Laundry day in Newport always happened on a cool, cloudy, windy day. I always put it off as long as I could, but we had no clean clothes. It was a tremendous ordeal to get three kids and our laundry to the laundromat, though it was just down the street and around the corner. But it had to be done. My mom didn’t have a washer and dryer, so that wasn’t an option.
The kids loved laundry days because it allowed them to play at the laundromat.
I had to wedge the laundry basket filled with dirty clothes into the umbrella stroller that I usually used for Jeremy. I’d tuck the largest towel I had at the top of the basket, so the clothes didn’t fall out. Then I’d have Stevie open the front door, and I’d tell Stevie and Melissa, “Watch your little brother. Hold his hand while I get this thing out the door.”
When I finally got across the grass and gravel to the sidewalk, I held Jeremy’s hand and pushed the stroller with the other while the other two kids followed him like little ducklings.
We reached the cross street of Highway 101 and 11th, and on this day, I momentarily lost control of the stroller and it glided across the curb and fell over. All our dirty clothes fell to the ground and scattered all over the street.
“Oh no,” I shouted when I saw all those clothes spilling onto the highway. Is that what my life had come to? Dirty laundry all over the place? How was I going to pick it up and keep my kids off the street? Tiny dresses and boy’s jeans, and t-shirts, underwear, towels littered the freeway, our entire lives revealed. I’d tried so hard to be upbeat about all the upheavals in our lives and inconveniences, but now it was just too much. The kids and I all stared at the clothes and then Melissa shouted, “My pwetty dress.” I had to hang on to her tightly, so she didn’t run out into the street.
And then some bozo in a car saw my dilemma and laughed. I wanted to give him the finger so badly. I finally mustered up the courage to run out into the street and gather up the clothes while Stevie and Melissa held Jeremy’s hand. I knew they could only hold on to him for so long, so I had little time.
At the laundromat, two-year-old Jeremy stripped off all his clothes and stood in the window and waved at all the cars passing by. Oh, great.
Later, I stood at the old stove in our small one-bedroom apartment, making eggs for dinner, and stepped away for a moment to get something out of the fridge that gurgled and made weird, loud noises. When I glanced back, I saw what looked like a bunch of pepper on the omelet. It had to have been one of the kids.
“Stevie! Did you put pepper on this omelet?”
“No, Mommy, I didn’t.”
Stevie got up and investigated the pan. “Ewwwww, I don’t even like pepper. Do I have to eat that?”
Where did all that black stuff come from? That’s when I heard a scratching coming from… coming from. Oh My God.
Coming from the ceiling. Stevie and I both looked up as the hole got bigger and more “flakes” fell. I froze, paralyzed for a moment.
Something we could not see gnawed a hole in the ceiling, and the black stuff that fell into the pan was part of the ceiling. That’s when we both saw teeth. And a brown furry head.
“It’s a rat!” Stevie yelled.
I wanted to scream too, but I couldn’t freak out the kids. Melissa and Jeremy jumped up from their small chairs and peered at the ceiling.
“Mommy, look,” yelled Jeremy, pointing as the rat’s teeth continued to chew on the ceiling and its beady eyes stared down at us.
“He’s so cute,” Melissa shouted.
“Oh my god. Stay away from there,” I corrected her.
I clutched the broom and banged the top of it on the poorly insulated ceiling to scare the rat away. Doing that made another small hole in the ceiling, but at least the rat scuttled away for the moment, while the kids pointed and laughed. Oh great, two holes in the ceiling, I thought.
Then I grabbed the pan and threw the omelet into the sink before I ran next door to my neighbor Shirley’s apartment to call the landlady because we didn’t have a phone.
We clutched each other as if a monster were about to descend upon us. We taped cardboard over the holes (as if that would keep the rat out). That night, I lay in bed and heard the rat scuttle up in the ceiling. I pulled the blankets over my head.