Sarah discovered that she was pregnant with her first child on the day that she found a rat dropping in the hallway of her home. When she told her husband about the pregnancy, he exclaimed, smiled, and gave her a hug. She hugged him back but remained unconvinced of his joy. The news of the conception overshadowed that of the rat, and he didn’t comment on the matter.
Sarah’s in-laws became ecstatic about the baby and Sarah had no grounds to doubt their elation. They became so intoxicated with joy that they too showed no concern regarding the rat in Sarah’s house, eating the crumbs between her fridge and her cabinets, leaving its droppings on her hardwood floors, urinating heedlessly into her eggshell carpet.
Sarah was attacked by gross misgivings as she rubbed her stomach, slouching on the toilet seat after her husband left for work. The sexual encounter that had given way to the conception had been less than satisfactory. In the past year, it seemed to her that the only way her husband could maintain an erection was if she were on her hands and knees, a position that made her self-conscious, interfering with whatever carnal pleasure she could expect in the absence of clitoral stimulation. Now that she was pregnant, she foresaw that their sexual relations would decline both in frequency and quality. And then there was the rat to worry about but no one except for Sarah seemed to care.
Later in the day, Sarah called her mother-in-law to ask for advice. I got the cutest booties you can imagine, her mother-in-law told Sarah, her voice reaching demented heights in its sheer happiness. They have these adorable yellow duckies! You’re gonna LOVE them. This lead to an image in Sarah’s head of a baby crawling around the floors with a rat dropping dangling off of a ducky on its foot. She saw a curious hand pick at the brown substance and bring it to a tiny mouth. I need to go, she told her mother-in-law and hung up.
Sarah picked up four dropping, each with an enormous bundle of paper towels. She then sprayed the general area of the droppings with Lysol until it accumulated and ran in little yellow streams. She let it sit for ten minutes and wiped it off with more wads of paper towel. Afterwards, she washed her hands several times and prepared her husband’s favorite pasta dish.
As they ate the penne with fragments of ground beef stuck on each bite, Sarah gently broached the subject of the rat. “Honey, I am trying to eat my dinner,” her husband told her. “Sorry, honey,” Sarah said, her eyes fixed on a clump of meat sitting innocuously in her plate as her mind subjected her to a parade of bodily discards from various members of the animal kingdom.
Sarah’s life and body was soon overwhelmed with a myriad of ailments whose exact sources she could not identify, but could narrow down to either the pregnancy or the rat. She often felt sick. It was a lingering sort of sickness that unexpectedly rose in intensity, when she found herself face to face with something that was so benign on the surface but that her increasingly perverse mind converted into something unbearably gruesome. Bile accumulated in mouth, usually at the most inopportune moments when spitting was out of the question. A picture of a bowl full of pork and beans on a can became a bowl full of bloody rat kidneys, a jar of pigs feet transformed into embryos floating in formaldehyde, spaghetti with marinara sauce became rat tails in blood, and the fuzzy navels of apples morphed into tiny rectums. Grocery shopping was sheer torture. Eating was impossible.
Sarah was doubled up by the toilet seat on the first floor, retching. Her husband appeared at the door.
“You alright?” he asked.
“I’ve morning sickness, honey,” she told him.
He walked toward her. “Let me help you up.”
Just then, Sarah saw a small brown mound on the Spanish tiles.
“Look! Look! I told you, honey. I told you!”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Look at that!”
Her husband approached the toilet bowl. “Honey, please flush,” he requested as he bent over and picked up the object of Sarah’s consternation. “This?” he presented it to Sarah.
Sarah’s scream rang through the house. “Are you insane? Don’t touch that! It’s from a rat!”
Her husband pressed the brown thing between his fingers. Sarah screamed again.
“Don’t get hysterical, babe. It’s just a raisin.”
“Just take it away from me!” Sarah implored.
He flicked the alleged raisin into the toilet. “Come on, come back to bed.” He put his arm around her and his unwashed fingers that had handled the “raisin” made contact with her bare arm.
