If something smells good enough to eat one should anticipate something trying to do just that – eat it. Before we get to the bizarre, appetizing details, allow me, please, to fill in the blanks so we’re on the same page. It’s the background story, which might be the most interesting part.
For quite a few weeks I’ve been taking care of my grandson – a pet rat who sometimes responds to his name, Roach. But Roach, more often than not, chooses to turn a deaf ear to my high-pitched, coaxing, reserved-for-babies-only voice.
He lives in appalling luxury under my son’s bed. You’d think, never having been confined to a cage, he’d be destroying the world: chewing through skirting boards, cupboard doors, floors, walls, the table, even the bed base he resides beneath. Nope. Roach lies on a folded towel (which, admittedly, he does shred in places), in an old school shirt, surrounded by shredded toilet paper haphazardly arranged for extra bolstering and comfort.
And there, in solitary splendor, Roach thinks Roach thoughts.
He has to do a soldier’s belly crawl, four legs splayed, to emerge into the light of day. When he does, he keeps you guessing as to whether he’d like a soothing back scratch, the food you have in your left hand, or both.
Roach exerts himself for edibles, for nighttime scuttling, and to rebuild his boundary walls after Granny (that’s me) has lifted the mattress off the base, lifted the base off the floor, lifted the collection of skanky food he’s been stashing off the floor, and done necessary housekeeping in his man cave (a nest of dehydrated and curling old food, dry poop, piles of massacred toilet paper, and a sleepy rat who gives me the evil eye).
When that’s accomplished, and the base and mattress are back in place, I must reinsert the two rolled-into-sausages grey school trousers doing duty as fillers for the gap between the bed base and the floor, effectively sealing Roach’s domain from nosy parkers who, I assure you, are few and far between. Not many people want to lie on a bedroom floor and chat to the rat who lives under the bed; my son selected, not a rat who looks like a pet e.g. white fur, or brown and white fur, or muted, cloudy-grey fur, but a skittish rodent who looks like your dingy, stereotypical horror movie sewer rat. We love him, one or two friends love him. That’s it.
Next, I unroll enough toilet paper to block a giant’s loo and leave the attractive pile of two-ply lying just outside the base. Roach will, in the dead of night, pluck and pull and run with it, wrapping the bog roll around a chair leg (which happens to be but a few centimetres from the bed), stretching it out for the remaining, unsealed length of the bed, building a flimsy wall that states, without lettering, that this is a Do Not Disturb zone. The equivalent would be those hotel cards you hang on the outside handle of your room’s door, only Roach’s would never show the side that says Please Clean.
I’ve tried conversing with my moody grandson by lying prone on the floor, pleading. I did this when he was too quiet for too long. I thought he’d died of a broken heart. My heart stopped, thinking I’d have to tell my son that the four-footed member of our family had kicked the bucket. The reply from Roach was a length of jerking toilet paper being rearranged, with huffy haste, from inside ‘the fort’, ensuring I could not see a thing, not even the dark. Good, I thought, he’s alive.
In the honeymoon period of my babysitting duties I did bizarre things.
I read Roach bedtime stories from The Hutchinson Treasury of Children’s Literature to break the ice and the silence (now I’ve borrowed a clock radio from a friend. It talks and plays songs for hours).
I slept in my son’s bed because Roach is accustomed to running over the hills and dales a horizontal person under a duvet and blanket resembles. The mattress is pushed to one side at the top, a little off base (not by Roach, of course. I have to overcome my alignment issues to make it work). This means there’s a ledge he can rest on and catch his breath after launching himself from floor to bed base. From there it’s a leap of faith and he is on the mattress, next to my definitely not sleeping head. He does this as soon as the light goes out. I could feel him snuffing and sniffing in my hair, his whiskers tickling my face, and his light-footed scamper on my person. I’d smile and enjoy the antics of my odd bedfellow.
Here, I must digress and go elsewhere in space and time.
A few days after my son’s departure I conducted a workshop in an old seaside home where we were treated to an exquisite view and wide-open windows.
As the women wrote, one of the windows swung even wider, creaking back in the blustery wind. I did what needed to be done, attempting to pull it closed. As I did so, the wooden window frame separated from the hinges. I thought I’d rescue it, prevent it from hitting the ground. I stepped out the adjacent door and tried to halt the window’s fall. It was too heavy and cumbersome. As it fell, a corner of the frame hit my left shin, puncturing the skin. The frame hit the ground, and the bottom glass pane cracked, then shattered. How bizarre.
I ignored the pain humming on my left shin – a workshop was in progress and the disruption needed to be minimized. I took a sneak peek while the women wrote. No blood running down my leg; only a teardrop shaped, wet, dark maroon hole. By teatime I barely remembered the injury. I requested a bit of tea tree oil just before our second session began.
For days I dropped lavender oil in the slow-to-heal wound and went about my usual business and activities, dancing and jumping around when I felt like it, forging ahead.
It was a Friday evening, 6 days later. My friends, who had been for dinner, left, and I pulled my shoes and socks off.
Oh. My. God.
God works in mysterious ways, the devout say. I agree. My left foot looked like Ellie the Elephant’s foot. NOOOOO, this is not my foot, I wailed. NOOOOO, what is happening? I cried.
Two things became abundantly clear.
Firstly, I realized how vain I am about my feet. I adore my feet. They’re pretty, and I can do all sorts of things with them. Faced with a freakish foot that looked as if it had been inflated with a bicycle pump and the color of ‘old people skin’ – purple, blue, and a profoundly puffy instep veined with pink lines – I felt life, as I knew it, had come to a cruel end.
Secondly, it was obvious my shin hole was a smokescreen. Something much deeper was going on here.
I sent photos (horrific ones) to sympathetic, night-owl family members. The WhatsApp conversation with my youngest son went like this:
Son: Oh Jesus that doesn’t look very alive, are you sure you’re not undead?
Me: Ja, the whole ankle and inside of the foot beneath the hole has gone bruised and puffy and weird.
Son: Go to the hospital, veins are no joke. ‘Cause that could infect shit. Probably already is. Go tomorrow.
Me: How do you know all this? Google?
Son: The infection stuff?
Son: I’m just using general knowledge.
Me: Mmmm…very good.
Son: Any old dummy like me can tell this is a fucked foot.
Me: 🤣🤣🤣 That’s putting it politely.
Take a deep breath and hold it until I get back to you with Part 2…
that’s an incentive for me, but please don’t do exactly as I say. 😉 😀