Marco was an exterminator, and in his profession, you needed your full facilities. Your whole being was required, and you had to bring it for your clients, friends, the occasional relative expecting a hookup. He helped them all.
Like, for example, when his aunt called about bumping sounds in her mobile home. Her fluffy little dog wouldn’t leave the back bedroom at all any more. Marco said the bumping was probably a Norwegian Wharf Rat. She could look it up on the internet, he said. He offered to come by, even though he’d been experiencing a bothersome ringing in his ears.
His aunt, a tough cookie, told him to skip it. Buy a trap, he advised, and move it nightly. Before they hung up, he told her about a case he’d recently solved. A family of wild rabbits had taken up residence under his porch. If Marco didn’t nip it in the bud, an infestation would follow. As a professional, he had many tools at his disposal, he told his aunt. But his most powerful weapons were his senses and his wits. He’d gone out in the middle of the night and pissed a large arc around the porch.
“Marco!” the old woman marveled.
“We’re all just animals!” And he was the top dog, was his point.
Days passed. The ringing in his ears had worsened so that it was impossible to work, or to fully rest. He stayed in his lounge chair on the deck, never fully awake or fully asleep, subsisting on hot dogs and Fritos. Janine and the kids had been gone for a full week. She’d taken them to visit her mother the day after Christmas. Upon their arrival in Ontario, she’d instant-messaged him to say they weren’t coming back.
His aunt called again. The rat had repeatedly foiled her attempts to trap it. “I forgot a tangerine on the counter,” she told him, a little rattled. “In the morning, I found the peel in the middle of the floor, perfectly hollow.” He heard the sound of her lipping her Salem Light.
Worse, the small trap she’d purchased had vanished. It was only a bitty mouse trap, she admitted. She was pretty sure she’d heard it snap this morning. Perhaps barely missing the rodent? Snapping only the snout? Then, just a few moments before she called Marco, she’d reached for a medical record that sat atop her two-drawer file. As she approached, a dreadful banging came from inside the metal cabinet. She told him she’d run to the back bedroom to join the terrified bichon frise and call her nephew.
By then the ringing in Marco’s ears had grown to a din. He hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep yet. Janine’s phone seemed to be dead, and there was no activity on her socials. The last posting was a photo of the whole family standing before the flocked-white tree, which Marco still hadn’t discarded. He’d really thought he had been forgiven. In the photo, he was grinning widely, hands encircling Janine’s waist. She was smiling, as she always did in photos, but her eyes told a different story.
It really was beyond the beyonds, his aunt said loudly, as if she knew his attention had drifted.
He said he’d come by her house. He’d stay overnight; get Mister Ratty himself.
When Marco arrived at his aunt’s mobile home, the file cabinet was ratless. He ate a bowl of meatless chili with her. Together, they watched two episodes of Masterpiece Theatre side by side in twin recliners, feet up. During the commercial breaks, she asked him about rodents and pests. Her neighbor’s kids’ sandbox had recently been infested with earwigs, she offered. She didn’t ask about Janine and the kids. He wasn’t sure whether this meant his mother had kept the secret, or that she hadn’t.
After his aunt lumbered off to her room, Marco set the big rat trap, baited with peanut butter and cheese, right in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Then he realized it: the din in his ears had vanished. Marco chuckled. Taking all these days off to nurse his illness, only to be cured upon entering work mode. He curled as comfortably as he could on the tufted couch, drawing a quilt over his legs. He found an old Magnum PI episode and began to doze.
That was when he heard it: a deep, snuffling under his head, just under the velvet cushions.
Patricia Bidar is a native Californian with roots in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. She is a former fiction reader for Northwest Review, and alum of the UC Davis graduate writing program. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Wigleaf, The Citron Review, Jellyfish Review, Barren Literary Magazine, Blue Five Notebook, fomercactus, Flash Flood Journal, Train Literary Magazine, Riggwelter Press, Postcard Shorts, and Spillwords. Her Twitter handle is @patriciabidar