Rattus rattus

Rattus rattus.  The common roof-rat.  This one is young, a month old at most.  She is round black eyes and unexpected movement, fawn back and white belly and charcoal tail.  She is light and quick and sudden, she is twitching whiskers and pretty pink paws reaching up for contact.

She is Rory, or Rocky, or Batman, depending on who you ask, but that is neither here nor there.  She is a baby without a family; she is my baby, since before her eyes opened for the first time.

She is a hand’s length from nose to rump, and that plus a little more in tail. Her clever paws grip and grab as she scampers, faster than it seems something so small should go.  They tickle, delicate points and searching movement, as she rests them against my chin- though they are far eclipsed by the brush of whiskers- hair thin and more than an inch long- on my skin.  She is unexpectedly warm, a little ball of heat when she curls up in my sleeve.

Her tan-and-pale fur is soft and smooth, sleek like silk and textured like velvet.  When she’s excited, she squeaks and chirps, eager sounds that match the rapid pace of indrawn breath.  Her round, translucent ears swivel forward and back again when she hears something of note.

She is frustration in unrelenting movement in one moment, and bliss in sleepy cuddling the next.

Late Spring Rain

The sun has set, but the heavy grey clouds are still illuminated with the last hint of twilight glow.  The half-light is cold, sharpening grey and blue and muting white and yellow, washing out the shadows not by brightening the empty places, but by darkening everything that surrounds them.  It looks like the last gasps of autumn, like the creeping approach of winter, yet it is the cusp of spring.

The muggy, warm smell of freshly-damp asphalt rises up in a comforting fog, inviting and promising, humid and fresh and in stark contrast to the way the cold air bites at my cheeks.  Fragments of other smells- the sharp bite of woodsmoke, the clean fruity-sweet of magnolia, the cloying, tempting, true-sweet of jasmine- ride the back of the clean-fresh-rain and the heavy-wet-bitter of damp mulch.

A cloud of smoke rises from a chimney, pale white, melting into the crisp-white and shivery-grey of the clouds only after winding like mist around the stark-sharp white and black of birch trunks.  Everywhere, in every direction, the frantic pitter-patter of drops striking mutes the usual sounds; the roads are quieter, the drone of airplanes inaudible, and only a few harried songbirds are still about, their sullen whistles replacing chipper song.

Location: Los Altos, CA

Time: Twilight

A Still Quiet Moment: A Hint of Rain at Night

The breeze is cold, winter not yet surrendering to the creep of the seasons.  It plays over my skin, raising goosebumps and drawing out a shiver.  The fountain grass hisses as it moves, long golden blades swaying.  It seems restless, not like the trees.  The pistache tree whispers cheerfully, a few red-orange-salmon leaves falling from among the healthy green- the pistache cares little for the changing of the seasons.  The great old pine creaks, its joints weary with age, as it grumbles under its breath.

Tiny touches of cold fall against my upturned face.  One raindrop lands in a perfect kiss upon my lower lip.  It is bitter against my tongue, the taste heavy with whatever imperfection called it down from the clouds.

The plum blossoms bloom white and bright against the darkness.  They shine and twist in the wind, and the bitter-brown smell of chartreuse pollen tickles unpleasantly in my nose.  There is pollen everywhere, layered on leaves and stones and cars.

Bruise-purple clouds obscure most of the stars, but a few pinpricks of white shine through, clear and bright and cold as the wind.

Valentine Bouquet

The holiday is passed.  Two weeks ago, it was flowers and chocolates, the taste of cherry cordial and the crackle of plastic around blood-red buds, the faint perfume of roses meant to be seen, not smelled.

Now, it is the dry rasp of brittle leaves.  The rustle of wind in the undergrowth with every movement that jostles the vase.  Forlorn, the buds droop, hanging their heads, exhausted by the effort.  Stems snap like dry wood, leaves crumble to coarse dust between careless fingers, petals fall like carelessly-discarded scarves.

Contrary in the final moments, the silky fragrance of rose is stronger, underlined with the heavy wet tang of stagnant water.  The red has darkened nearly to black, the green to grey- as though the color has been sacrificed for that last, desperate blush of scent.

Remember, the leaves whisper, as the bouquet is taken out to be disposed of, remember that for a moment, we were glorious.

Lost Pines at Night

An empty lot that was full two days before.

The lingering presence, stronger than it ever was when the trees stood tall and proud, stretches out in the cool blackness all the way down the block.  I loved those trees, deep green columns, casters of shadow and creators of mystery.  They seemed a relic of another time, though they could not, in truth, have been that old.

Now the trees are gone, and the house with them, and the life that was torn out with their roots and crushed with their branches lingers behind in the air.  It is a wet smell, a green one.  It mingles with damp, disturbed earth, and in the quiet stillness, it smells like a fresh grave.

It clings to the back of my throat, a bright choking zest, and carried on the chill air, caresses my skin like the touch of a ghost.

Fresh Rosemary

One sprig of rosemary, crushed between the palms.

The scent rises, lush and woody.  It is rich, thick on the tongue.  It curls like smoke, and speaks of winter.  Dig deep enough, crush the stem, and the smell turns green, sparkling with life.  Delicate purple flowers, straight, springy leaves- dark, and curling, hiding a soft white underbelly.

The petals of the flower smell of spoilage once crushed, I pluck them and put them aside.

A single leaf, crushed and torn and tattered, bruises to black.  The scent lingers on my skin, sticky slick, but it is only fragrance that stains my fingers.  It is warm, like Easter dinner and family around the table.  Dark and dead, bright and alive, it is the smell of transition, of new life.