Saturday, December 31, 2016


A Certain New Years Eve
by Ms.

It was a certain New Year’s Eve in New York City, and a middle-aged woman was feeling vulnerable. Accumulated, ordinary personal losses plus the overwhelming burden of the whole Holiday season thing, which never fails but to conjure scenes of that imagined and longed for happy childhood. New Year’s Eve is a primary hub of emotions, a pivot point for predicting the year to come.

This season stirs humans up and rouses expectation. Everything conspires to demand attention, from the bright decorations to the loud call of "consume". It is as inescapable as the weather, and equally out of one's control. Even the wealthy feel it's lure. Those fortunate few who love someone or something beyond just themselves are happy in any season, therefore it has a selective function as well, as in sorting wheat from chaff. Those whose love has failed or gone on suffer terribly. The particular woman who is both old friend and the subject of my story could be counted as one of the latter.

She was hurrying home as day turned toward night, rushing in a desperate attempt to remove herself from the streets before reveling drunks ran rampant over the urban landscape. Tensions were palpable, her own, and the general ones of mixed crowds. The odor of alcohol was in the air. Weather - cold and damp as the season should be, but no redeeming snow to smooth things out or muffle the sharp edges of city sounds. On the corner of Eighth Street and Third Avenue a few folks were already in line for the uptown bus. St. Marks bookstore on the corner of 9th, a $1.00-a-slice pizza dump, and the Galapagos bar at mid-block, where rock musical acts debut as loudly as possible, formed the backdrop for the scene while the waiters shifted from foot to foot, balancing their fat, multicolored packages so as not to drop them into slush. Our particular character was wearing a backpack, and carrying one small paper bag with a cheap bottle of sherry in it, and one shopping bag filled with the few grocery items she'd been able to afford. Her boots had small tears in their soles and her socks were wet.

She is a woman in her forties dressed warmly in layers of fleece, attractive, though you wouldn't pick her out of a crowd. Hers is a sympathetic face beginning to show age and a certain melancholy. One wet sock had chaffed a raw spot on her foot as she walked. It had begun to throb the way a wound does when it has reached a breaking point. She bent over to pull at the sock hoping for relief, when she noticed a shape close to the ground out of the corner of her eye. She straightened up and turned toward this sight; a small rat was there in front of the Pizza place and, as she gazed, it reared up on its hind legs and wrapped one front paw around its belly while it stretched out the other front paw in a gesture clearly supplicating. It was looking directly into her eyes. She forgot her foot, and felt the creature's pain as though it were her own. It didn't matter if it were a rat, or any other incarnation of flesh. Pain and supplication were so present that, for a moment, she couldn't hear the voices around her, only the wordless communication between them, two beings who understood one another across the species boundaries that separated them. The little creature doubled over in pain and, at that precise heart-piercing moment, her attention split into three parts:
She heard the voices of drunken boys, exclaiming "Shit man, a rat", and "Get me that board”...and the phrase "bash its f-in head in" delivered with blood lusting vehemence.
In her peripheral vision, she caught sight of an older woman in a fur coat grimacing with horror.
She saw the reflection of the bus headlights in a puddle as it approached the stop, and heard the shuffling turnings of people lining up to board.

She wasn't thinking, nor could she have articulated her awareness in words. She just knew she had to do something. It was an action already taking place in her muscles as she swiftly moved closer to the little rodent, extracted a plastic bag from extras she'd stuffed in her jacket, stooped low while wrapping the plastic around her hand, and scooped the animal up (there was no resistance), tied the bag loosely and placed it gently into the shopping bag, turned and boarded the bus herself--the last passenger as the doors closed. It all took place in one, seamless arc of motion. Time stood still. She paid her fare and found a seat. Then, self-consciousness returned. Her brain raced: 'What have I done'...'I've gone too far, this is really over the line'...'I must be crazy'...'If it lives, what will I do?'...'Will the cats smell a rat?'....'Oh, almighty god I have a rat in my shopping bag!'...’Do others know?'  The bus was moving as she cautiously lifted her gaze to scan the faces of her fellow passengers. They were all engaged in their own thoughts, or with others. Only one woman caught her eyes, smiled briefly, and resumed reading a magazine. She concluded that no one knew, then felt even more isolated, like a fugitive with a terrible secret. She wondered if her cargo was still alive, still in pain. Her heart was beating hard, but her breathing was shallow. 'We are both endangered species' she thought, closing her eyes for the rest of the trip.

