Claws raked against the wood of my kitchen door and ragged puffs of air washed through the seams of the door. I peered out the clouded windows, my eye drawing on a looming figure silhouetted by the dying light. It wanted in, but its inhuman hands couldn’t work the doorknob. I dropped my hand to the doorknob to help it in. If the creature did as it was used to, it would break down the door. That wouldn’t do. I swung the door open and peered upward to a towering rat with an elongated torso. It was soaked with sewage water and clumps of brown mud. It had rained all morning and afternoon. The clouds had only parted as the sun descended behind the distant mountains. The purple Mountains majority had given way to gray mounds in the west. Everything was ash gray at the end of everything, except the grass. The grass was white, spindly and cluttered with broken bottles and other bits of trash.
The rat stood a full foot above me while on its hind legs and its foul breath mussed my hair. I stood to one side and gave it a this-way-please gesture and the giant rat fell to all four legs and walked in. The typical verb for a rat in motion would be, ‘scurrying’, but a creature of such size couldn’t possibly scurry. It lumbered to a counter where I’d left a loaf of banana bread to cool. I had drizzled a simple icing atop it and it bled down like it would on the cover of culinary magazines. The rat snatched it up whole and devoured it, wincing and hissing at the loaf’s heat. It ate greedily, dropping large crumbs on the ground. It finished it and then dropped to the ground to lick up the crumbs. I went to the refrigerator and took out a glass bottle of milk. The bottle was icy cold in my hand, sweating with condensation. I poured the milk into a glass bowl with a gilded rim. The bowl had been my grandmother’s. She’d brought it over from Poland after the Germans had evaded. I placed my grandmother’s bowl on the floor close to the rat. It hissed at me with mistrust and then moved a couple steps away from me. I stepped away from it and then the rat stepped back to find any forgotten crumbs. Once it was sure it had cleaned the floor of all the banana flavored crumbs, it licked at its whiskers with a long, thin, serpent like tongue. It spent a few moments enjoying the icing on its whiskers and muzzle before it examined the bowl of milk. It dipped its snout in the milk and then licked its nose. The rat eyed me mistrustfully and I stepped back a step. It started to tongue at the milk once it was sure I wasn’t posing it any harm. Its eerie serpent tongue dove in and out of the milk, splashing its face with beads of milk. It finished the milk and then flipped the bowl in its enthusiasm. Stray flecks of milk sprinkled the wooden floor.
I walked over to the old floor-model radio and turned it on. The static startled the rat and then I turned the dial trying to find the right music for the occasion. I mostly found more static, most of the stations went away when all the people went, but some stations run independent of people and probably would run forever. I stopped on a station playing old standards because it was the clearest station I could find. Dean Martin crooned “Is you is or is you ain’t my baby. ‘Cause lately, I’ve had my doubt.” The music filled the room and the rat seemed to approve because it went back to sniffing around for more crumbs. I walked over and took the bowl up. The rat had chipped the bowl when it filled it. I grasped the milk bottle and filled the bowl again. I placed the bowl away from the stove and the counter, so I could make our meal without bothering the rat. I’d left two steaks to marinate in lemon juice. I took them out of the refrigerator and tested the meat for tenderness. My finger left a deep depression in the dark red meat that was slow to recover. Just right. It wasn’t very hygienic, but I sucked the bloody lemon juice off the tip of my finger.
I dropped the steaks on a paper towel to allow the juices to drain a little. The Andrea Sister took up their half of the song. Their voices bounced in unison.
“Is you is or Is you ain’t my baby. ‘Cause lately, I’ve had my doubt.”
I sprinkled pepper on the steaks as they drained. The meat was tender, but I massaged it a little more, working the pepper into the meat. Juices bled onto the paper towel and then I lift the steaks to take out a pan. I set the propane burner and put the pan on. It needed to heat for a while. I wished the rat had given me more time. The bowl flipped over again and I looked over to the rat. It had finished the bowl again and was licking milk off its muzzle with its thin tongue.
The pan was about right, as were the steaks. I dropped the steaks in and they sizzled and popped. The sound startled the rat, though it shouldn’t have. It had been here for similar meals; grilled chicken breast, broiled Salmon, Veal. The meat was cooking cleanly and evenly. Great plumes of steam swelled into the air, only to fade into nothingness. I stabbed the meat with a fork and checked how pink the center was. The rat liked its meat slightly bloody. I flipped the meat and pricked my finger. I squeezed the blood out onto the pan. The blood sizzled on the browning steaks and the silver metal. It liked my blood. I put the pricked finger in my mouth and sucked the wound. It flipped the bowl over again, with more force than it had before. A large bit of the bowl’s gilded rim broke loose and slid away from the rat. I looked over to the rat and it was looking over to me. It’s black eyes looked fierce and hollow. I filled its bowl a third time, emptying the bottle. Milk leaked from the broken edge of the bowl as the rat drank.
