A large rat crossed my path last night on Fifty-seventh Street. It came out from under a wooden fence at a vacant lot near Bendel’s, paused for traffic, and then streaked across to the uptown sidewalk, sat awhile in the dark, and vanished. It was my second rat this week. The first was in a Greek restaurant where there are lap-height sills under all the windows. The rat ran along the sills, straight toward, then past me.
“See that?” Will said, sipping from his beer glass.
”Large mouse,” I said.
—Renata Adler, Speedboat
Last night, with everyone feeling the exhaustion that comes from following the news and doing nothing, I ventured out to the grocery store. I thought I might be “coming down with something” and had decided to get a grapefruit. This particular grocery store is more expensive, but it’s very close by and open at all hours.
It was pretty busy. There were probably seven other people on line. And suddenly a little boy shouted, “There’s a mouse!” and legitimate pandemonium broke out. What we saw was not, in fact, a mouse—it was a rat. A very large Norwegian rat, scurrying around the decrepit produce section. Several people shrieked, and seemed to mean it. Others were shouting; there was sporadic running.
A man in a white coat appeared and, with incredible efficiency, cornered the rat and began to beat it with a broom. He hit it with tremendous force—whack! whack! whack!—and then it was dead! I think I might have emitted a yelp during this part. Who knew rat killing was so easy?
Some of the cashiers, in direct sight line of the crime scene, had abandoned their registers, so we consolidated into the other lines. I was behind the little boy, whose eyes were huge with shock, and his mother, whose face had drained of color and who had a hand in front of her mouth as though she might be sick. One old man kept saying, “Jesus Christ!” We all looked at each other meaningfully. The cashier’s hand was shaking.
I didn’t want the grapefruit at all, but I bought it and started to leave. There was an older woman tarrying near the bread aisle. “I’m scared to leave,” she said. “Is it gone? The … body?”
“I’ll give you the all clear,” I said. I peered around the corner. The carcass was indeed gone, but in its place was a large puddle of blood. Improbably large.
“Don’t look!” I said. “Wait for them to clean it up.”
“Okay, I’ll stay here,” she said. Which did not strike me as the solution. But to each her own.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.