We got a cat last night. His name is Tonki. Tonki ran away this morning. A little while ago our dog Woody started barking like mad. I thought to myself, “Hmph. I bet Woody treed Tonki.”
Tonki is something of a special purchase. See, it’s not so much that we wanted a cat. It’s that we wanted to get rid of the rats.
Don’t get me wrong, I like cats. I think they’re funny. Not necessarily their mannerisms, but more their existence in general. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that I find our affinity for these creatures comical.
In any case, the rats first became an issue a couple of weeks ago. I was sitting at the table reading one evening after dinner. Three students were watching T.V. The kid next to me was reading. All day long, the wind had blown and blown and blown.
Suddenly, a sharp squeal and some hissing came from the garage. Ryan and I looked at one another.
“What was that?” he asked me.
“Sounded like a major gust of wind.”
“No way,” he responded and stood up.
Ryan, sixteen, walked to the garage door, opened it, flipped on the light, and promptly shrieked.
In magic flute voice (explicit language in the link), he wailed, “Woody got a rat!”
Being four teenagers and an adult that acts like a teenager, we crowded out the door into the garage.
Woody had not killed a rat. Woody had killed five rats.
The rat that he caught was massive; radioactive sewage-swimming massive. And it had been giving birth. Which, coincidentally, is the only reason Woody caught the thing in the first place.
Four hairless, sightless, helpless pink icky baby rats were strewn about the entrance to the house. The head of one of the creatures lay several feet from its body (I photographed this but was so disturbed by the image I erased the photo). For all intents and purpose, we might have been on the set of a horror film. Another baby rat was dead. The two remaining babies chirped and squeaked. Ryan scooped them up into a box, hell-bent on saving them. On feeding them. On raising them.
Our fascination with the babies waned as we noticed the mother was not dead.
We commanded Woody, “Get’im Woody! Get’im!”
None of us wanted the responsibility of killing the animal, so we sicced the dog on her. Woody snatched the rat gleefully, whipping it violently to and fro. The dog dropped the rat and we confirmed its death.
As teenagers are wont to do, we messed with the dead rat for a little bit, poking it, swinging it around. Eventually, I put an end to it and tossed the rat into the jungle.
That’s when the problem started.
The following day, I opened up the nearly empty 33 gallon garbage can full of chicken feed. Lo and behold four rats were huddled on the side of the bin next to the scoop. I tipped the bin over and two ran into the drain next to the can. One ran under the can. Before I knew what was happening, Woody was on the animal; he ran off, snapping its neck in the process. The fourth rat was under the scoop. I jostled the can a little and he scurried out into the drain to safety.
The same thing happened the next day. Woody got one of them. Hugo killed another and two ran off into the drain.
In the kitchen the next morning, I started to smell droppings. But not just a whiff of droppings. The smell permeated the first floor.
The smell was nauseating enough that I resigned to deal with it and close off as many entrances as I could. I grabbed the broom, the mop, disinfectant, a rag, a trash bag and set to work. Without remorse I threw away any food they had gotten into. Instead of pushing them back to where they were, I kept the refrigerator and shelves that serve as pantry about a foot away. Once the kitchen was cleaned, I found a hole in a screen where they regularly came in. I boarded that up.
Satisfied that they could not enter easily, the day ran on as normal.
That night, I heard them in the ceiling. The next morning I noticed two small holes in the screen door to the house.
A trail of couch cushion foam bits ran from behind the sofa up the couple of steps past the doorway of my bedroom and then up the wall to the ceiling.
The next day the boys came from their host families for school. I implored my coworkers to please, find a cat. Pretty please. Help. Somehow. The scratching and anxiety was keeping me up at night.
Years ago, I read The Plague by Albert Camus. As if the allegory of that story alone were not frightening enough, how I imagined the city teeming with rats and people dying and the heat…well, it stuck with me. Rats creep me the fuck out.
The next day, Freddy came bearing good tidings.
