I once heard in NPR about a guy in Brooklyn who had a rat appear in his toilet. Apparently it climbed up the pipes and when the man walked in, there it was, looking up at him. No. In this story, the guy first lifted the lid of the toilet. I don’t know if I thought about that fact when I first heard it, but the toilet had to have been closed for it to be true. I like leaving my toilet open. I don’t remember ever thinking of this and making a conscious decision about it, but that’s how I usually do it. An open toilet can be unsightly, but it’s more inviting. It says “come, I’m ready for you.” It says “here, I have nothing to hide.” Plus, you don’t have to touch the lid. Not that I usually care. I’m no germaphobe. I’d say I’m pretty relaxed about such things. I’d say I’m cool with things a germaphobe would not be. For example, I’d have no problem sharing spoons. I might even share a spoon with a stranger, though with some natural hesitation. Maybe it’d be better if such stranger looked clean and well put together. Say, if the spoon sharing was part of a team building exercise in a suit and tie kind of scene. I don’t wear a suit and tie. I do wear button up shirts and slacks. Though I don’t see much reason for dressing up. It’s not like I could upset the paperwork by not being presentable while processing parking permits. And it’s not like many people see me there. Sometimes I bump into Charlie when I have to take something to the mailroom. We ask each other “how are you,” we say “good.” Sometimes one of the clerks comes all the way back to my office in search of something he can use to prove a constituent complaint unfounded. But such occurrences are rare. Last time it happened, I looked through my piles of paper slowly to stretch time, as I didn’t know when something like that would come by again. I wish I could work in tech, in one of those industrial lofts. Giant windows, a foosball table, people bouncing in red, yellow and blue medicine balls, a guy on a standing desk high fiving all co-workers ‘hello’ as he coded a friendly artificial intelligence. Still, when it comes to sharing spoons with people I don’t know, I think I’d opt for the suit and tie types. Though I’d prefer people I know, like Charlie or one of the clerks. Not that it should make a difference. It’s not like a mouth germ clearance is required in order to get a job in city council. Also, I have no problem eating something off the floor. I’m not sure I’d eat off the floor of say, Penn Station. Maybe I would, if it touched the ground only for a second and I were very hungry. I’ve learned not to be cocky and speak for myself under a situation I’m not currently in. “I would never X,” or “I’ll never let Y happen to me” are invitations for the universe to teach you a lesson. I thought I’d not miss Wanda when she left. I was, in a way, looking forward to it. That was the most foolish part. Of course, I was miserable. But that was decades ago and I don’t miss her anymore. I’m used to things as they are now. I’d return the tea set she inherited from her mother. But there’s no occasion for it and I’m guessing she’s also used to not having it by now. So I use it to have tea when I’m home on the weekends. I like how fancy it feels. I like the contrast of the small purple and pink flowers with the white porcelain. I like the fading golden rim around the cups’ lips. And the saucers. I’d never otherwise have bothered with them. But I’m glad I have them. I ended up buying myself these almond biscottis I’m having right now, which are pretty good, just so that I’d have something to rest in the saucer. For the niceness of it, not because I have any problems resting the biscotti on my formica table. As I said, I’m not hung up on such things. Thought I’d never do something as extreme as a story I read once about a woman who took a bite of a cockroach. That to me seems unnecessary, even in a made up story.

But that’s another story. The story I had in mind was about the guy in Brooklyn and the rat. Given that his toilet was closed, he had to have put the tip of his thumb right under the toilet lid, lift its full weight with one hand at the same time as his other hand pinched his zipper between thumb and index finger. Right when his zipper hit the end of its track and the toilet lid clicked against the toilet tank, he saw the rat, surrounded by white glazed porcelain and water. It looked back at him with a wet expression of animal incomprehension, which partially mirrored his. Though his confusion was human, which was more pitiful, made more pathetic by the fact that humans like to think of themselves as an understanding species. He closed and held the lid down, feeling a little disgusted to touch it, the rat in such close proximity on the other side. He waited for the thump of the rat jumping against the lid, trying to push it open, but there was nothing. He flushed the toilet and waited. Nothing but water. He flushed it again. Then again and again until it sounded like there was not enough water left. The handle offered no resistance to his turns, as if it had given up. So he sat on the closed toilet as more water trickled in. He waited enough time for the tank to be refilled then flushed it decidedly, hoping it would be the last time. He heard the shush of the water coming down then swirling, then the final swallow. He wondered if the sound was obstructed by the rat, but he couldn’t tell. He sat quietly on the lid for a time, now no longer disgusted to be sitting there, having gotten used to idea of the rodent. He didn’t know for how long he sat. He was alone and had left his phone in the kitchen. Time was impossible to hold onto without a means to measure it to contain it.

He opened the bowl and found the rat was still there and felt paralyzed by the impossibility of those dark gelatinous eyes looking at him. Now the wet fur was stuck to its head in a way that made it look angry. It moved, gathering itself in a spring of muscle and dark fur. Then it leaped. The man, the hipster from NPR, pushed the lid back down, cursing himself for having opened it. But it was too late, the top half of the rat, the front paws, with their fingers and long indigent nails, its triangular head and the teeth which were animal and toddler and old man were already out of the bowl. Even with his holding the lid down, the rat was perplexingly compressing its body and pouring itself out further. He’d heard about how rats could do this before, but the sight of it was terrifying. The man moved along the curve of the lid as far as possible and pressed down harder against the resistance of the rat’s pulpous mass, cringing at the thought of breaking the rat’s bones, cutting it in half, but not knowing what else to do. But he didn’t break the rat in two then, and he managed to stop it from moving out further. He stretched himself enough to get his girlfriend’s hairbrush from the sink and used it to try and push the rat back in. But it was useless. So he just sat next to the rat, who breathed with some difficulty through its sepulchral open mouth.

It was then the man stopped telling the story. He said, rushedly that there had been no way out. He had to kill it, with the brush. This hipster man from Brooklyn who’d never killed anything, and sounded like a decent enough guy, had to do it. He said “it was awful,” and I’m thankful that’s all he said about it. I still can’t help but see the blood on the white tiles, but I see it in a flash that goes away quickly. It doesn’t require me to stay with it for too long. I think that was the man’s intention, in the way he told the story, not to make others suffer what he did. I felt like he omitted the rest for him, but he also thought of me, in a way, that is, the person hearing him, and I felt grateful.

I wouldn’t have killed the rat, at least I think I wouldn’t. I think I’d have sat with it, on top of the toilet. I’d have him around until it got tired of me. I wonder how it would feel to have another living thing appearing here just like that. It’s raining now and my tea is cold. I walk to the bathroom and I wish I’d closed the lid to delay what I can see so plainly now: the white bowl empty, alone underwater.

 
 

Ananda Lima

ANANDA LIMA's work has appeared or is upcoming in The American Poetry Review, Rattle, Colorado Review, Jubilat, Hobart and elsewhere. She has an MA in Linguistics from UCLA and is pursuing an MFA in fiction from Rutgers University, Newark, where she also teaches undergraduate creative writing. She is working on a poetry collection centered on immigration and motherhood, and a novel set in Brasília, where she grew up as the daughter of migrants from Northeast Brazil. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and their son.

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