The rat under the door

The garage was a big white two stall structure at the end of the drive way that was used mostly for storage. There were two windows at the back and one on each side. They were always dirty and hard to see through. Once upon a time when I was young we had a dog kennel attached to one side and he kept hunting Beagles caged there. The dogs were never allowed in the house and we were not allowed to play with them. They were working dogs and their place in the world didn’t include a human relationship. The floor was a cement slab that had several cracks running through the middle and there was one light hanging from the center of the room that you had to walk over to and pull a chain to turn on, later there was a switch by the door. These memories compete with each other for accuracy.

We rarely opened the large sliding overhead doors because they would fall off the tracks if you weren’t extremely careful and then it was hard to shut them again. Everything in there had a permanent home in its designated space in the garage. This is one of my first memories of hoarding, though at the time I had no idea that it wasn’t normal for your dad to accumulate piles and piles of metal and other formerly useful items in bins and storage containers, boxes and stacks. The far stall from the small door usually had an old car in some type of disrepair. He was either in the process of tearing it down or putting it back together and any progress would stop for years. Usually there were batteries stacked near the small door and an acid bath of some type in an open container to wash parts in. I remember learning the properties of battery acid as a use for cleaning car parts when I was four and being very careful when I took them out with my little hands not to splash any on the cement and to wipe my hands right away. I have several strong memories of when I was younger than 5 and more after I was 11 or 12 and a blank slate between those years.

What do I see as I walk into the garage?

In front of me is a 4×4 post that supports the roof. There is a broom leaning against it among a pile of objects-I don’t know if they are valuable or not. On the right of the door there is an engine on the floor, it’s been there for years with all of its additional parts in a box next to it. The bottom of the box is disintegrated and the sides are barely holding. Later when I have to move it, I end up putting everything in a 5 gallon bucket which in its turn sits next to the engine for another few years. If I am standing in the door of I can reach to the right through the cobwebs and oil coating everything to reach a couple of brooms, some shovels and other gardening tools, an ice chopper, sledge hammer, hammer, some pliers and an ice pick with a black handle. There is also a bucket of recycled nails that I can use if I pound them straight again when I am working on our fort in the back yard. The ice pick was used for many purposes though I never remember chipping ice with it. I have used it as an awl, a pilot hole tool, to skewer large bugs and as a throwing tool instead of a pocket knife when we played chicken*.

In front of me in a row along the center of the garage is a pile of unknown origin. Items that have to be kept “just in case”, piled on top of each other and mixed with some of my favorite toys who have been relegated to the garage for purposes of space or lack of space in the house. To my left is a ramshackle table made from 2 saw horses with wood across them for a surface to put more things. They prevent me from opening the door all the way and cause me slam the door open hard enough for it to catch on the concrete wedging it open and putting one of the buckets of metal in front of it to keep it open. I also check behind the door for animals and creepy things every time I go in there. There is space behind this table for animals like raccoons to hide out of sight while they are eating the dog food. I am always suspicious of this corner. There is another work bench under the window on this side of the garage and more things piled under and on it. I remember a lot of metal parts from cars and engines or tools. They are heavy and cumbersome to move when they are in the way and I feel trapped and claustrophobic when I am in this space. I panic if the door comes loose and closes while I am in here and I bolt to keep it from locking me in with the raccoons. My family calls me a sissy for being afraid of this space. They taunt and tease me because I am afraid. My dad laughs at me. My mom tells me not to be so dramatic. I am terrified of this space. There are more benches and spaces on the other side of the garage that I have to turn my back to when I am getting the dog food out of the bin and there are things in the rafters that shuffle, snuffle and creak over my head. I wait anxiously for them to drop onto me while I am bent over getting the dog food as fast as I can while looking over both shoulders, over my head and behind me.

I am in my early teens and I feed Genie after supper ever y night. Through the years there are many dogs who I remember. Scratchy one of the house dogs when I was 3, the beagles when I was 4, a red curly coated retriever when I was 5 named Red, we had a poodle when I was a toddler that I don’t remember and at this time Faunie who lives inside with me and Genie my Heinz 57 variety black labish dog who is chained outside behind the garage under a tree with her kennel. The garage creeped me out more than the rest of the property. Lately I had been finding a dead rat around Genies kennel every morning when I went out to see her. I would have to unceremoniously pick up the critter and dispose of it in the weeds or put it in the trash, usually I just tossed them over the neighbors fence for the feral cats and other creatures to find.

This morning I put the key in the padlock, unbolted it, opened the clasp and shoved the door open as hard as I could. As I stepped into the garage I looked down at a gray rat pinned mid body under the bottom of the garage door, wiggling for all it was worth to free itself. To this day I hate killing animals, even those who are pests and I jumped back watching this poor thing squirm and try to get away. There was a shovel near my hands but I couldn’t reach for it. I stood there mesmerized and unable to act one way or the other. Most likely the animal was mortally wounded. The only solution that seemed reasonable to me was to rewind the situation. I grabbed the door handle and pulled the door shut as hard as I could. I looked down, certain that I had just crushed its head in my rash action. The rat was gone. I waited a minute or two until my breathing went back to normal. I was shaking from head to foot and I opened the door slower this time. Looking behind the door I saw nothing. It was gone.

*If you’ve never played chicken before this is how it’s done. Two or more opponents face each other and throw knives as close to each others feet as possible to stick the blade in the ground handle up without the opponent moving. The bigger the knife the more intimidation and we were usually bare foot. I don’t remember anyone needing stitches since most of the time if it was too close you would move out of the way.  I was also one of the top throwers with deadly accuracy within 1/2 inch of my opponents foot if they stayed put.  I could put it wherever I aimed most of the time.  I was proud of my skill.  Many years later I used the same skill at an outdoor event throwing tomahawks into a stump – dead center, first throw and at least 5 out of every 6 tries.  That was fun.

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