Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dead Rat in the Office

I saw you that morning ten years ago as I awoke with full bladder. It was pre-dawn and blue like the early Picassos and I was standing at the bowl when I glimpsed your butt-end waddle from behind the washer and slip down the drain hole in the middle of the floor of that little apartment off Kwang-An Beach that faced the Sea of Japan. Oh no. No that couldn’t be, could it? I rubbed my eyes like rinsing stains on a dress shirt and stumbled back to warm sheets.
It would be a week before you reappeared. I was sitting on the bowl this time in the way one does when the New Yorker is calling and I felt you walk over my naked toes all hissing with wet black fur and pink eyes and seething fangs and I almost flushed myself trying to flee. Later I went into the garden, which was not easy to find in that city of cement and dust, and hoisted the biggest stone I could find, all jagged and ominous and placed it over that hole and for the rest of the year I slept in relative peace.
I’ve seen you before that though, scampering across the rooftops of that buffet joint with a couple of your pals on my first visit to Pusan and I thought of you the next morning when the food poisoning kicked in and I puked all over that city bus. All down the seats and aisles and out the sides and the taxis hurrying to roll up their windows and scowling, "Oh that big nosed foreigner must be drunk, they always are.” But I wasn’t.
I remember you most from the gutters of ChonJu. The school director made me take the city bus ten miles out of town and walk the last two up to the Hansol Paper Mill where the engineers waited in gray and green uniforms to conjugate verbs and drone on about their love of bowling. You were there on the side of the road watching me, turning an apple in your hands, an apple imagine it, up on your hind legs big as a monkey. Eyes glossy silver dollars. Claws like the backs of hammers. I thought you were the devil. Silly, I know. Devil wouldn’t bother with fruit, would he?
You were there that night in Penang, just a week before those street boys mugged me with the broken coke bottles. That was you, wasn’t it? Coming in through the window sill and hiding behind wooden shudders. I couldn’t sleep that night for fear I’d awaken with you ripping my scalp and so I tied my boot laces into a sling and shot rocks at you behind garbage cans. Bastards.
I liked you most in the fields of Colton though. Little scurries of rustling hay next to my feet. I’d watch the hawks circling and knew you were toast. But then you got smart and found the inside of my mother’s pantry cupboard all warm and full of sour dough and Hershey’s kisses. Dad set out traps for you and Snap! We’d be watching Jeopardy and Snap! I’d be screaming out answers at Alex Trebek and Snap!
I saw you this afternoon too. Some weird odor coming out of the teacher’s room nobody could figure. Just a bunch of American / Canadian men crushed into this small room like the hull of a fishing vessel. Rocking in waves. Bumping into one another. Cursing under our breath about the girth of our chests and the sanctity of solitude we crave and have lost in this Asian island of packed buildings and streets and motor scooters and jungle and garbage and rotting filth and hands and legs and faces and sweat and deafening sound and blistering humidity and uninterrupted commotion.
These are rough and tumble men I teach with, standing and delivering in front of boys and girls who are trying to speak and act like a world citizens. We found you in this room. After enduring nauseous reeking death most of the day, you were lying behind the unplugged refrigerator curled around a McDonald’s hamburger bun. Flesh rotting. Straight as cardboard. Your teeth still barred and growling. We scooped you in newspaper and threw you into the outside trash. But I wanted to ask, did you ever think, when I lifted the rock off that hole, you remember that day I moved out of the little apartment by the sea, did you ever think you would end up like this. Alone. Forgotten. Stashed in a heap of dust behind some household appliance? Did you think that's what happens to us all? Nah, me neither. Nothing is written, and I still love the unknown.

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