There were rats in our ceiling though I know you couldn’t hear them. The house was crowded, it was loud, little house reverberating with the sound of New Year’s tidings. You were speaking to your friend’s parents, the ones who work at a hospital, and my sister was planning her wedding. Everyone was talking, everyone was watching the countdown on TV, everyone was enjoying the simple normalcy of things. But there was a scratching in the ceiling over the kitchen, a noise, that isolated me. I had to focus to hear the little claws. I admit it was easy, to disconnect from the party and hear the silence in my head quickly broken by the scurry of little claws. And maybe the silence had been there a while, is why it was so easy to find – spaces in broken conversations to hone in on, like the air you find inside the cardboard décor of furniture stores. It is all empty air and the silence it was piercing my head. And this is when I first heard the rats, seated in silence at the kitchen table hearing friends go on about fantasy sports and TV shows to ring in the new year and the vacuity of it all suddenly transpired – in me the distance, the fear of floating away in the wake of a cruise that’s already left the bay.
I believe they noticed I was pale and clammy, these people at the kitchen table with me. They regarded me with a safe distance, like a child around whom you carefully choose your words. I was the idiot they looked at and had to repeat exactly what they meant when they said the stock market was a better way to hedge their bets. As if I were the idiot! They couldn’t hear the rats clawing six feet above our heads. The tendons in my chest began to tighten, I was sweating with a pain that could have been the flu or claustrophobia – more rats were filling into the ceiling, the scraping reaching a frantic pitch and no one could hear a god damned thing but their own platitudes and plaints. My eyes were stuck in the middle distance of nowhere, focused compulsively on the silence that surrounded me, filled me – and how quickly it was broken by the clawing in the ceiling! I had to act. Visions of insulation and wires being ripped apart by the clawing horde making nests in my ceiling.
It was the footsteps they heard, paired to the conspicuous vacation from the kitchen chair I’d occupied all night: they knew it had to be me on the roof. Figure, it would be only me they heard through the ceiling. I admit I was stomping trying to find a weak patch in the roof, a way to get through to the rats making nests in my ceiling. I didn’t notice them at first, my audience below, and the sight must have been something to see – the front yard matted with leaves I never raked, garbage bags piled in the drive I never took to the street, and the dozens who gathered in the cold New Years’ drizzle to see me stalking the roof with a flashlight and cleaver. My plan I hadn’t fully thought through. It was you who called up to me first. I waved you away and said go back inside, this was something I could handle. And this must have been the stroke of midnight, because somewhere behind our house fireworks were going off. And I imagine the fireworks put me in silhouette because the light of them was bright enough to hide the shine of my flashlight. I was looking up in the trees over the house, for the rats, because even on the roof I could still only hear the scraping somewhere above me.