The man was in the utility room, laying plastic trays on the floor – under the washing machine, in the space in the brickwork where the boiler outlet pipe exited – each tray containing lumps of black and brown material, like plasticine. Miles remembered something his wife had said that morning, and was glad he could now ask and have the answer ready for her when she returned home. Sometimes when she asked him to remember things, he didn’t and that never went down very well. ‘My… someone… said that it might be squirrels, that squirrels have started getting into people’s houses because their food source has become so scarce following the harsh winter and they’re getting cockier with…’

‘It’s not squirrels.’

‘It’s just that… right, OK, not squirrels. I’ll tell her that. Them that.’

‘You’re better off with rats,’ the man said, chewing his matted beard with his top teeth. ‘Rats’ll run a mile when they hear anyone coming. Squirrels, squirrels will go for you.’

‘I see.’

‘But it’s not squirrels’.

‘Right. That’s good. Not squirrels.’

‘See that?’ The pest man squatted by the downstairs fridge, chipping into the pointing with his biro, scraping away brick dust. ‘Old houses like this are full of holes, like living in a bloody sieve. But judging from the droppings on the floor, I’d say they’re getting in through here.’

Miles peered down and sure enough there was a hole in the wall – cartoon perfect, Tom & Jerry-like in construction.

The man pushed past him, talking as he climbed back up the cellar stairs. ‘They’ve got everything they need in a house like this. It’s warm, there’s food out and there’s a source of water, what with your downstairs plumbing. Perfect for them. They’ll be nesting outside somewhere near – in a hedge, under the shed or whatever – then coming in at night when the coast is clear. And why not? I’d rather come indoors if I could, nice house like this. What is it, Victorian?’

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One Response to “Control”

  1. October 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm, Pauline said:

    Loved it – perfect description, nothing superfluous and I moved with it right to the end. Felt helpless on the father’s behalf. Entirely plausible.
    What happened?


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