Three

Listen to author

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The rat was woken by lightning. Next to the rat, on the other side of the paper thin wall, lay a couple. The rat and the man stared upwards (some rats, like men, sleep on their backs) and sighed at the same time, proving the deep connection between their species.

The man was afraid that the woman lying next to him would leave him. He had these thoughts every night. He didn’t know he felt that way because of the guilt his father had felt towards a woman he’d impregnated in the 1950s, when being single was a raw deal. It was a complicated, systemic guilt.

Our man would never have left a pregnant woman. He’d read about a woman with four children and a devoted husband; when one of the children needed a blood transfusion, it emerged that not one of the kids had been her husband’s. He clenched his fists. How could she, he thought, the bitch.

In the middle of the night, catalyzed by the liquid white fire from heaven, all women had but one grinning face, laughing at him, at all men really. This hallucination, too, was part of his father’s heritage, as were the stark fishtail blue eyes and the fine, sensitive hair on the back of his hands. They had to make up for this distorted vision of half of humanity.

The rat on the other side of the wall hummed its favorite two lines that made it feel calm and collected:

Gernot Grovel Geranium
Celtic Clamor Cranium

The rat wasn’t afraid of the single life. It was unlike any other rat. It sought out solitude. It had no offspring. It had been brought up in the drawer of a standing desk, with the scent of oriental inks in its fur. It had been hand-fed by a lonely author of unpublishable science-fiction novels in which the future belonged to the rodent. The rat held onto an image of itself as a writer.

Turning on its side now, the rat reached for a small stack of tiny rectangular pieces of paper. Every page began with those same two lines:

Gernot Grovel Geranium
Celtic Clamor Cranium

The three souls—which were of the same size, because souls don’t know anything of dimension—were tied together even more closely when another thunderbolt hit the house directly and set it ablaze too fast for any one under that roof to escape the flames.