The Night Rat

In our oddly laid out apartment, we have a little square area of hallway, which is a conduit to two bedrooms, office and bathroom It also houses some built-in cabinets and drawers, which we use for linens and such.

A few weeks ago, there started to be a peculiar smell. Not a full smell, but like the shadow of a smell… or, a Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby might have phrased it– an”under-smell.”

The smell was so ghostly that it was hard to pinpoint it. Had someone been boiling cabbage? Farting?  It seemed more pungent in the evenings, when it was cold or rainy. It was there in the night, but gone in the morning. No one in the house mentioned it, we just sniffed as we passed through. We sniffed the bathroom, around closed bedroom doors, the office.  Until finally we convened and admitted–we could ALL smell it! And it was NOT coming from the afore-mentioned areas. It seems to come from above–to be emanating from the very high ceiling.

Could it be mold? A pipe not draining? Something dead?

Our housekeeper came. Being polite, she also did not mention anything. But when asked if she smelled something, she said, with some certainty. “I think it is a rat.”

Not a live rat.

Not a rat we could get to…at least without destroying the ceiling.

The internet’s advice seems to be wait it out. It will eventually decompose!

I feel the rat-smell is counter-intuitive.  I would guess the smell would be worse when it is warm, but in fact, after 60 degrees or so, the smell was genuinely invisible. It increased as night fell, and with the cold, and the rain… I should possible call it a “rain rat” but that doesn’t have the same poetry, does it?

Not long after, we needed soap. There was a sale, and we stocked up on Irish Spring. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but Irish Spring has a strong smell. Not an under-smell. A smell-smell. An over-smell even.


I unpacked the bars and put them all in one of the hallway drawers. Their presence was almost eye-watering, but it definitely covered the whiff of rat.*

And then, after a week of rain, the sun came out, the weather grew warm. The initial power of the Irish Spring seemed to dissipate, and with it, any lingering rat-scent.

Except today, it is gray and rainy and chilly and–though no one else smells it, so it could just be memory playing tricks–I wonder if I catch the slightest under-smell…

*My mother has asked, how do we know it isn’t a squirrel? The answer is, we don’t. I’m fine with conceding to that possibility. “The Night-Squirrel” also has an acceptable amount of poetry to it.

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