The day was already ruined so he decided to check out the crawlspace. He hadn’t been to the crawlspace for years. There was no reason to unless there was a problem. He knew there’d be more to deal with if he went down there. Desiccated rodents, standing water. Weird shit previous owners had left behind. The underbelly of the house and its inner workings. Like some organ you never pay attention to until it breaks down.
Getting to the crawlspace was work alone because the crawlspace was buried in the garage behind a stack of shit. He worked with an intensity fueled by anger and caffeine. And made his way to the portal then unlatched it.
Mice drove him to the crawlspace, mice in the bathroom, the kids’ shower. The cat would get the mouse in the bath tub where the mouse would shit itself but the cat would let it escape and hide for a time because cats are like serial killers, wired for killing. Mice weren’t a big deal, not like rats. They had rats in the basement of their first house and that was a loss of innocence living with rats. Setting traps and finding them caught the next day headless. The heads weren’t missing on account of the traps but for the others that came and chewed that part off, skull and all. That, and the greasy prints they made on the walls brought him to a new level of despair. That, combined with the discovery of rats in the nursery, rat feces in shoe boxes stacked in the closet, rats drawn to the dried milk stains in the crib. Rats literally coming in from behind the refrigerator at night in the dark.
They were just a few weeks in with their second kid when her dad got admitted to the hospital. She’d started smoking again as if that would help. And the rain season had started, meaning the basement would soon flood. The water table would ooze up from beneath the house and spill across the floor a good foot. Sometimes he had to force the door open against the weight of it and it would come gushing out. They had a sump pump to suck out the water but it would just refill again like the tides. The house was so old they used newspaper to insulate the basement walls, local news from the 1920s. He sometimes pulled out a page and unfolded it to see what they had to say back then but it wasn’t worth keeping. Everyone they talked about was either dead or long forgotten.
His wife wanted the exterminators called in right away. She said mice carry disease and that made him think, so do we. And how different are we anyways? The look of that mouse quivering in the corner like it was trying to make itself disappear. He’d been that mouse before, we all had. The dead mouse in the shower stiff and frozen. It wore a mask of pain, a wincing look like a newborn with its hair matted. We leave this world with the same expression we do coming in. Pain. None of us are exempt from that, he thought. We’re bound by it, the flip side of nature’s miracle is our demise, nature’s end.
He crouched on all fours and stuck his head through the portal. Lit the headlamp and cast it across the space. The ribbed insulation and black tarp on the ground between where they lived and the earth below. A liminal space. The sounds of the house above were muffled like he was underwater, wrapped in cloth. He threw the door shut and thought better of it. The crawlspace could wait another day.