Even if it were a raisin, Sarah reflected as she chewed on a dry cracker, how the hell did it get to the bathroom? The only explanation, it seemed, was that the rat carried it in its mouth and dropped it there when it heard Sarah rumbling down the stairs. She thought about the other pieces of excrement she had collected from the floor before. Had she examined them carefully enough? She felt her stomach turning and her mouth getting watery. Her breasts felt sore. She opened a kitchen cabinet in a sense of urgency and pulled out the box of raisins. She flung it into the trash can, and ran to the bathroom. Then, she Googled “rat droppings” and carefully inspected the images her search brought up.
One night, Sarah woke up to find that she could no longer move. Frantically, she looked around the room, but her field of vision remained fixed. The eggshell carpet gleamed in the moonlight, the photograph of her childhood dog stood on her bedside table, and the book she had been given about pregnancy lay on the shelf. She heard a scratching sound coming from the ceiling. She tried to rouse her husband and say, see, there it is, in the goddamn ceiling you ape, but her body could not be made to emit motion or sound. And then, it appeared.
Just as she had been suspecting, it frolicked on the carpet. Each hop sent a wave across the length of its tail. It stopped to sniff her slippers and explored them with its front paws in hurried motions, tightening its tail as it did so. Then, loosening the tail, it rose on its hind legs and rubbed its snout. Sarah rebelled against the input from her eyes. She tried with all her might to use her arms to lift herself but to no avail. Go away, go away, stop, she thought.
“Oh, hello,” said the rat.
Please, please, please let this be a dream, begged Sarah.
“Was it you who took the raisin I left next to the toilet? I was going to have it for breakfast.”
No, no, no, thought Sarah.
The rat paused, tightened its tail, and peed on her slipper. “Oh, sorry,” it said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
The next morning, the rat caused an argument between Sarah and her husband.
“It peed on my slipper,” she told him.
“The rat peed on your slipper?” her husband asked, one brow raised skeptically into his forehead.
“I saw it,” she said.
He poured some cereal into his bowl.
“Why didn’t you wake me up?” he wanted to know.
“I told you, I couldn’t move!”
“Oh, yeah. You couldn’t move,” he repeated, smiling at the bowl. “Where are your slippers?” he asked.
“Upstairs. I’m not wearing those things again.”
He put the cereal box on the counter.
“Where are you going?” Sarah asked.
He didn’t answer. Sarah listened to him go up the stairs, resisting a sudden impulse to demolish his cereal bowl. He came back with her slippers.
“Show me where it peed,” he said.
“Get those out of my face,” Sarah said, appalled.
“Show me where it peed.”
“There,” Sarah said. “See that stain?”
He brought the slipper closer to his face. “That looks like a coffee spill to me,” he concluded and dropped the slipper. He opened the cabinet.
“Where are my raisins?”
“I threw them out,” Sarah said.
“You threw out my raisins? Sarah, what’s going on?”
“The rat got into them,” Sarah told him.
“The rat got into them?”
“Didn’t you see that raisin in the bathroom? How the hell do you think it got there?”
“Let me get this straight. You’re telling me that there was a hole in the raisin box?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t look carefully.”
“You didn’t look carefully? You just assumed that the rat opened the box, took one raisin out, closed the box, and put it back on the shelf?”
“I wasn’t thinking,” Sarah yelled on the top of her lungs.
“For Christ’s sake, Sarah. Try to think next time you throw away my food.”
Sarah’s in-laws were scheduled to take her and her husband out to dinner at the country club. Sarah tried on many blouses. Every glance into the mirror brought her closer to tears. Her mother-in-law arrived to pick her up in a blue suit and clip-on pearls earrings. “Honey, you look great,” she exclaimed with a side glance into the gaping window between the two buttons that coincided with Sarah’s unnaturally expanded bosom. “Do you have a safety pin?”
“What about those Redskins last night?” said her father-in-law. A very young boy with flushed cheeks and healthy blonde hair came to take their order. As he began reciting the specials, Sarah wondered how old he was. “I ran into Jen Timbers in Costco,” her mother-in-law announced. “The lamb comes with Moroccan rice seasoned with saffron and cinnamon,” said the boy as Sarah noted that he looked like he worked out. Her father-in-law sniffed a glass with a little bit of wine in the bottom, the color of blood drained from a bruise. “This is great,” he told the boy who stood with the bottle. When her encrusted salmon arrived, Sarah realized that she had made a great mistake. She broke into the crust with her fork and the smell of dead fish became insufferable. She looked up. The boy’s muscles pushed into his shirt as he poured some water into her glass. She looked at the raisins in her mother-in-law’s Moroccan rice and exclaimed, “Crackers!” They all looked at her in puzzled faces. “I need crackers,” she explained. “Or else I might vomit.”
