The night after his divorce, he could not sleep in the bedroom. He was sure the bedroom was full of spiders. Soft, wet spiders. Their feet were quieter than kisses. But kissing was not what they had in mind.
* * *
In the end, he spread a blanket on the floor of the living room, and slept there. There was something comforting in a little spartan hardship. Self-punishment eased his soul and allowed him to slip into dreams.
It was water which woke him.
Drip drop drop.
The roof was leaking?
It wasn't raining. Instead, the night was totally quiet. So quiet that he could hear the faint hiss of static in his ears. And the irregular water sounds coming from the bathroom.
After speaking, he felt foolish. Nobody's there. You're on your own. She won't be coming back. Anyway. Get up and turn off the tap.
He walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. As usual, his laundry was soaking in the bathtub. Socks, underpants, business shirts, T-shirts. And something big and brown and mobile which he could not at first identify.
It was a rat. A huge rat. Unable to climb the sheer enameled sides of the bathtub, unable to jump out because the water was too deep for it to find a footing, it was patiently swimming around and around, making very faint swimming sounds as it did so.
It was going to jump. He was sure. Jump at his face. He grabbed a bath towel and hit it. Water slapped upwards and skidded through the air. Soon the towel was wet and heavy. A weapon. The rat was rolling in a mist of red. The red was dirty, contaminated by the filth of a rat. At last he realized that it was dead, and had been dead for some time.
He made himself a cup of black coffee and drank it, slowly. He thought about phoning her, but did not. It was, after all, three o'clock in the morning.
Despite the coffee, sleep came easily. After he got back to sleep, he dreamt of cockroach eggs. They were vividly orange, like flying fish roe. He poured boiling water over the eggs. No children, no. I refuse. As the boiling water spread, a huge swollen cockroach crept out from under the oven.
"Daddy?" it said.
He stepped on it. Its lacquered brown carapace broke beneath his foot. Then his face broke, and he wept.
He was still weeping, helplessly, when he woke.
Years later, he still remembered putting on gloves to handle the rat's corpse. The body had been stiff and heavy after floating for hours in the water. He remembered that very clearly. But he found he could not remember what he had done with the laundry. He certainly had not thrown anything away. He was not the kind of person who threw things away. Somehow, he must have recovered his clothes from their dilute bath of blood and excrement. Maybe he was wearing them now. Yes, maybe. His clothes always lasted longer than his relationships.