The Perils of Louella:

Chapter 173: Louella Learns About Rats

by A.C. Cherbonnier
     THE RAT INSPECTOR was due sometime before noon. It had taken eight phone calls to fix the time, but Louella was determined to be present when the inspector came. “I don’t see any signs of rats!” she said to her mother as they sat outside on the little metal stoop overlooking tiny Highlandtown back yards. “Have you seen any rats around here, Mom?”
     “Not as I can say,” she responded stiffly, still not wanting to be friendly to her daughter, who was trying to evict family members from the adjacent house for non-payment of rent.
     “Mom, I wish you could be nicer about this!” pleaded Louella. “It’s not like I have any choice. I can’t afford to give Mason free rent. I was only charging them $250 a month as it is!”
     “Well, you’ve been able to carry them this long, so you must have some money, so why not just keep doing it? I mean, they’re going through a rough spot.” She suspects a secret source of income, Louella realized. But there’s no way I’m telling about winning the Lottery!
     “Admit it, Mom. You just like having the baby close by! Gives you something to do.”
     “Well, she is awful cute, you know! My great-grandchild! And it’s not like I’m going to have any more grandchildren, is it?” She cast Louella a significant glance.
     “That’s not the issue, here, Mom, and you know it!” Her mother gave her the look--chin out, ears pinned back, glare.
     “Anyway, Mom, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the rat thing we have to deal with now.”
     “There’s never been any rats in this here alley!” her mother declared stoutly, scratching a swollen bare foot in its bedroom slipper. “That I know for sure!”
     “Well, your grandson says there are, and he told that to a judge.” Her mother blushed. As well she should,thought Louella.
     She tactfully changed the subject. “I looked up about rats to see why everybody hates them so much,” she said.
     “Well, of course we hate them!” said her mother. “They’re disgusting, that’s what!”
     “But they’re not so different from squirrels and rabbits, and you think they’re so cute!”
     “Get off it, girl! You know they’re not at all the same! Not hardly! Rats carry disease, for one thing. You can’t argue with that.”
     “Yeah, but it’s how they carry the disease that’s the problem. I mean, they’d eat their own babies if they had their druthers, and there wouldn’t even be a rat problem. But it’s slobs who leave their food out on the streets and alleys who are the realrats! I read that”--Louella fished in her pocket for the notes she had for the inspector--“the female rat can drop 12 litters a year, with 16 young per litter. The young can reproduce in six months. So if you figure a life span of four years, one pair of rats could theoretically spawn three million more rats--”
     “So why aren’t there millions of them out there right now?”
     “Because they eat themselves! The big ones eat the little ones if there’s nothing else to eat. Neat, huh? Self-extermination!”
     “Kind of like drug shoot-outs?”
     Louella stared at her mother. “That’s profound, Mom. Really.”


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This story was published on June 3, 1998.