Now I have rats. I go to the sheds and find them sleek and fat as publicans, perched on the pallets like pints of stout. They rut and reel in the granary, rubbing their tails like crayons on the lintel steps. Pigs lie insensible as the straw boils around them; rats shriek and fray and knead the dirt in their fingers.
They came with the cold weather, and I squirmed away from them at first – any sane person would, because they’re rats – they can bite and piss and sicken you with diseases. If you’re used to mice, get ready for something other – these boys are muscular and hard-wearing, but having killed a dozen, I began to think again. They’re only animals; objects of natural curiosity come indoors.
We’ve rolled in a running battle with rats for a thousand years; we destroy them with every method available. We hate rats so dearly that the law permits us to kill them with poisons which are banned for use on every other species. We know what harm that poison does, but we’re prepared to make an exception because, well, it’s a rat and good enough for it.
We’re yet to imagine the perfect death for a rat; a moment of destruction so crushing and final that we’ll never have to kill another. In reaching for that ideal, we bide our time and smash them with shovels, clash them with traps, set dogs upon them and see their bowels fly like muddy spaghetti.
I don’t pity rats, but there are nights when I go to the sheds and feel a stirring proximity of an enemy, fair and square. I learned that some of these buildings have stood in this place for five hundred years; and never more than a few weeks in all that time without a rat about them.
So when the moon is full and the yard hurls with a burr of silver light, it sometimes makes sense to have them here; bitter and wise, roiling in the midnight sty.