Note: This post is part of a series of stories about a boy. Find the rest and other writing by browsing the “writing” category. Feel free to drop a comment and let me know if you liked it, or how it can be improved.
Growing up in America, there are a few things a child learns are his inalienable rights:
The right to believe in whatever god you want, the right to not let the Army sleep in your house, the right to not suffer from seizures, the right to be hung by a jury, the right to only un-cruel and usual punishments, and the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of owning the arms of a bear.
But there are some other implied entitlements to being an American. They might not be in the Constitution, but they make up the fabric of the child’s society. Food and cars will be plentiful. The former will come from inside air-conditioned stores, the latter from sprawling lots. School will be decent quality, boring, and free. TV will have numerous channels and be watched compulsively. People will be scared of all sorts of weird, unreasonable things. Holidays mean candy, candy, and more candy! Snow will be fun. Toy needs are insatiable. A pet of some sort, if not many, will be provided. A home may come in all shapes and sizes, but it will always have a functioning floor and ceiling.
With this last entitlement, Gaylord was gypped.
It’s not that Gaylord’s childhood home didn’t have floors and ceilings, it’s just that they didn’t always work in the intended way. Generally, a floor is for walking on AND to keep the walker on the same vertical plane they wish to walk within the structure. There are plenty of ways to change planes without a faulty floor. Some methods include stairs, fire poles, ramps, elevators, escalators, and ladders. Gaylord’s father used none of these methods.
Gaylord was in the basement checking the kittens. Calexico, the family’s calico cat, had recently birthed a healthy litter of 8. The cat had been searching for a safe place to have them for days before deciding on the basement ceiling. Above the washing machine, Calexico had jumped into a hole in the drywall and had burrowed out a little den. The whole ceiling in that area was discolored and crumbling due to a leaky tub in the bathroom above. Years of water damage had eaten through the floor and into the basement. Drywall and pink insulation hung in clumps and littered the floor. Gaylord was saddened to see a muffin sized orange lump on the ground. One of the kittens had fallen from the hole and died.
As Gaylord knelt down to inspect, he heard the shower turn off upstairs. There was only one bathroom in the house, and his father had been taking a shower. Besides checking on the kittens, the boy had also taken a leak in the bushes by the basement door. His father was humming some operatic melody. It was out of tune and muffled by the floor.
“Do kittens go to heaven?” Gaylord wondered. Obviously all dogs did, but there was no movie president for the fairer beast.
Suddenly, a burst of commotion. It was the combined noise of wood splintering, drywall busting, and a scream, all underscored by an echoing and deep metallic boom.
Gaylord swung around to see two stocky legs, in a bathrobe, standing on the washing machine. There was muffled cursing as the two legs kicked around, looking for a way up.
“Oh my,” Gaylord thought. “I hope the kittens are okay!” The boy dragged a step stool over and peered into the kitten nest. Calexico and her babies had collected themselves in the shadows and were staring with fear at the pasty pair of interlopers.
The next day, Gaylord’s father repaired the hole with a piece of plywood. Calexico moved her kittens to a safer place.
Generally, a structural failure like this would make parents step back and assess the state of their house. Would the floor break in other places unexpectedly? Would the holes in the roof eventually lead to other problems? Did our goal to keep a roof over our heads mean that it couldn’t fall in bits around and below our heads too?
But there were no sweeping changes made and the state of the ceilings got worse. There were two issues. The roof leaked and had been making the drywall fall off in the kitchen and bathroom ceilings. At their worst, the ceiling had bulged like a massive albino goiter before bursting with brown water, wet insolation bits, and mildewed drywall. The second issue involved the increasing number of rats, squirrels, raccoons, and possums living in the attic. At all hours of the day, scampering could be heard. The squirrels and rats seemed to favor the front side of the attic with its easy access to trees. The heavier rodents preferred to have their turf wars in the back.
Combine rodents with holes, and you have the stuff of nightmares.
Gaylord’s mother was using the toilet one day and looked up to see a raccoon staring down at her from the exposed rafters.
His father discovered a dead rat in one of the drinking glasses in the kitchen cabinet.
The rats and possums seemed to be sneaking into the kitchen at night to eat cat food. Going into the kitchen for water in the middle of the night it was not uncommon to see some scurrying shadow. The cats had mostly learned to coexist, a wise move considering how outnumbered they were. And for some reason, the rats liked to congregate in the ceiling above Gaylord’s bed. Going to sleep often involved blocking thoughts of a bucket of rats tumbling onto bed and eating his eyes out.
After a few months of this, it was time to fight back. If the rats were going to be annoying, Gaylord was going to be annoying. The plan was simple: put soap in the cat food and blast music into the attic.
Putting soap in the cat food was easy. For phase two, Gaylord waited until his parents were out and brought a ladder into the house. Safety glasses were put on. The hatch to the attic was removed. The beam of the flashlight failed to find any of the rodents, but they obviously used the whole attic as a toilet.
“All right, you bastards,” Gaylord mumbled. “Get ready to be annoyed.”
Gaylord plopped his small boom box onto a rafter and pointed it into the void. It was armed with a double-sided cassette that looped one of his favorite songs, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Volume was set to ten. Play.
Gaylord chimed in with vindictive glee as he closed the hatch. The music was loud but muffled.
“You bet it’s the real life, rats.
This isn’t fantasy.
You are caught in a landslide with no escape from reality.
Open your beady eyes,
and look down from the ceiling and see…me!”
Gaylord stopped pumping his fist, chuckled, and brought the ladder back outside. He hoped that the batteries would die by the time his parents came home. Hopefully the rodents would have left by them too, a steady stream of furry annoyance fleeing to anywhere the wind blows.