Woodrats, Part II (Conclusion)Sep 5, 2003 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in MoviesThe Bottom Line ...the still-perceiving eyes of the newly-dying frozen in a mask of terror, taking in every detail of its own destruction...
At four in the morning, Sarah awoke with a start. Her brow was soaked in sweat, and her heart was racing again. There was the crash of cars colliding, only they were tiny wooden cars with metal bumpers, and then there was confusion and the sound of screaming voices, only the voices were inhuman, and then the screaming became--or had it always been?--a single mournful cry, fading to a whimper. And suddenly, above the whimper, her boss was upon her, and she stabbed at her with her pocket knife, but the more she stabbed, the larger Carolyn became, and there was no blood from the wounds, only peanut butter, and then Sarah was sitting alone in her bed in the dark, staring straight ahead, and in the dark room only a deafening silence.
Sarah gingerly fingered her pocket knife with her left hand, sipping coffee from a mug which read "Thank a Teacher" with her right. From her cubby, she could see Carolyn's large frame through John's office door, twenty feet away.
Sarah's eyes were fixed on Carolyn's back, and she thought for a moment of the lioness she had watched, peering through brush at a quietly grazing zebra. On her computer screen were the results of an analysis of variance she had just run. The results of that analysis confirmed John's and her hypothesis in an important study concerning teaching strategies for disadvantaged children, and she had already printed out what her screen showed, but she couldn't show the results to John, because it would be rude to interrupt his conversation with Carolyn.
She could guess what her boss was talking about: she was priming John concerning what she wanted him to discuss later that day when the local newspaper came by to do an article on her and the Institute.
Carolyn had won an award given by the local chamber of commerce to outstanding women in the community, and John had asked Sarah three days before to call the local paper to tell them about it.
Of course, she had done so.
Sarah watched as Carolyn talked to John. Yesterday, Carolyn had worn her baggy green sweat pants and a Run Against Aids t-shirt. Today, she was wearing a grey business suit, presumably to impress the interviewer with her professionalism.
Sarah wondered how in the hell Carolyn had come up with a t-shirt that had anything to do with running.
As she watched Carolyn, her eyes intent on her fleshy back, Sarah remembered the time Carolyn had introduced her to a new board member.
"And this is our little data analyst," her boss had said, putting her large and sweaty arm around Sarah's shoulder as if the two of them were old chums.
Sarah recalled being so shocked and humiliated by Carolyn's introduction that she couldn't speak.
Later, she had thought of what she should have done. Laughing, and with a careless toss of her hair, she should have said, "Yes, I do do some data analysis, actually. But, as Carolyn has no doubt told you, I'm the principal writer here, and project director for the Kindergarten Literacy Study as well as several of our evaluation projects."
In reality, she had silently held out her hand, trying to keep her face from betraying her horror.
"How could a woman do this to another woman," she had thought.
Sarah also remembered the smell.
It was a smell she had known only once before, when an ancient Chinese couple had sat next to her on a six hour plane flight from New York to San Francisco, ruining her flight and making her spinach lasagna utterly unpalatable. It was the smell of slowly decaying flesh, she had thought; not the rich, ripe, smell of the already dead, but the more ominous and repugnant smell of one alive and rotting from within.
When Carolyn had finally removed her arm from around Sarah's shoulders, the smell had remained with her for the rest of the afternoon, and through the long drive home. Sarah had thrown her clothes in the laundry and taken a shower before she had even checked the traps.
"And how are you today?" asked Carolyn, cheerily.
Her boss was upon her, looming like some great walrus, waiting for her response.
Sarah felt her left hand tighten around her knife, still closed in her pocket. Her eyes were glazed, staring through her computer screen, and she sounded as if she were in a trance. She said, "The results of this analysis suggest that whole language instruction is most effective for at risk kindergartners, but for kindergartners not at risk, there is no difference between whole language and phonics instruction. This is exactly what we predicted, so I'm quite confident we have another major publication on our..."
Carolyn said, "When the reporter comes, I'm going to have her talk to you briefly. Please give her the bottom line, but don't make it so complicated that no one can understand it."
Sarah said, "It's quite simple, really. Whole language is more effective with..."
"Yes, yes, whole language is better. I understand. But don't overcomplicate the picture."
"No," Sarah said, her throat muscles tightening. "Whole language is not better. What is surprising about these findings is that whole language instruction is better for at risk kindergartners, while not at risk kids are not adversely..."
"That's already getting too complicated," said Carolyn. "Just get the take home message across. I don't want them to think I'm some sort of obscure intellectual, confusing things more instead of providing solutions."
