No Angels, No Avatars by Christine Rath

“Oh, God. There is more. Over here.”

Everything, perhaps everything, might be the vile output of the little furry creatures. She cringes as she moves seashells and ceramic turtles, collected along the way, and placed with some purpose on the bookshelves. Now haphazardly they lie, as she moves them to check for evidence of the rodent who has taken residence somewhere in her domicile. In the couch, perhaps, the wall, or the cabinet. She takes each trinket in her hand, regarding its texture and wiping it clean of the residue of all that is disintegrating in this Brooklyn village. Outside a bus idles, turning, spitting and reeling over itself. It is this waiting, this running of engines, that brings the specks of dust to her apartment. Tiny dust storms to avoid. So many tiny pests to keep out.

There is a clang from the kitchen as the ladder hits the refrigerator. A clang of accident, not authority. She has known Robin to clang with authority, as he does everyday with the dumpster below her kitchen window. Slamming it shut with purpose, as if to say, “All done here. Nothing left to dispose of.”

What a life! What a circus! That we can unknowingly be hearth and home to creatures unwanted. That we could be unaware of their residence until a box of cereal is chewed or a magazine, long unread in its rack, emerges shredded. A nest, a nest. Somewhere there is a nest.

She had grown accustomed to living without creatures. Had once known what it was like to live in communion with them—a squirrel scratching about the walls of her attic room, earwigs running for cover in the cold garage; a pill bug curled up in her old boots in the basement, salamanders slithering under wet rocks in the yard, a bat seeking warmth in a vent only to find itself trapped in the kitchen, silently flitting and swooping at impossible angles, with impossible speed. They sent her to the ground, the bats. To the ground screaming. In a fog of delight, disgust and terror, she crossed her arms over her head. She was afraid if they got too close she would become them. Or some human hybrid version of a bat. A hat? A buman? During one encounter with a bat in her country home, she was on the telephone with a friend. At the sight of the creature, she dropped the phone screaming. She couldn’t hear her panicked friend crying on the other end, and she couldn’t move to reach the phone. Fearing an intruder, or worse, her friend called the policeman in his tower. He rang the doorbell, armed for anything. The policeman rolled his eyes and laughed at her; went to her closet and took out her tennis racket. He coaxed the winged rodent into a paper bag and released him into the cool night air. He left without sympathy for her quivering fear.

It was the flesh of the wings that scared her most—and the pointed claw at the peak of each wing. When she saw them, there was a scream that came from inside her. Not from her lungs, but from her spirit. From her basest instinct. Nature exerted its power over her.

Here in the city there were also things to fear. Men mostly. Men in the dark, or on desolate streets. But the creatures had been somebody else’s problem. Not hers. As she makes sounds of disgust and shivers at the thought of the mice, Robin laughs at her. It is the laugh of the Pennsylvania policemen. One of delight at her disgust.

“We’ll see how you feel when one of them comes running out here. We’ll see,” she thinks, watching him emerge from the kitchen with the ladder. He is plugging holes in the wall. Checking the windows and the radiators.

In the morning before he left for work Hal had told her of the versatility of the mouse. “Anything Jason Bourne can do, a mouse can do.”

Despite Hal’s insistence Claire is still dubious of their entry so close to the ceiling. She says so to Robin.

“These guys are like James Bond,” He says pulling a tube of white caulk across the picture moulding.

“We all have our heroes,” Claire thinks, watching him.

These men and their movies. To them they were different franchises with distinct episodes, while to Claire they were a ballet. A ballet of men in suits with guns, dancing across rooftops, leaping bullets, boats, and cars.

She continues to pull furniture away from the walls, burying her shame over the balls of dust floating from the corners. She knew when they moved into this place, that the walls would soon be covered with books, couches, shelves, paintings. That there would be no seeing this molding along the floor. She and Hal would fill every corner.

But the mouse is pushing for a change.

As she wipes off the top of the refrigerator where Robin had last been sealing up holes, she sees what the mouse is doing for her. Look how spotless every corner is. Look how she has vacuumed the crevices. Look how much brighter her life looks properly cleaned and purged of excess.

Weeks before, Claire had determined that she would let go of magic of all kinds. No gods, no angels, no avatars, no enlightened ones, no witches, or fairies, or incarnations, or saviors. Just life. The simplicity and pointlessness of it all. To feel love, that was the thing. To breathe the air, and taste the food, and pet the dog. To feel her husband beside her in bed. To watch the shadows move across the ceiling as the moon slips through the sky. These were the things to worship.

She marveled at how something so small could make you move everything, make you change your mind about keeping this or that, make you think about who and how you are. As much as any of the others, this mouse was divinity incarnate.

She thinks of this as she peels the release paper from the sticky trap and places it where she has known the mouse to be.

“Yes, Robin,” she says, as he is leaving, “I think we shall definitely catch him this time.”

 

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