjoyed the breeze. In the storm’s aftermath, the next day was beautiful. Honeysuckle danced in the air, and it felt like the city had taken a much needed shower.
She woke up early, boiled water for coffee and let her fat tabbycat out to roam in her garden. Orange and red marigolds bloomed in the raised beds, and the vegetable vines were thick with cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis and pumpkins.
When she squinted just right, her backyard reminded her of her family’s farm.They still couldn’t understand why she bought a city house. Crime. Worse. They weren’t wrong. She was in a sweet part of town. Bars. Restaurants. When she had gumption she’d ride her bike to the farmer’s market under the overpass on Sunday, or to an evening exercise class. Still, It’s tough being a homesteader, urban or otherwise. There’s a particular violence in the experience that’s hard to shake off.
She always argued her decisions from a strange longview. They didn’t understand that. It was why she left. Was life any easier, or more peaceful, for her ancestors, who had to survive smallpox and kill off the Cherokee, just so they could farm broadleaf tobacco on the Ohio frontier? She’d bleat at them, and they would stare that long farmer’s stare back at her.
It’s ok. She earned her money, from hours staring sadly at a computer screen. She’d spent it, without anyone’s help, on the house that she wanted, in the neighborhood she wanted to live in. Sitting at the kitchen table, a family heirloom given to her by her grandmother, she sipped her coffee, comfortable in that truth.
Her tabby cat scratched at the back screen door, anxious to come inside. More anxious than usual. Running? From what? She noticed the back fence shaking, and then heard the screams.
Had the rat been stuck underneath the porch for weeks and she just hadn’t noticed until the water flushed him out into the yard? Did he start screaming just now? Why couldn’t he have just died in the night. That’s how the trap was supposed to work. Stupid rat goes for the bait, then snap, and then a broken back later you chuck the carcass into the week’s trash.
He was a fighter. Kept kicking. One more move, I’m free. The rat wasn’t as big as the other leviathans that she’d watched waddling through the backyard, picking at the refuse piles her neighbors abandoned on trash night. This was a young specimen, a teenager. A stupid kid tromping around, trying his luck, making a dare on instinct, like so many other juvenile idiots.
So that’s how it is then. She descended into her basement and gathered up a plastic grocery bag, a pair of canvas garden gloves and a long-handled shovel. Outside, she turned on the spicket and filled a plastic pail with water, slipped on the gloves, opened the fence gate, walked around to the alley and faced her yard.
The rat’s head was bulging between the chain links, and it gurgled and shook. A group of sparrows, fidgeting on an electric wire covered in rubber dangling above her, flickered away to safety.
She tightened the grip on the wooden handle of her shovel, and closed her eyes.
Do it, she thought. Her heart pounded inside her chest.
She opened her eyes. Good first hit. Smashed the rat’s exposed head. and dazed it. The fence stopped shaking violently. A breeze rolled through the alley.
Another hit should do it. She flexed her forearms around the shovel handle. Second time. She kept her eyes open this time. Aimed straight skull.
Sparks flew from where the shovel hit the concrete.
Dazed, but it was still alive. One more. Kill it.
Tink. With the third blow, she broke bone. The fence was still. The hit, direct. A gentle crimson river trickled from its head into the alley.
She pulled its body from the fence, dropped it in a plastic grocery bag and disposed of it into her aluminum outdoor trash can. Then she picked up the bucket of water poured it over the blood and brains in the alley. Back in the house, she washed her hands, and poured a second cup of coffee and sat at the farm table.
Thinking on it, she realized she’d never killed a warm-blooded animal before. Seen plenty of births. That was vile enough. Cows. The calves would still be wrapped in placenta, moist with discharge. They’d pillow out of the sow’s uterus and into the waiting hands of her father and uncles. First time she saw it, sneaking into the barn, she cried and hid in her room for an entire weekend. It took a stack of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to get her out of her room three days later. Her parents, unsure of her sensitivity, never asked her to help with livestock after that, either in birth or in death. Never birthed a calf, butchered a pig or decapitated a chicken after that.
It was in the city where she recorded her first fresh kill. She sipped her coffee, comfortable in that truth.