She doesn't read without company, though. Raccoons occasionally climb the fence and peer at her. Skunks perfume the air as they pass unseen. Coyotes roam down from the mountain in yelping packs. She doesn't complain about any of them, but when rats start skittering along the fence posts, I get ordered into action.
Last year I bought some regular rat traps, which looked just like mouse traps, only on steroids, and baited them with cheese. This was not because I was trapped in archaic notions of rat appetites, reinforced by cartoon episodes viewed in childhood. We just didn't have anything else I thought would appeal to the rats at hand. We weren't going to give them anything we really wanted to consume, like the vodka or frozen pizza, and the lingering threat of pandemic kept us from opening any of the canned goods.
The cheese caught zero rats. I was ordered to move the cheese traps over to our 87 year-old neighbor's yard, on some never fully explained theory that the rodents would be more inclined to sniff the steel springs of death over there. The traps still batted nothing for nothing, but the rats seem to diminish in numbers anyway. I figured it was the unseen hand of the homeowners' association. They had probably called an exterminator. We must have left the rat traps over there, though, because when the rats returned, I couldn't find them. I needed new ones.
I went to the hardware store and asked the clerk which of her rat traps were the best. The clerk was not some giggling teenage girl. She was a formidable woman, a mountain of a woman, you might say, or even a mountain woman. She was taller than me by several inches. Her hair was streaked with gray and her eyes gleamed with feral pleasure at my request. She looked like she had trapped many a rat herself, possibly for sustenance.
"This one," she said unhesitatingly, pointing at a black plastic contraption lined with teeth. I brought it home and liberated it from its packaging. I approved. The spring was strong and the plastic was professional, industrial murder plastic, just this side of Kevlar.
Remembering the cheese error, I scrounged in the cupboards for better bait. I came upon a candy bar and chopped a hunk off of it. My girl discovered me doing this and was not happy. The candy bar had apparently been secreted there for her alone. I had not been expected to discover it, let alone chunk it up for rat bait.
The deed had nonetheless been done. I baited the trap carefully, because that is the only way to bait a rat trap, unless you want to make time in your day for a nice trip to Urgent Care, and in the morning I had my rat. He wasn't a particularly big or dangerous-looking specimen, but he proved to my relief that the rat problem had not been hallucinated by the woman I love. I would have had to take steps, then, and the vodka is a lot more sought-after than the candy bars, and tougher to hide.
I recycled the rat by throwing in the lawn outside the fence for the coyotes. This seemed the most eco-conscious way of disposing of the corpse. I re-baited the trap with more of the candy bar and waited confidently for more success in my serial rodent murdering career.
In the morning the trap was unsprung and the candy was gone. "Oh, you lucky rat," I thought, and baited it again with the last piece of Snickers. That went down some rat's gullet last night, with no rat death as a result. These things are coaching each other, I figure, or else they've raised the rat-spirit of their dead brother from beyond the rat-grave and he's warned them in sepulchral tones of the shaky fulcrum upon which the chunk of chocolate rests.
So I've raised my average to .333, respectable in any league, but I'm in a slump. Possibly I've lost my mojo entirely. And I'm out of candy. I'm thinking about buying a BB gun and a pint of moonshine and keeping my girl company tonight. If I don't see any rats, at least I can read over her shoulder.