Sarah’s life took a gradual turn for the worse. Her stomach became taut and caused her great inconvenience. Her husband became a source of aggravation for no tangible reason. Her bladder had to be emptied often and her bowels became unresponsive to fiber. Her sexual desires grew in intensity, urgency, and scope. She began wondering about anal sex after all, a practice she had resisted all her married life, and read on Wikipedia that many women enjoyed it. She incorporated a simplified version into her self-gratification routine which resulted in nothing but shame and repulsion. She got uncontrollable images of herself having sex with several men in a filthy hotel room where rats hopped around and occasionally mustered the boldness to jump onto the bed on which homo sapiens committed acts of unimaginable perversion. During these mental orgies, Sarah sometimes raised her head and recognized one of the balding scalps as belonging to her father-in-law or her husband. She wondered if all this was to be expected but dared not ask.
“Honey, I got a number for a doctor from my mom,” said her husband one day, in a suspiciously casual voice.
“What’s wrong with the one we have?” Sarah said, unable to suppress some gastro intestinal activity that made an audible noise. There was a silence.
“It’s for a different doctor.” He coughed. “A psychiatrist.”
Sarah stared into the coffee table.
“He’s supposed to be very nice,” her husband said. “My mom has been once some years ago.”
“Is this about the rat?” Sarah asked.
“Sarah, honey,” her husband started with the voice of wisdom, but stopped as he found no wisdom to articulate with it. She wondered if he checked her searches on the web. She thought of the helpful phrases from the past that showed up in the drop down menu as one typed letters into the search engine.
The psychiatrist was a man with white hair and a welcoming smile that had become second nature to him. Sarah recognized him from a Christmas party her in-laws had thrown.
“So, I understand there is a rat in your house,” he told Sarah.
“My husband doesn’t think so,” Sarah said.
The fetus moved and upset the delicate balance between her Sarah’s womb and her bladder. She wished she hadn’t had that cup of tea.
“What makes you think there is one?” asked the man, still smiling.
“I have seen droppings a couple times, and I have heard it,” said Sarah.
“What does your husband say to that?”
“He thinks the droppings were raisins. He probably thinks I planted raisins all over the house.”
“Why would he think that?”
“One of them was admittedly a raisin. But that doesn’t mean they all were.”
“No, it doesn’t,” said the psychiatrist empathetically, replacing the welcoming smile with heartfelt concern.
“And?” he said as Sarah pleaded with her defiant bladder.
“And?” she asked.
“You said you also heard it.”
“Yes, it was in the ceiling. Then, it came into the room.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe there are two rats,” she said.
The psychiatrist nodded.
“I understand it also peed on your slipper,” he said. Clearly, he had been informed of the particulars.
“What did you do when the rat peed on your slipper?”
“Nothing,” she said. “I couldn’t move.”
“It sounds to me like you had an episode of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis is often intermixed with dreams,” he suggested cautiously.
Sarah felt her muscles cave under the pressure of her bladder. “I really need to use your bathroom,” she informed the man. “It’s urgent.”
“Second door to your left,” smiled he.
When she got up to leave, he looked at the stain on his couch and wondered if it was what he feared it was or just a tea spill.
After a particularly taxing few hours of viewing pictures of dead rats smashed in traps, Sarah fell asleep on her side with a pillow between her legs, the fetus wide awake in her womb. When she opened her eyes, she knew it was happening again. She saw the light coming in through the door and surmised that her husband had fallen asleep across the TV in the adjoining room. She tried to adjust her knees but found that she couldn’t move. She tried to shake herself out of it before the rat came back but it was too late.
This time, it crept out from under her bed, bolted forward, stopped suddenly midway to the wall, and looked around. Sarah watched it sniff the carpet and smooth the stain-proof fibers. “I wonder if I could use these for a nest,” it wondered aloud.
