The dead rat, a month later, appears again.

I saw it, dying, for the first time a month ago.  It had curled itself into a ball against a neighbor’s stone wall.  The dogs and I passed within inches of it, but the animals did not pay each other any mind.  The way it looked in the rain, cowered against the wall, was more o’possum than rat.  I thought then that is what it was, but I don’t remember thinking about it much at the time.  Only seeing it, thinking that it did not belong there no matter what it was, and hoping it would be gone the next time we walked this patch of sidewalk.

I saw it again a few days later; stiff and swollen with death in the little patch of grass between sidewalk and curb in front of a neighbor’s house.  This time the dogs noticed it alright, pulling hard towards the stench so they could roll around in it.  It was an effort to drag them across the street.  We walked only on the other side for a week.

Now it comes and goes, disappearing into tall grass and dead leaves for a few days and then somehow back on the sidewalk again.  I almost always notice it before the dogs get too close, although today Max was about to chomp off its head before I realized I needed to reign him in. 

I think about this rat a lot right now.  About how it must mean something, although I can’t think of what.  The dead rat has too much physicality to disappear into language.  Maybe next month, when the last of its fur is gone and it’s only bone chip and tooth, it will give itself up to metaphor.  But for now it stubbornly insists on its own right to be literal.  Real.

I know I should go and get the corpse and throw it somewhere that the dogs can’t get at it–but where?  Not in the garbage, certainly… the smell is still too strong and the garbagemen came yesterday, so it would fester for a week.  (How can so little flesh left on such dry bones still stink that way?)  Not in the garden, because it is a rat.  Had it been the possum I first took it to be, I’d have dumped it in the compost heap weeks ago. 

Poor rat.  Too much a pariah even to be fertilizer.  Too real for metaphor.

I have named him Habakkuk.

  1. inktarsia says:

    Eeew! In the animal totem world, the rat is a symbol of being able to survive in any environment. They hold the teachings of resourcesfulness. They’re first one to know it’s time to jump ship…or , um, take another path.

    Then the Lord answered me and said:
    Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so that a runner may read it. Habakkuk 2:2

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