By the time we knew for sure that there were rats
living in the kitchen of our apartment on Wrightwood,
it was almost December and they had become as bold
as the winter, no longer an untraceable late-night rustling,
some metaphor for insanity in a Victorian novel,
but actual scurrying creatures, bolting unafraid from cabinet
to corner and back. We called the landlord three times
before he came to board up the gap in the siding
where they got in and left us to evict the remainders by force.
On the first night we stacked all the food in our cabinets
on top of the fridge, a tower of soup cans and cereal boxes
inevitably gnawed and toppled by morning, the kitchen floor
littered with macaroni shells that crunched beneath our feet
for weeks. Six years before, I danced Clara in The Nutcracker, neatly
killed the Rat King in one 8-count with a choreographed slipper
to the head, or at least that’s the way I remember it.
The official story tells things differently: Clara is only the distraction,
puff of feathers on a fishing lure and the Nutcracker
the one who delivers the fatal blow then staggers offstage
to transform into a handsome prince by the second act,
while I stayed exactly the same, danced the rest of the ballet
half barefoot, chaînés wearing holes in the sole of my tights.
But that winter, we killed the rats the real way,
mixing turquoise pellets and peanut butter into a toxic mash.
The woman at the hardware store promised us that the poison
would corrode the rats from the inside out, dissolve them into dust,
that we wouldn’t smell the corpses at all—and we didn’t.
Elizabeth Kerper lives in Chicago. Her work has appeared in the Nancy Drew Anthology from Silver Birch Press, as well as in Eclectica, NEAT, Midwestern Gothic, and No Assholes Literary Magazine, where she is an associate editor.
Artwork: Alex McArdell, The Mouse King