As her thumbnail gingerly tried the notch in the blade which would quickly open her small knife, Sarah remembered the American Educational Research Association conference in New Orleans, overhearing Carolyn explaining the results of one of their studies to an enthusiastic conference-goer, and explaining them entirely wrong. She remembered tapping the young man, a new assistant professor of Education at Stanford, on his shoulder as he walked away, and quietly "elaborating" on Carolyn's explanation, such that he would know what they had really found. She had marvelled at her own ability to correct Carolyn's error without making her appear stupid--an ability she had acquired in her childhood and never lost.
Sarah had once enjoyed being a diplomat.
"But you can't really simplify these findings," she said, moving her thumbnail slowly outward, trying not to flinch as Carolyn's familiar odor began to overcome her. "Whole language is more effective with at risk kids, and only at the kindergarten level. We wouldn't want to generalize to first or second..."
"Just present the bottom line," Carolyn said. "Nobody wants to hear about..."
The lioness's eyes, at the moment before the kill, are focused and emotionless, every muscle in her sleek body poised and ready to strike. There is no movement and no sound as she waits, instinctively calculating the perfect moment for her ultimate victory. No ending is purer and more stark than one in which the victim had been innocently behaving as on a thousand previous days--grazing, talking, driving a car--then, in an instant, to be confronted with its own horrific and unstoppable death, its flesh tearing before its own eyes, blood pouring forth, its own body, once free, now pinned, parts of itself torn loose and separated from the whole, the still-perceiving eyes of the newly-dying frozen in a mask of terror, taking in every detail of its own destruction.
The lioness deftly avoids the falling torso of her larger victim, darting quickly out of the way while never losing her hold on its neck, tearing, twisting, digging, the jugular now severed, the lioness's mouth a glorious sea of crimson, the spurting blood bathing her coat, and pouring in racing rivulets down the face of her monitor, between the keys of her keyboard, over the sides of her chair, and onto the short carpet, where a difficult ink stain had been removed only last week by Sam, the janitor, her huge fallen foe now limp and lifeless, the lioness circling, soon to share her kill with the rest of the pride.
"...and so if they see me as some effete intellectual..."
"I'm sorry," Sarah said, meeting Carolyn's eyes for the first time. "I didn't hear what you were saying."
There was a pause, a very awkward pause, and then Carolyn suddenly found herself backing slowly away from Sarah's desk. The look on her face was one of fear, though she wouldn't have been able to explain why she was afraid. Sarah's expression was hardly threatening; in fact, for the first time that day, there was a smile on her face, though it was a peculiar smile. It was also the first time Carolyn could remember Sarah looking her in the eye for more than a second.
"No, Carolyn, I didn't hear what you were saying," Sarah repeated. "In fact, I'm not sure I care what you were saying, Carolyn, because the fact is I just realized that I'm really hungry."
Carolyn took another step back.
Sarah rose from her desk and took a step toward her retreating boss, both hands in front of her, palms up, gesturing as she spoke.
"You see, Carolyn, I've decided that I'm going to go and get some hot and sour soup...yes...hot and sour soup, and...and some kun pao chicken. Yes, some kun pao chicken sounds really good to me at this moment."
Carolyn retreated further.
Sarah reached out her right hand slightly, her left hand resting confidently over, but not in, the pocket of her khaki slacks. "You know," Sarah continued, "I have this feeling that it is my natural tendency to like hot and sour soup." Sarah scratched her head with her right hand, a perplexed look on her face, still looking Carolyn directly in the eye. "And kun pao chicken too. And when I get a craving, satisfying that craving seems the right thing to do. Do you know what I mean?"
Carolyn tripped over a waste paper basket behind her but Sarah appeared not to notice.
"It's kind of like my need to do quality research," she continued, furrowing her brow and cupping her chin in her right hand as if in thought. "Quite simply, I can't help it. McDonalds won't do right now, and neither will an oversimplified version of what we have found. What I mean is, I came to work here because I sincerely believed I could do something for disadvantaged kids, almost as if it was my destiny to do so. And now, with the data before me, I realize that I have succeeded."
Carolyn had backed up against the wall of the next cubby and could not retreat any further.
"And I also realize that I'm really hungry and that I have this craving for hot and sour soup, and for kun pao chicken, and so that's exactly what I'm going to have.
"So if you'll excuse me, Carolyn, I'm heading off to lunch. But I'll be back in time to talk to the man from the newspaper."
