Rats, Roaches, and Queens

I keep an orderly kitchen — spices fresh and organized; cereal safely resealed into sorted Tupperware containers; a fitted lid for every pot, pan and roaster. I have been heard to screech, “Who loaded the dishwasher without rinsing the dishes?” Scissors, tape, and push pins all have a right place, and the telephone book remains in its cradle unless in active use. My family complies with my order; breaches draw painfully long lectures they’d rather avoid. I reign over My Kitchen — and this seems both right and proper to me.
Thus I noticed the box of chocolate fudge on Wednesday morning when I walked into my kingdom at 7:15 to begin the day. I had left the intended gift on the bench by the door — a gentle reminder to send it with my son for his teacher’s birthday. Now, I stared unbelieving at the torn, flowery paper, the ripped protective plastic, and an entire corner gnawed away. I stared outraged, mouth agape, at the sharp teeth prints in the gooey, bourbon goodness lovingly made by the Monks of Gethsemane.
“Ruined, ruined,” I moaned in royal dismay, as the children and my husband tumbled into the kitchen. I eyed them each with hostile suspicion despite the dental mismatch, and then turned sharply on my son’s caged hamster Little Willy.
Little Willy fit snuggly in Will’s palm when we bought him two years ago at Pet Smart. Being clearly labeled “Domestic Hamster” did not stop this rodent from expanding in short order to the exact size and proportion of a rat — barely able to squeeze his girth through the massive maze of tubes my son calls his cage.
“How,” I crisply demanded of my sleepy son, “did that rodent get out of his cage and eat the bourbon fudge?”
Cooperatively, we examined all sections of the complex as a worried Will pleaded, “Mom, look at him. He’s sleeping — he didn’t do it.”
I snarled, “He’s drunk and hung-over” — but finding no obvious escape portal, I spared now-Slick Willy’s life for the morning.
Two nights later, the kitchen still smelling of bleach and Lysol, I heard a disturbance in My Kitchen. A sly crumpling of paper from the otherwise still sanctuary reached me. I dashed down the steps, threw on the overhead lights, and saw peanut M&Ms lazily rolling and tumbling from the counter. The bag that once held them laid gashed and torn open. Nothing more stirred in the room, now still as a morgue.
Slick Willy, I quickly noted, slept curled and undisturbed in the top vestibule of his living system. Where was the traitorous, picky thief so determined to mock my authority? Was he sitting curled in a corner, nibbling one last M&M, watching me suffer with delight?
I admit it — I broke down and cried. I hated this unwanted creature, roaming My Kitchen, picking through my order, as if invited to an elite, gourmet tasting.
As I wept, I recalled a similar antipathy not long before, in Hawaii, when my daughter and I discovered vandals in our rented minivan. Together, we had returned one evening to the vehicle to retrieve personal items. Simultaneously, we had opened the doors and seen a rush of little black spots, like those that dance around your head before fainting.
“What the heck?” she gasped, while gaping at the retreating interlopers.
“Good grief,” I sputtered, “we have roaches in the minivan.”
The next morning, my family rose to my mission and removed all trash, food, and crumbs from the car. “They’ll just abandon the vehicle,” I urged, knowing that a full retreat into the engine would satisfy me. I calmed — until I discovered my sons secretly leaving morsels for our rental roaches because “they might be getting hungry.”
The game expanded. My roach rancor eased as the boys’ humor reached me. “What would you guys like?” yelped one son as we drove through McDonald’s. “Do the roaches need sunscreen, Mom?” bellowed another son as we piled out of the car for a day on the beach. I forgot how much I hated the vermin.
But I refused to give up My Kitchen, the earthly area of my only reign. Forlorn, drying tears of frustration, I reminded myself, “This is My Kitchen where I am Queen.” I would have my regal rights.
I fought back. I set up guard into the wee hours of the morning, cutting sleep to a bare minimum. For three nights, I puttered and toiled alone in the kitchen, distracted only by Little Willy’s slow, lumbering efforts to turn the exercise wheel in his cage.
On the fourth night, I detected a slight scraping along a cabinet above the computer where I sat. I launched a full search but found nothing. I waited, clutching my robe like a Roman Empress. The scraping resumed, and drew my attention to a quarter-inch gap between the cabinet and outside wall of the house, above the desk. “Impossible,” I muttered, squinting into the tiny space from the chair in front of the computer. “Nothing with an appetite for nutty chocolate could fit up there,” I reassured myself, turning back toward the computer screen.
Suddenly, the scraping became a long, sliding whoosh. I turned abruptly and watched in dismay as a furry pancake slid from the crack and down the wall. Landing right next to my elbow, it popped into a long-tailed, fat, gray rat. He blinked.
My outrage unbridled, I screamed, “Rat! Rat! It’s a rat!” and I slammed my husband’s briefcase across the desk, pinning the invader into the corner. Now in need of troop support, I bellowed for my family.
My youngest son responded first — puffy-eyed and alarmed. “Mom, it’s 2:00 a.m. Why are you screaming?”
Leaning my full weight into the briefcase, I ordered, “Get your father. Tell him I have caught a rat in My Kitchen.”
My husband appeared in underpants, carrying a broom stick — not the ready, willing warrior I had hoped for. His contorted face warned that he had yet to decide how best to use the broom and he barked, “What the hell are you doing with my briefcase?”
Unbelieving, he assumed my pose, loosened the trap, and peered into the corner. As the captive made a quick lurch for freedom, my startled husband turned and whispered, “My dear, you have indeed caught a rat.”
Later — after Bill dangled the now-deceased villain by its tail for family viewing, after the family had retired to bed — I sat dazed and puzzled at the kitchen table. The rat’s death failed to warm and restore my queenliness. Where, I pondered, is the glow of victory?
My eyes fell upon a small, wooden nativity scene, nestled into the corner of an upper shelf. Mary hunched over her newborn son lying in a manger. I felt a red wave of embarrassment, like the sudden nausea of spoiled food. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.I grimaced — she birthed the Christ child in the company of rats and roaches.
I gave over my outrage to God and resolved to mention my rat adventures only with humor and gratitude. As I flicked off the kitchen light, I repositioned the Holy Family prominently, a ready reminder that My Kitchen was my stable — a place of wonder and love for my family, a place often beyond my control. I had much more to learn about being a queen, I knew, as I dragged off to bed.

Marjorie Campbell

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Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, "On the Way to the Kingdom," for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.

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