“Voy a conseguir un gato de la novia. Bueno, es del hijo, pero si él no está y lo agarro yo a traerlo aquí, el nunca va a saber. / I’m going to get a cat from my girlfriend. Well, it’s her sons cat, but if he’s not there and I take it and bring it here, he’ll never know the difference.”
My best response was, “Ay Freddy.”
Now, I didn’t necessarily like the idea that he was going to take Tonki from his girlfriend’s son. However, I liked that more than sleeping with the rats.
In fact, I like the rats so little that I had placed both poison around the house and set a trap along one of their known paths. Both of these things I have renounced previously. Of course, never have I lived with rats.
Suffice it to say that ill-conceived plans end poorly: Tonki spent the night huddled in the corner of the house. Woody tried to claw his way through the screen and glass patio door the couple of times that the cat slinked out from his hermitage.
I went to bed content with knowing that Tonki was in seclusion and that we would do our best to comfort him in the morning.
At 2:34 A.M. there arose such a clatter from the first floor that I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter (A-Thank You!).
Tonki had come out of seclusion and was hunting an eight-inch gecko that lives in the walls of the house. He chased it behind a bulletin board upon which is fixed a key rack with innumerable useless keys. The bulletin board bulleted into the ground, the countless keys crashed everywhere, Tonki took off terrified, and the gecko glommed away behind the bookcase.
Woody was sitting at the door excitedly, barking and braying. Tonki was facing him mewing. I, standing naked at the bottom of the steps, picked up the bulletin board and keys, placed them on the table, retreated to bed, and put my earplugs back in.
In the morning I awoke not quite spring fresh, but close thereto and sought out Tonki.
He was nowhere to be found. Hmph, I thought. He must have escaped.
I looked for a few minutes and then had to leave to pick up my students for school.
Having relayed the night’s events to everyone, we arrived 30 minutes later and started our school day. Everyone was disappointed that Tonki had escaped; the boys didn’t even get to meet him.
Suddenly, we heard a muffled meow. And another.
We all ran upstairs and searched where I had already searched. I climbed up the wall and peeked on top of the bathroom. (I’m not Spiderman; the house is made entirely of wood and the unique framing is exposed on the house’s interior.) Sadly, we didn’t find him. Freddy came down some time later holding Tonki.
“Pero donde estaba? / But where was he?”
“En una gaveta! Se había metido allí y no pudo salir! / In a drawer! He’d gotten himself in there and couldn’t get out!”
I told Chris to take him out so he could pee and poop, but to tie him on a leash because if not he’d run away. (Wait for it…) We tied Woody up in the garage, and Chris took Tonki out.
Tonki bounded. Chris held on. Tonki leapt. Chris held on. Tonki did a full twisting back flip on a leash. Chris held on. Tonki went for a double-back. Chris didn’t hold on.
Tonki took off like Richard Kimble and darted into a field next to our house, red rope trailing behind him.
“Well. We had a cat,” Chris quipped as he walked inside; he spent the next half hour searching fruitlessly for Tonki. “He’s out there. I can see the red rope in the field, but there’s no way he’s comin’ back.”
“Oh well,” I replied,” He was pissed about being here in the first place.”
• • •
Now it is night. Woody is barking as a creature possessed. I finish my conversation with Kim, grab the flashlight, and walk down to see what the nonsense is all about.
There’s Woody, dashing hither-thither, tongue lolling about, barking ferociously, leaping as far as he can up the vertical tree, falling down, running around, barking, barking, barking.
I shine the industrial strength flashlight into the tree and don’t see anything. A few feet to my left, and there’s Tonki, quivering at a Y in the branch, staring at me.
After some minutes, I coerce Woody into following me into the garage. Promptly, I snatch him up and tie him to a post. He lays down looking forlorn and completely exhausted. Sadly, he will spend the night there for I need to sleep.
I photograph Tonki and tell him I am very sorry but he too will have to spend the night somewhere uncomfortable.
In the morning, I untie Woody. The very first thing he does is run to the tree where the cat hid. Tonki’s gone.
Next time: Jaguar the Kitten and Rat Resolution