"You have rats," The Perfects informed me, standing on my driveway as I fumbled with some grocery sacks from the back seat of my car.
The only one who was happy with this news was Duncan, who is brave only in the "hold me back" kind of way.
He turns into a vicious and rabid dog, while in the comfort of his own home, every time he sees a cat cross by the living room window. But when he saw one up close at Skylar's parents' house last Christmas, he quickly devolved into a nervous breakdown.
You wouldn't believe the therapy bills.
As soon as he discovered the rat or rats a day or two after The Perfects's's disclosure, he was in heaven, primarily because the rat had no interest in confrontation, so Duncan could look like a badass without ever having to fight the creature.
I knew that The Perfects didn't mean for the news to sound like an accusation, but I'm accustomed to translating everything that comes from their benevolent mouths into a certain tone and context.
"I like what you've done with that bush" means "I don't like what you had been doing with that bush."
"Your lawn looks healthy this year" translates to "why are you being so inconsiderate about the drought?"
When they said "would you like some [magazine-worthy] tomatoes from our yard" I heard "you look like you should eat more fruit. Also, you probably think tomatoes are a vegetable."
Considering the above, you can only imagine what I heard when The Perfects uttered "you have rats."
To be fair, they may have said "we." I don't remember for sure. The rat they saw was crawling under the fence between our yards to get from one property to the other. But there was certainly an implication that its home base was the pile of rocks on my side.
Duncan confirmed that this was the case shortly thereafter when he started his morning ritual of barking at those rocks, apparently satisfied that there was absolutely no chance that they might bark back.
Introducing rats into The Perfectsess' lives was the absolute last thing I needed to happen in my neighborhood.
After four years of desperately trying to bring them zero drama, and mostly succeeding, I had only a month before decided that I was well on my way to being the kind of neighbor they deserved.
"Who? Our neighbor next door?" I imagined them saying at a dinner party with people dressed in turtlenecks and sipping homemade cider. "He's fine."
Perhaps it was an unreasonable fantasy. But a girl can dream.
"You have rats," they had told me, like a doctor diagnosing the kind of STD that only people in Miami get.
"You have rats," they whispered, a look on their faces like they never thought they would have the kind of lives where they would be required to say those words in that order to someone they unfortunately knew.
"You. have. rats." their eyes said to me every time I saw them over the next few weeks in their front yard doing the right things with their bushes, minding the drought, consuming the correct amount of fresh-produce in the form of home-made cider, and not having rats.
During the months that followed, I saw the rat come and go from the rock pile. Each sighting was a reminder that I had failed somehow.
I felt helpless, unable to put out poison for fear of accidentally killing the animal barking at that rock pile instead of the one sleeping in it.
This rat would live with me in perpetuity, each moment securing my spot in social purgatory.
I began to accept my fate.
And then one day, I saw the rat move across the back fence, and sneak into the yard of the neighbors to the other side of me.
The Renters's's yard.
"Excuse me," I said when I saw them later that day, louder than I needed to and with a hint of snobbery in my voice, "you have rats."
~It Just Gets Stranger