With that, Sarah walked briskly past Carolyn, being careful not to inhale as she did so, and out the door.
Why in the world am I thinking of peanuts? Sarah thought as she entered her house. At first she thought it must have been because of the kun pao chicken, which had been quite good, with peanuts, chicken and celery bathed in a spicy and slightly sweet sauce, but that wasn't it. She knew that the kun pao chicken wasn't it because the peanuts in her mind weren't crunchy--they were soft--and they tied in somehow with Carolyn, her boss, the Institute's executive director. There was something almost amusing about the peanuts and yet they were also scary.
How can peanuts be scary? she wondered, and then the memory of her dream began to return, with Carolyn's large and foul-smelling body spewing peanut butter, and the eerie and mournful cry of some creature--a small and helpless creature, she now knew--beckoning to her.
Even as she placed her notebook on her desk, Sarah knew she was not alone in her apartment.
Calmly, she removed her sweater and tossed it on her bed. She walked to the potted jade tree which partially obscured her mother's Picasso print and reached beside it to retrieve her footstool.
She carried the footstool to a spot close to, but not directly beneath, the ceiling tile next to the traps and ascended, gently pushing the tile directly above her aside, away from the traps.
Reaching down to her dresser, she picked up a small mirror, as she had done countless times before, and held it at a forty-five degree angle above her head, such that she could see the traps.
In the wooden trap, with its neck cleanly broken by the sprung metal bar, was a large mother rat, its eyes wide and lifeless.
In the sticky trap just to its right were four dead young rats, trapped statue-like in their final positions of struggle.
Between the two traps, its tail caught by the metal bar of the wooden trap, and its left forepaw caught in the corner of the sticky trap, was a fifth young rat, no larger than a field mouse, its tiny whiskers trembling, looking straight at Sarah through her small mirror, its huge black eyes unblinking.
Sarah surveyed the scene for a few seconds and then descended her footstool, placing the mirror gently back on her dresser.
From the cabinet beneath her kitchen sink, she retrieved the work gloves she had worn when she had planted her marigolds the week before, and put them on as she walked back to her footstool.
Ascending again, she carefully removed both traps, backed down slowly, and walked with them through the open front door to her porch.
She placed the traps in a brown grocery sack which she found in the recycling bin to the left of her front door, and folded the top of the grocery sack over three times, as she had done with her lunch bag twenty-five years ago in grade school.
Picking up the grocery sack, she walked around the side of the house to her still warm Nissan Sentra and climbed in, placing the grocery sack on the seat next to her.
Removing her gloves, she started the car and drove down the hill, toward the highway, looking for the right location.
There were houses on both side of the road so she continued to the bottom of the hill and across the highway overpass. Making the first right, she found a spot with only a scrub-grass hill on the left and low shrubs on the right.
Rolling to a stop, she pulled her gloves back on and climbed out, taking the grocery sack with her. Behind her car, she opened the sack and peered in. The young rat stared up at her.
Carefully, Sarah removed both traps and placed them on the pavement behind her car. With her right hand, she gently pulled the young rat's left forepaw from the sticky trap. The rat made no attempt to bite her or to escape.
Then, holding the rat gently in her right hand, she carefully lifted the metal bar off of his tail with her left.
As she stood up, still holding the rat in her right hand, his tail dropped silently to the ground.
The rat struggled for just a second, and Sarah held him close to her face--Sarah the lioness, about to determine the fate of her final victim. The rat stared into her eyes, its whiskers trembling, its heart pounding beneath her fingertips.
Smiling silently to herself, Sarah walked slowly across the street and placed the rat on the ground at the edge of the scrub-grass hill.
The rat, realizing it was free, took off with an awkward gait back in the direction from which they had just come, toward the center of the road, just as a car came around the corner.
Sarah ran after the rat and passed it near the center line, trying to shoo it back toward the spot where she had released it.
The car, a Mercedes, slowed to a stop, as the driver, a man in his 50's, watched a young women in slacks and a professional looking button down shirt chasing what appeared to be a hamster around the suburban road he had taken home without incident for more than twenty years.
He inched forward as the hamster reversed its field, scampering back toward the scrub-grass hill.
The young woman seemed oblivious to him as she chased the animal, moving deftly left or right to thwart its efforts to deviate from the perpendicular. He braked again as she reached the side of the road and beheld, when she turned around to meet his gaze, a beautiful countenance radiating what he could only describe as a deep love--and a love she obviously expected him to understand--after the tiny creature had scurried up the side of the hill and, with a few shakes of its stub of a tail, disappeared into the undergrowth.
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