I had a bottle of red wine on chill atop the refrigerator. I brought the bucket and bottle over to my dinning table, readying the table for the meal. The steaks were done and I transferred them to a plate my grandmother had also rescued from Poland. I took that over to the dinning table as well. The rat sniffed the air, its ear raising at the smell of bloody meat. I sat down at the table and put a napkin in my lap. I grabbed the neck of the bottle of wine and laughed to myself. I had forgotten the wine glasses. I got up and retrieved the glasses. By the time I sat back down, the rat was sniffing about the table, its body hunched low like a plotting theft. I laughed again, looking at the chair across from me. I stood up again and pulled out the chair for the rat. It looked to me, its eyes wide from the noise of the chair creaking against the wooden floor. The rat never could sit properly in a chair, but it would sit if you pulled the chair out for it. It was a minor concession the rat had made for me. It climbed in with its tail dangling down on the floor.
The rest of its body crowded the chair and the chair took the rat’s weight with creaking sounds of distress. I poured it a glass of wine and it licked its snout at the sight of the steaks. I cut up one of the steaks and then placed the slivers of meat onto a golden trimmed China plate before it. The plate had been a wedding gift from my mother and had mine and my wife’s initials.. It sniffed and then began to devour the meat. The rat always finished eating before I did and never used the fork or knife I left by its plate. I carved my steak and drank my wine. The steaks were cooked evenly and the meat had a gentle tang to it. It was still very hot and the juices rolled down the curve of my chin. The rat sniffed the wine and tipped the glass over, licking the wine up off the table top. The wine glass broke, but that didn’t seem to bother the rat. The wine glasses weren’t anything special. I’d picked them up at a department store, so my wife and I would have something to toast out of. We were celebrating my restaurant being review in Zagot’s.
The rat had finished its steak and had licked up as much of the wine as it could. It was eyeing the reminder of my steak, of which I had eaten a fair proportion. I offered it my plate, tilting it so the meat would slide into its reach. It devoured the little meat I still had and licked the juices off the plate. I sipped at my wine glass and peered at the rat as it licked grease off its whiskers. The wine hit my tongue with a dull, vaguely sweet warmth. The bottle was a 1967 Merlot, taken from my personal wine cellar.
The rat cleaned the juicy from its muzzle and whiskers and then it started to eye me. Its black eyes seemed to be calculating, though I knew better. It was just a rat, mindless and hungry.
“What a wicked thing you are.” I told it and then passing more wine over my tongue. It didn’t seem to get offended by the accusation. I placed the glass on the table and looked over to its broken glass. I took the napkin off my lap and placed it on the table.
“I’m the last. No more after me. No more good things after me. You’re the last as well. You’ll be alone, forever.” I reminded it. It just kept staring at me. I couldn’t bare to be alone and I hoped that it couldn’t bare to be alone, though it would never tell me. I was reminded of the tale of the Scorpion and the Frog. I thought of it almost every time it and I ate together. Its kind had killed my kind. My kind had killed its kind. The two of us were victims of our natures.
The two of us were the last survivors of the survivor species. Rats and people could live anywhere on Earth and, most of the time, did. I was feeling tired. I had poisoned myself and in doing so, poisoned the rat. I made a glass of lemonade laced with arsenic earlier in the day. I had the thought of just killing myself, but my thoughts turned to the rat, utterly alone. I needed to believe that the loss of me would injure the rat, that my presence mattered after all.
Later, I mixed more arsenic into lemon juice for the steaks. The poison gave the steaks a smoky taste. Rats normally tested food before eating it. Sniffed and sniffed and nibbled a little off to see if they got sick. Maybe it was careless, assumed that I didn’t have it in me.
I offered it my hand and it bit into it without apology. Blood bloomed across the table top and the rat lapped up that as well. It had taken the hand completely off. I hadn’t known it had such sharp teeth. The poison was affecting me or maybe that was the blood loss. I put my head on the table and the rat sniffed my flesh. Its breath was growing more ragged, deathly ragged. It was good to know it wouldn’t be alone. I fell from my chair and it laid down beside me. Our breathing slowed, mine slowing a little bit quicker than the rat’s. We both died on the floor and no one would ever mourn as but each other. We died alone like two rats in a gutter.
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