“Please leave my carpet alone,” Sarah said, sharply.
The rat turned around.
“I need a nest,” it told her. “I’m expecting.”
“Expecting what?” Sarah asked, shocked.
“Rat pups,” it said.
“Jesus Christ,” Sarah said. “You cannot do that in my house.”
The rat ignored her and went back to organizing the fibers. “I just need to get some of these upstairs,” it said.
“Upstairs?” Sarah asked. “Is that where your nest is?” A plan began to materialize in her head. “Where exactly?”
“In the back room.”
“What? You can’t hang out in there! That’s going to be the nursery! There is going to be a baby in there. You’ll give it the bubonic plague!”
The rat looked over its shoulder. “The bubonic what?”
“Stop doing that to my carpet!”
“Sorry, I need to get this done tonight.”
“I’ll give you something better.”
“What?” said the rat, interested.
“I will leave a roll of toilet paper for you on the stairs.”
“Fine,” said the rat. “I guess I’ll go get something to eat then.”
Sarah lay in bed as her husband took a shower and replayed the conversation with the rat in her head. She could no longer doubt that it was all a dream, a figment of her increasingly unreliable mind. This realization left her mysteriously frustrated with her husband. After he left for work, she walked up the stairs equipped with a roll of toilet paper that made her feel exceptionally stupid and a stick she had procured from the yard. She sneaked into the back room and listened. All she heard was a car driving by. She inspected the hardwood floor for scratches and found none. She opened the closet and looked around the corners for droppings or a hole.
Sarah felt defeated. In the absence of the rat, she found that her internet searches grew more and more uninformative and deviant. She began clearing her history for fear of another doctor’s visit. On some days, she heated up a can of pork and beans for lunch and ate some without as much as a flinch. One day, she got Gaslight from the library. When she turned it on after dinner, her husband observed that it was black and white and, promptly fell asleep.
“Holy shit!” Sarah heard her husband yell. “Sarah, you gotta look at this!”
“I’m still in bed,” she yelled back.
“Honey, get down here!”
For heaven’s sake, she mumbled, I am a pregnant woman, and put her feet in her slippers that she was back to wearing. She climbed down the stairs.
“Take a look at this!”
Sarah bent over to take a closer look.
“It’s just a raisin,” she said, knowing full well it wasn’t. It was a rat dropping if she ever saw one. The web surfing had made her an expert. She went to kitchen and poured herself a cup of coffee. She tapped on her stomach a few times to wake the fetus up, in a vain effort to coordinate their sleeping.
“There is no way that thing is a raisin,” her husband called out.
“Don’t get hysterical,” she told him and sipped her coffee, pleased to feel the fetus roll over.
“Where is the Lysol?”
Sarah looked silently out of the window.
“Who is it?” asked Sarah, suspiciously.
“Pest control!” said a cheerful voice.
She opened the door.
“I understand you have rat,” said a short man with a ruddy face wearing cap labeled Pesterminate. “We’ll take care of that for you.” He seemed like he couldn’t wait to get started.
“I’m Jim,” he said, reaching out for her hand.
His hand was warm and rough from years of controlling pests. Roaches, mice, rats, you name it. He even had a few skunks and raccoons under his belt.
“Do you know where it likes to hang out?”
“She.” said Sarah.
“I think it is a female rat,” she explained.
Jim took off his cap and scratched his head.
“If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, “how do you know?”
“I noticed that it may be building a nest.” she explained.
“Oh boy!” exclaimed the man. “That sure isn’t good news. If we don’t get it soon, you will have yourself a colony. Where did you see the droppings?”
“I saw a few a couple months ago, in the kitchen and in the hallway,” she said. “My husband thinks he saw one near the staircase. But I really think that was a raisin.”
“If you see rat crap, pardon my French, you know what you’re looking at, ma’am. There is no mistaking it.”
Sarah watched Jim bend over and inspect the corners near her cabinets and the dish washer. He pulled out a flashlight from his pocket and lit it into the space between the oven and the fridge.
“Uh-huh,” he said. “I see a few droppings. Have you noticed a crack anywhere, ma’am?”
