After the rat everyone called Grandma rubbed its hair against my bare feet, I jumped away from the table.
“What’s wrong?” asked Linda, a seventeen-year-old girl who had been staying with Grandpa for the past few years.
“I can’t eat with that rat in the kitchen!” I shouted.
Grandpa waved for me to sit. “Calm down, it’s just Grandma.”
“No, I refuse to believe that’s Grandma.” My heart fluttered. My voice cracked. Before tears came to my eyes, I ran out of the kitchen. Grandpa kept calling my name, but I ignored him and climbed the creaking stairs to my bedroom.
I wished my parents hadn’t shipped me almost a thousand miles west to Shithole, Indiana, to stay with these lunatics the summer before I started high school.
I sat on the bed and cried.
When I was done, I wandered over to the window facing the backyard. Resting my forehead against the glass, I stared at the weeds growing around the line of broken lawnmowers in the backyard. It was between one of those lawnmowers and a two-gallon jug of piss-colored pesticide that Linda had picked up a rat and called it “Grandma.”
Someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” I said.
Linda walked in. “Grandma’s gone. You upset her. And Grandpa. What the fuck is wrong with you?”
I shook my head. I didn’t know how else to respond to this girl who was not related to us yet acted as if she were.
According to Grandpa, Grandma had “found” Linda several years ago and had been living with them ever since.
“Don’t you care?” she asked.
“Oh, forget it!” She stormed away.
An hour later, I went downstairs. Grandpa, who was watching TV in the living room, told me to help myself to leftovers in the kitchen.
Although I wasn’t expecting any more rats, I had worn my sneakers just in case. I filled a plate with boneless chicken breast and mashed potatoes and microwaved them. On my way to the table, something scurried in front of me. I nearly dropped my food.
It was the rat, standing on its hind legs.
At first, I just stared into its oily eyes while my pulse quickened. Then I walked around the rat and sat at the table. The rat turned toward me.
I cut into the chicken. I was about to eat it when I stopped and remembered what Linda had said earlier. So I put the piece on the floor next to my chair. The rat scampered over and ate it.
I picked up Grandma and put her on the table. She stuck her nose in the mashed potatoes, while I cut into another piece of the chicken.
Christopher Iacono lives with his wife and son in Massachusetts. You can learn more about him and his works at cuckoobirds.org.