There's a rat in my kitchen. What's a man gonna do?
ALL WEEK, there has been the sound of scratching. In the walls. Behind the skirting boards. Late at night, reverberating through the dark, burrowing into our slumber.
Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii. It comes from deep within some corner of the house, but travels through every part of it so that it could be coming from anywhere.
As I search for the rodents responsible, I see myself in that unbearably tense scene from Aliens: marine uniform; gun; clasping a motion detector whose red dots get closer and closer until they form into a dense, murderous blob . . .
In reality, I’m wearing a tracksuit and wielding a child’s hurley.
Finally, late in the week, while preparing to retire for the night, the noise returns and I find myself within inches of its source, on the other side of a door by the utility room.
Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii. Silence. Then again, but shorter, more determined. Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii.
It sounds as if the creature is in the open, right there, on the other side of the door, gnawing its way toward me.
Taking a deep breath, I unconsciously form the classic stance of the urban hunter: one arm raised in preparation to strike; two legs primed to run away really, really quickly.
Count to three. Okay then, five. Push open the door.
There is nothing except a half-filled washing machine and a mop bucket.
The sound has stopped. There is no echo of anything in retreat. No muffled scurry. Nothing stirs except for the thump of my heartbeat. I feel just a bit silly.
A few minutes later, and another act in the ancient drama of man versus beast. I am standing on the bed, half-crouched, searching in the soft light of a lamp for the source of yet another creature-made noise.
This, though, is the ultra-high whine of the midge. There is one in the room, a mini-Stuka circling high in the ceiling. It is a rogue, separated from the main squadron, which spends much of its time on manoeuvres at our front door.
Late summer has belonged to the midge. September is always bad, but this year the town I live in has been glimpsed occasionally through a mist of insects.
They have been abnormally plentiful all over Ireland, apparently, thriving in damp, overcast conditions. It’s certainly the greatest number I’ve experienced on the east coast.
When I go for a run, passing under any tree is like jogging through soft buckshot. When I open the front door, they are massed there, waiting for their chance to enter, like patient mini-zombies.
What they are up to in that cloud isn’t the kind of thing you want to imagine happening on your doorstep. When you dash through them you are carving havoc through a midge swingers scene. In that buzzing mass, there’s a hell of a party going on, with the insects managing some pretty astounding feats of aerial lovemaking.
And then you run through that, mouth agape, inhaling a couple. Which must kill the mood a little.
Anyway, back to the lone midge. I am stalking the room, a hardback in my hand.
“Couldn’t you just grab it with your hands?” murmurs my wife, half-asleep and unimpressed by this battle unfolding in the air above her. “They’re really quite easy to get.”
I grip the hardback tightly. “Heavy ordnance,” I reply, because I’ve been watching too many Afghanistan war videos on YouTube.
So, is this where evolution has brought me? Is this the last residue of the hunter-gatherer instinct, dormant but never extinguished, determined to be played out regardless of the trivial nature of the hunt?
Or is it simply a learned and unhealthy determination to seal the wall between the buzzing, scratching, unpredictable nature outside and a comfortable sterility inside?
A minute later, the prey has been vanquished. Or, in this case, van-squished. But the hunter’s satisfaction is short-lived.
The scratching sound starts up again somewhere deep in the walls of the house. Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii. In recent days the internet has been patchy. The phone has begun to drop suddenly. They’ll cut the electricity next. This is getting serious.
Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii. I imagine the rat and the midges as an alliance. The infantry and the mechanised units. Pushing in. Gaining ground.
Shccckkkii shccckkkii shccckkkii. Within me, instinct stirs. Something residual in my animalistic make-up begins to nag. Intuitively, somehow, I realise my place as a modern man who must, at all costs, defend his home and his family. At that moment, I understand there is only one thing that can be done.
In the morning, I will Google “pest control”.