She stiffens. Silently, she puts down her book and waits for confirmation.
She springs from the sofa and scurries to the wall where she has heard the tiny sounds almost every afternoon for the past eleven days. She presses her ear to the wall. Two beeps, then one beeeeeep: the quiet adolescent in the next townhouse, microwaving his after-school snack. She squeezes her ear harder against the wall, and she squeezes her eyes shut. She waits, transfixed. Ten seconds, thirty seconds, a minute, two full minutes pass. But she hears nothing else. She retreats, rubbing her ear and then her eyes, and she returns to the sofa.
She picks up her book and immediately puts it down again.
She is hopeful (the scratching stopped so quickly this time—perhaps she only imagined it) but also doubtful (she cannot possibly have imagined it every single time) as well as frustrated and ashamed (once again, she will have neither proof nor even certainty to offer her husband this evening). She considers calling the exterminator again, just to have another quick look at the wall, but then she considers how he would look at her, his smile even wider and his squint even narrower than last time, and she pushes the thought from her mind.
She casts her eyes around the room until they come to rest on her book, which she picks up again. She holds it in both hands and gazes at its hard cover, at the rich green leather and fine gold embossing of gothic German script. She lifts it to her nose and inhales its papery musk. She owns the whole set: safe, perfect, behind the glass doors of the bookshelves upstairs. She opens the book to the page marked with a gold tassel, and she stares until letters take shape, then words and sentences and meaning, and finally truth and even beauty. She tries to push all thoughts of infestation from her mind. After ten pages of hard, halting effort, she succeeds.
At the end of the eleventh page, the words blur and their meaning recedes. She leans back against the sofa and closes her eyes lightly, letting her book rest open on her lap. She will think for only a minute; for a minute she will only think. The rodents are gone for now, but in their place are all the ways—or, all the ways she has thought of thus far, over the past seven and a half weeks—in which her husband might be slowly and subtly, an undetectably tiny bit each day, trying to kill her with poison.
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SANDHYA THAKRAR holds a Ph D in philosophy from Yale University, where she wrote her doctoral dissertation on romantic love. Her literary nonfiction has recently appeared in Brick. She was born and raised in the Canadian prairies, though she now lives in Toronto with her partner, their toddler, and the cat.