When the bus stopped on her corner she revived, quickly exited, walked purposefully down the block and into the building, ascending several flights, then into her apartment, closed and dead bolted the door, continued down the hall past her own three cats to the walk in closet where she grabbed a large shoe box, emptied it, poked a few holes in the top, extracted the plastic bag depositing it gently inside, untied the knot and closed the cover. turned away and latch-locked the closet behind her. She put away the groceries, cooked a light meal, then fed her cats and herself. Once the contented cats had curled themselves up in their favorite spot by the radiator and the dishes were done, she returned to the closet with a bottle of Dr. Bach's 'rescue remedy', the homeopathic treatment for trauma and shock.

She fully expected the rat would die of course and was only hoping to provide it a kinder, perhaps easier departure. Coincidentally, she had just become acquainted with the probable poison it had ingested through her work at a local University. She worked the late evening shift, and, consequently, she and the janitors used to talk regularly of this and that. A recent topic was the new poisons they were using, specifically they mentioned 'warfarin', and one of them made a joke about waging a war on mice. Her curiosity had led her to investigate further, discovering that this new rodenticide was an anticoagulant whose action was to block the creatures ability to produce blood clotting factors, and that in addition the poison damaged capillaries, increasing their permeability, causing internal bleeding, and that the effects are gradual, lasting over many days. Worse, that pain is present from bleeding into muscles and joints, and in the final stages the animal collapses from circulatory shock and anemia. She told me there was no excuse sufficient to explain the obvious cruelty of the new method. But that was the scenario that flooded her mind when this particular rat presented itself so pitifully earlier that evening. 

She entered the closet, took a few drops of the remedy herself, and carefully lifted the box cover. The rat was conscious, lying curled up on it's side in what seemed a more relaxed disposition. She knelt down, it's eyes following her eyes. She held up the remedy filled eyedropper, and slowly lowered it toward the rodents mouth, pausing to see if any signs of fear appeared. Instead, the great eyes, which seemed tear blurred, focused brightly and it's head turned slightly as it parted it's lips. She deposited several drops. It swallowed. Then she placed the dropper right to the corner of it's mouth, and released the rest of the liquid. It swallowed steadily again. She withdrew the dropper. Then, with a visible sigh, it's musculature seemed to soften as it closed it's eyes. After a few seconds of watching its steady breathing, she gently replaced the box cover and left the closet closed and latched securely. It was nearly midnight.

She poured the Sherry, and curled herself into a comfortable chair to watch the ball drop on her muted television while listening abstractly to the horn blowing and shouts of "Happy New Year" from the apartments and streets nearby. Later on, snow began falling, and winds howled outside while she watched through darkened windows from her bed, drifting in and out of sleep, rising every hour or so to check on the rat and offer more 'remedy' till dawn when the little one was clearly gone. Then she slept. 

(Painting on a stoop in the East Village, NYC)

Our lives changed course, but we kept in touch over the decades. She had never told anyone the story but me, just kept it to herself. And I have not betrayed her trust till now.  Here it is, New years Eve again and she is long gone. It's time to share her story.


Mo Crow said...

a beautiful story of compassion to begin the New Year

jude said...

Thank you, Happy new year Michelle.

deemallon said...

happy new year, Michelle. thank you for this. your writing lets me really enter and imagine each moment. and such a tender story.

grace Forrest~Maestas said...

so now i am waiting. there is the shoebox in the closet. The SUN has
risen. i'm waiting for her to do what's Next

Shiborigirl said...

lovely story Michelle. Just now seeing this. It reminded me of something that happened here last year. We caught a mouse in a catch and release trap here in the kitchen one night. Found,upon waking in the morning, fixing my morning coffee and having a bit of persimmon bread, I gave the little guy a piece with some water. He sat there and observed as I read the paper and commented to him on the various state of affairs and in that short time I became attached to his little beady eyes and twitchy whiskers. Later, it was time to take him out to release him and we rode our bikes over to the large open area at the end of the airport with him riding in the pocket of the backpack. Stopping and walking over to the fence and away from the road we released him. He immediately ran underneath my feet and bicycle and straight out into the road where he was immediately hit by one lone car passing by. Even now, I think about that and wonder...

Deb said...

A whole year later, here I am to say thank you for telling her story. There is little enough compassion in the world. It should be told. So we don't forget how.

Happy New Year!