“No,” said Sarah. “The house was remodeled a year ago. There shouldn’t be cracks anywhere.”
“Well, there sure is one somewhere and the vermin knows where it is. It is gonna get worse now that the weather getting cooler. It’s gonna stay where it’s warm.”
“She,” Sarah corrected him.
“Well, I am gonna go get her some glue traps,” Jim bounced up. He came back with a handful of packets and released a plastic tray from each. The trays were covered with a translucent gel.
“Do you have any pets?” he asked.
“Good. Sometimes pets get stuck onto these and it’s a nuisance,” he said.
“I am going to lay these traps alongside the walls,” he explained. “Rats really like to be near walls.”
“I know,” Sara said. “What happens when she’s caught?”
“Well, I recommend just throwing it in a Walmart bag and tossing it in the trash can.”
“Ma’am, this is vermin we’re talking about. Just throw it in the trash and forget about it.”
“Is there any way to free it from the trap?”
“Ma’am, it’s vermin. You don’t want to free it from the trap.”
“Well, what if a pet got caught in it or something? My mother-in-law. She has a dog.”
“Well, in that case, you could pour a little oil onto trap and help the dog out,” he acknowledged reluctantly. “What some folks like you do is they’ll take the vermin outside, set it free, and then it comes right back into the house from whatever hole it came in through the first time. What I recommend is just throw it in a Walmart bag and be done with it.”
“I see,” said Sarah thoughtfully as Jim lined the traps along the corners. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?”
Sarah lay awake, thinking of the glue traps in the moonlight. Her husband snored softly. She needed to pee, but didn’t want to step down from the bed for fear that she would crush a snout or a tail. She used all the mental power she had to suppress herself from thinking of pregnant rats lying motionless in glue traps, looking up at her with twinkling eyes, tails half buried in silicone.
Sarah acted as usual until her husband left, lying in bed with her eyes closed. “Nothing in the traps,” he called from downstairs. After he left, she went down to confirm the accuracy of his report.
Days went by at the pace of snails dragging themselves through silicone. Sarah took to checking the traps compulsively, not knowing what she was hoping to find. Her growing urges sought release, she craved unusual foods, she contemplated taking in a lover, and peed often. Her mother-in-law came to check on her every once in a while and delivered double-sized cans of pork and beans from Costco.
One morning, as Sarah lay on her side, the fetus kicking her ribs, “Holy crap!” yelled her husband from downstairs. Sarah bolted up, knowing exactly what it was. She ran down the stairs as well as her condition allowed. “I don’t know if you want to look at this,” he said, standing in front of one of the traps. Sarah shoved him aside. “What on earth, Sarah,” he mumbled “What’s gotten into you?”
“I am irritable and hungry,” she said, bending over.
There it was, just as she had imagined it but also, nothing as she imagined it. All four paws and belly buried in the silicone, mouth part open, showing two little teeth. It helplessly flicked its tail when it saw Sarah.
“I guess we better call the Pesterminix guy,” said her husband.
“Pesterminate,” Sarah corrected him. “I’d rather not. I know what to do.”
“What’re you gonna do?” he asked. “Have it stuffed?”
Sarah went over to the kitchen and picked up the oven mitts and the bottle of vegetable oil she had purchased specifically for this day. “What are you doing, babe?” her husband asked as she put on the mitts.
“I know what I am doing,” she told him. “Out of my way.” She grabbed the shoebox she had prepared ahead of time and carefully picked up the trap with the catch lying on it in sheer horror.
“What on earth, Sarah?”
She took her car keys.
“This thing doesn’t look pregnant,” she observed.
“For Christ’s sake, it is a male.”
Sarah looked down and noticed that the animal had large, furry testicles that one could see from the right angle. “Jesus,” she mumbled as she walked out with the shoebox in her hand.
Sarah placed the box on the back, next to the baby seat that her mother-in-law had bought for her birthday. She put the vegetable oil and the oven mitts on the passenger seat and pressed on the gas. Together, they drove out the driveway and over the hills.
Selin Gökçesu is a Turkish writer and translator living in New York. She is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in Nonfiction at Columbia University.
Photo: Sarah Ann Loreth, “The Phoenix”