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  • Martin Parece

Rats in the Dark

I'll use this speech after I screw over someone in the group for a percentage or a big payday.


Yeah? I did it. I did it for the money. And? You people don’t know what you don’t know about me. Did you know I’m from Chicago? Have you ever been to Chicago? Sports and pizza, fifth largest city in the world and all that? It’s a shithole.


Accent begins to change.


Nothing there that’s good. Sure, the company has offices there, but all the real power, the real money, is in Tokyo, London, New York, Rio, maybe L.A., but not Chicago. Slums, government housing, welfare, crime, slave wages. Millions of people living in shit.


Chicago accent thickens.


Yous don’t know nothin’ ‘bout Chicago. See, my pops would go on these benders. I don’t know if it was that he never had a chance to make somethin’ of himself, or if it’s cause Ma left when I was maybe two. You know I don’t even know what she looks like? I can close my eyes, and I can almost see her face, and d(th)en it’s gone.


Anyway, what little money he had, he’d go blow it gettin’ drunk with da boys. He’d lock me in da basement - unfinished, dirt floor, gray cinder block column load bearing members - with some water and deez government issued ration packs that make your pre-fab meals and bugjuice look like a fuckin’ banquet. He’d say, “Camping time, son!” and lay out a blanket on da dirt floor wit(h) a fuckin’ sleeping bag like it’s some kinda adventure. He’d lock da door. Guess he tought he was protectin’ me or sumtin, keepin me safe.


Dis one time when I was six, he didn’t come back. Smiles. I used to try to stay up, be awake when he got home, so I could pretend to be asleep, but you know how it is - the harder you try to stay awake, da faster you fall asleep. I had dis little clock radio - didn’t get any signal down d(th)ere, but it showed me the time. Last time I remember seein’ was ten tirty-tree pm. I woke up at seven oh two, and da door was still locked. He wasn’t home.


Gets quieter.


Da food ran out at two in the afternoon, and he wasn’t home. I had a half bottle of water left. I didn’t know what to do. I pounded on the door. I shouted. I cried a lot, but no one came. I got angry. I grabbed up dat little clock radio, and a t(h)rew it as hard as I could at da wall. And it shattered into a million pieces, but when you’re a little kid, and you’re angry, you’re not careful. Da radio hit da light bulb hangin’ down from da ceilin’, pieces of plastic and electronics from da radio flyin’ everywhere, silhouetted by flyin’ glass and coolin’ filament as it all hits da dirt floor.


Begins to talk more slowly, drawing out the words with the thick, Chicago accent.


No light at all. You know da worst t(h)ing about bein’ in a room wit no light at all? You can’t even tell da passin of time. D(th)ere’s nuthin to do but sleep. How long were you out? A minute? An hour? A day?


And dat’s when the sounds start. Not much of nuthin’ at first. Yer not even sure you heard anyt(h)ing. Just a scratchin’ somewhere in da dark, maybe a skittering as sumtin crosses the dirt floor. It wakes you up every time it happens, and you sit upright and stare out into da dark, but can’t see nuthin’. Did you even hear anyt(h)ing? Was it even d(th)ere? You hold real still, listenin, but d(th)ere’s nuttin’ else to hear. Sometimes you wake up to the sound of sumt(h)in tiny, sniffin at you, and you jerk awake, and it runs away.


I woke up when a rat bit my finger. I yanked away, but it didn’t let go. I guess rats get hungry, too. I wrapped my hand around its neck and back, and you know what I did d(th)en? I slammed it onto the floor. Again and again. I felt things pop, bones. Sometin warm and wet started to cover my hand, but I didn’t stop until all I was holdin’ was a pulpy mess. I threw it away into the dark and wiped my hand on my shirt and pants.


Long pause, and the Chicago accent fades away to be replaced with his clear, crisp speech.


When the cops found me, I was barely conscious. Feverish, starving. I had an infection in my blood. Five days of antibiotics and fluids pumped through a needle in my arm. I never saw my pops again. I mean, he came by the orphanage once or twice, but I wouldn’t see him, and they said I didn’t have to.


Another pause, a deep breath, quieter again. His eyes look haunted, maybe frightened.


You know, sometimes I’m in bed at night, and I wonder if I’m still in that basement. Did I ever leave? And that’s the thing. If not, then this is all a fever dream, and nothing I do matters. It’s my dream, and I’m probably dead already. If this, and you all, are real… Well sorry, but yeah I did it for the money, because I’m never condemning my children or yours to how I grew up.


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