By the end of July, things were looking up. I had just moved my desk into the prosperity bagua of my room. As a direct consequence, I immediately got a lot more freelance assignments.
Feng Shui Bagua Map
Avoiding the expense of cafes, I spent many afternoons alone in the house, working my way through a pile of copy-writing assignments for drug coupon websites and children's clothing retailers. Then one sunny afternoon, I heard what sounded like nails loudly scraping a thin coffin lid, just below the floor boards. Later, when I tried to get someone else to bear witness, the scratching stopped. I quickly spiraled in to madness.
When I heard squeaking in the walls, I brought it up with my roommate, Chico. Chico owns the house and knows all its secrets. He formulated a theory. Possums had crawled in the walls before - rude, teen possums that used the crannies in the house's foundations as a cool hang-out. We had seen possums near the house recently. I had never seen a possum up-close before I moved to Austin, and I was not prepared for anything so gruesome as the pink mouth full of snaggle teeth I saw grinning at me from the patch of mint at the side of the house.
But we set rat traps just in case.
We caught three rats the first night. Then three the next. "They're cute," Max said. "I understand why people keep them as pets."
That brings us to the wee hours of September 3rd.
BANG. I suddenly awoke from one of my pants-shopping anxiety dreams. I heard frantic rustling come from the attic, the sound of small, furry body trying to extract itself from the jaws of death, a whip-like tale flailing its final throes.
The following afternoon, Chico was running an errand in another city. He sent Max and I an urgent text, warning us that if we did not empty the rat traps, fresh rats would descend on their brethren, in a fit of the nightmarish and desperate gluttony that characterizes the rabid soul of their species.
Max was prepared to go on his own.
"Wait! I'll go with you!"
"Really? It's going to be gross."
I love horror movies, so the idea of going into dark, dank attic makes me feel excited to be alive. "Shut up! You're not going up there without me!"
"You can help me with the peanut butter. I'll check it out first, to see if it's gruesome."
"I don't need you to pre-screen my rats. I'm a grown-ass woman."
Then I started doing some squats, chanting like a Zulu warrior preparing to enter the thorny fields of battle. This was an occasion, I decided, for an up-do.
I donned a dust mask and some work gloves, took the peanut butter and bread knife in hand, and followed Max up the ladder.
It was worse than we had anticipated. There had not been an instance of rat-cannibalism, but evidence of the struggle I had heard in the night was clear. Two traps had just barely trapped their victims' heads. The third rat appeared to have escaped the trap before expiring, but on closer inspection, it didn't seem that any of the other traps had gone off. Could it have been exposed wiring that took out the third rat? Max spent some time starring in CSI: Rat Town before we moved on to the actual rat extractions.
With gloved hands, Max calmly disarmed the traps and placed the rats in a grocery bag, picking them up by their tails and not screaming the whole time, like a damn professional. I did do some yelling, mostly because I had not expected the rank smell of hot-attic rat blood.
"Haven't you smelled a dead animal before?"
I grew up in an affluent suburb of Washington D.C. Like all native children of Montgomery County, I had lots of allergies and asthma that required steroids. I was sensible, usually indoors, and all of my friends were girls (so I didn't know any blossoming serial killers. All boys know at least one.) Once my mom made me take a nature class as part of my extremely fluid homeschool "curriculum," during which a man calling himself John Fishback showed me to pluck hair from a deer hide, just like the Native Americans did. I learned so much that day.
One of the traps suddenly snapped, slicing through Max's glove and removing a hair's breadth of skin. Max still didn't blink, and offered me some feedback on my peanut buttering. I had been too generous, he explained. It's important to put down a small enough amount that they have to enter the death zone to reach it.
We cleared the rest of the traps without incident, and descended with a fresh bag of dead rats, mostly unscathed.
Frantic hot water rituals ensued. I removed my mask, sterilized my hands, and went hunting for the Neosporin.
"What time do you want to have dinner?" Max asked, examining the rat blood stuck to his glove.
The next day, we had only caught one. Chico identified a security breach in the roof, where pest-control men had yanked out a chunk of insulation to insert a raccoon trap.
We had raccoons before. Here's the problem with Texas: It never gets cold enough out for everything to die. In my previous apartment, I lived in terror of the scurrying cockroaches that hid behind the refrigerator, behind the oven, and in the brown-and-black pattern on the linoleum countertops. The cockroaches, the possums, the raccoons, and the rats live to a ripe old age, forming complex dynasties that spread through the dumpsters and the cavities under your house. You will only ever just barely keep them at bay.
Play us out, Die Antwoord.