Sunday, September 8, 2013


Rats aren't like mice. When I see mice in the house, my reaction is to feel a bit sad that they're going to get killed. They're cute little things and I wish them no ill will on principle, but I don't want to be eating a cupcake and having to make a determination on whether it’s topped with chocolate sprinkles or, well, not chocolate sprinkles. Rats on the other hand are an adversary to be vanquished.

My dad has been engaged in a running skirmish with a particularly large and devious brown rat for the last several years. Other rats have come and gone, often with a helping hand, but when my dad says The Rat there can be no mistaking that of which he speaks. Truth be told I'm pretty sure at this point that the battle of wits is with Son of Rat, or even Son of Rat Junior, but the genes of the original adversary remain.

It's not the mere fact of its existence that has caused the protracted man versus rodent trial by combat, but the brazen attitude of the protagonist. There is a large window in the lounge room, maybe six feet by five, which looks out onto a nice little flower bed. Four or five feet from the window is a bird bath where the starlings and silver-eyes used to come and bathe and delight onlookers. No more. The bird bath is now The Rat's watering hole. Around dusk each day where once butcher birds would drink and babble about the day, instead The Rat struts in to drink. To look out the window and see eye to eye with a rodent who could not care less about being in plain sight is not a soothing experience. It is the unspoken contract with outdoor vermin: you stay out of sight, we'll pretend you're not there. That it has the confidence to flaunt this tradition is untenable.

There were rat traps, effective at first, then ignored, then the food taken off them without being triggered. On one famous occasion a rat got caught in a trap and was then eaten by other rats, this is the nature of the foe. There is poison where appropriate (not, for example, where neighbourhood pets can get at it). The poison takes out the suckers but grizzled veterans like The Rat don't go near it. There was even, for a time, the blowgun, constructed from a piece of PVC pipe, some nails, and visions of Boys’ Own Adventure tales gone horribly domestic. Dad hit The Rat with a blowgun dart on one occasion, but only succeeded in making it angry.

There's no point bringing in the professionals. The backyard is large and verdant, populated with fruit trees, a variety of berries, and a giant walnut tree to provide them storage for winter. It would be, if not for the crotchety old man hell bent on genocide, rat heaven. The best an exterminator could do would be to give a few weeks respite. Even if the professionals could solve the problem, I think it's gone too far at this point. It’s personal.

Every so often dad updates me on the struggle and mostly I treat it as the description of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. Sometimes, though, I can’t help but wonder if I’m listening to the Ahab of suburbia.

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