Thursday, August 8, 2013


by james bezerra

Sam took the dark little apartment because he needed someplace else to live. Their house had grown too quiet without her; without her soft footfalls on the bright wood floor of the hallway, without her singing small songs to herself while she cooked in the kitchen. Without the soft, clean lilac smell of her in every room. The first few weeks alone that smell had haunted him in the silent place, in the silent kitchen and the silent halls. He would catch a faint whiff of it and quickly peek his head into the next room, hoping that - however impossible - she would be standing there, folding towels in the den maybe. She never was. And each and every time it hurt him. Each time she wasn’t there his body trembled a little with the force of the totality of her being gone.

So Sam took the dark little apartment because he needed someplace else to live. It was all he could afford because he couldn’t bring himself to sell their house. He didn’t move in. The apartment had a little couch in it that someone else had abandoned. The couch had a throw pillow and that was where he slept.

He was asleep when he first heard the noises. The sharp but quiet ticking of nails on countertops. He was asleep and so when the sound flowed into his dream it was her nails on their front door and he opened the door and there she was. And it was the only moment of happy that he has had in weeks. BUt the sounds got louder and louder until they woke him and he sat up in the dark. “What?” He said into the darkness. The sounds scurried away and when he got up and flipped on the yellow kitchen light, there was nothing there but emptiness; even his food was gone.

“I think my apartment has rats,” Sam told the Super the next day.
“Oh it certainly does,” the Super replied, “the whole building is lousy with them. You’ll be fine though, you get used to it. Just don’t piss’em off.”
Sam went to the store to buy himself some food. He also bought some rat poison. He went home and ate and spread a little of the poison out in the kitchen. He went to sleep.

He didn’t hear the scraping of their claws that night, he was sleeping too deeply. What did wake him though was the screeching. It was sudden and loud and awful and seemingly inconsolable. It was a noise not of terror, but of endless, bottomless despair. It was the funeral wail of some unknown world, but it was also unmistakable.

Sam flipped on the sallow kitchen light. There was no scattering though. Not a single one of them moves. There were dozens of them there in the kitchen, arrayed in a dirty furry circle around a plump gray rat who lay on her side. Sam thought that he saw her little chest rise one last time, fall one last time, and then go still.

He knew without even having to think. This was the mother. The wife. The center of the world. And she was gone now.

Slowly all of the heads turned toward him. All of the eyes quivered at him. All of the mouths hung open toward him. It wasn’t anger that shown on all of those countless grizzled faces; it was complete and utter incomprehension. It was disbelief. It was the face that anyone would make if one day the world outside was just gone. It was the expression that Sam had been wearing for weeks.  

He rushed away. Out the door and down the hall and out into the street and the into the piss yellow halo of the streetlights.

Sam walked the streets and for a long time didn’t think at all. All he did was walk. All he tried to do was walk. All he wanted was to not hear that sound anymore. Not to see those awful little faces; not awful because of their matted fur, not awful because of their jagged little teeth. Awful because of how completely and simply lost they were.

It wasn’t until later, crosses a footbridge over the freeway and looking down at the acid yellow of the headlights streaking below him, that he began to think. He began to think about their empty house. He began to think about how broken the place made him feel. He began to think about how he didn’t want to be feel broken anymore. He began to get angry that he had to still feel broken. He got angry that broken was all he was able to feel anymore. He got angry at her for being gone. He got angry at himself for ever loving her. He got angry at the fucking worthless Super, he got angry at the goddamn coven of rats living in his apartment. It is my fucking apartment. He got angry at them for looking at him the way they did. He got angry at them for thinking that he owed them anything. He got angry at them for acting like he owed them an answer. Sometimes there is no fucking answer.

Sam was still angry when he went to the store. He bought food, lots of rat traps. He was still angry carrying the flimsy plastic bags home. He was still angry when he stood in the kitchen and looked down at the empty spot where the dead rat had been. He was still angry when he set out all of the traps, leaving wet clumps of ground meat on each of them. He was still angry when he shut off all of the lights and locked himself in the little bathroom. He huddled in the bottom of his bathtub. He had bought himself a little sandwich. He peeled the plastic off of it and started to eat it. He took big gnawing bites.

But then he started to hear the noises. All of the noises. It started with the barely audible sniffing. Then the scurrying, the sharp claws on dirty linoleum. Their little noises grew huge - how many of them are there?  - and louder and closer. Through the bathroom door it sounded to him like endless wave upon wave crashing in from the kitchen.

But then suddenly he heard the first fast loud wet thwack-ing of a trap snapping closed. And then another. Another. The sound of small bones cracking. Like explosion after explosion. The snap-snap-snap was loud and fast and continuous like firecrackers.

He cuddled his knees there in the bottom of the tub until it stopped.

All he was left with now were the small noises. The weak shrieks. The quiet gurgling. But then finally there was only silence beyond the door.
He looked down at his half eaten sandwich and just seeing the gnawed bread and the wilted lettuce and the thin wet meat made him almost sick. He had to close his eyes and breathe deep through his nose. When he finally stood up, he was slow to open the bathroom door. He peered out down the dark hall. It was empty. He moved down to the kitchen. The air was saturated and wet. In the darkness he reached to the light switch, but as he stepped toward it his foot came down on something round and uneven that crunched under his weight. He reeled backward in the dark and stepped on something else, flat and thick. In an instant it snapped closed on his foot. Sam yelped with a spasm of pain and turned and stepped on something else, it crunched like a tiny dead rib cage. It was wet and he slipped and he fell backward onto the floor. He could feel all of the small bodies below him. He screamed. He shrieked and slipped as he tried to get to his feet.

He tumbles out of the kitchen. He never made it to light switch, but he made it to the door and jerked it open and then he was gone out into the night. He ran at first. He ran away from the tiny bodies, from the blood, from the horror. He ran away from everything. He ran until there was nothing left in him anymore but the acid in his body he ran until the sun started to come up and he finally made it back to their house. His hands were shaking as he unlocked the door. He barely made it inside. He laid down there on the wood of the hallway. He gasped for breath and rolled onto his back and looked at the white ceiling as it began to glow with the light of the early morning.

Sam laid there on his back for a long while and he listened to the silence. He listened to the nothingness and it pleased him. He laid there on his back, exhausted, bloody, and finally accepting of the emptiness that surrounded him.


No comments: