In the Temple of the Rat by Megan Williams

Sunrise at the sacred circle of stones. We have joined hands and now we separate with instructions to find the stone that calls to us. Some one else claims the one I was first attracted to. Some others appeal but I don't feel called. I pull my mothers beautiful, scratchy poncho around me and sit on the dry, equally scratchy grass. I am between stones. Perhaps thats what i always am. Never quite one thing or another.

There is a plant that blooms in southern Portugal that smells like honey. I will sit here between the stones and smell the honey flowers that I don't know the name of and watch the the sun come up, warm orange and i will be happy and content to have no stone.

But she does call me. She is most certainly a she. A pale pointy stone, with a star flower symbol carved into her.

The truth is she called me first before any of the others, but I thought she was too obvious. Too pretty.

When I sit against the stone it feels cool and gentle. I close my eyes and wonder what she is supposed to be telling me? How does she answer the question i asked?

Shamba comes to each of us and tells us what our stone represents. "You have chosen a very special stone. This is consecrated to the temple of the Rat. You are tasked to bring all the shadows out and into the light" I want to laugh and cry in equal parts. This is no uncertain sign. This is my usual comically obvious call and response from the universe.

From the narrow place I called Yah? From the great expanse came: Yah!

For the rest of the stay I am called the Rat Queen or the Pied Piper by my fellow travelers.

From now on the rat will carry a special message to me. A month after returning to NYC I realize I had forgotten how many "messages" ones sees here.

I had never seen one in or around my apartment before but soon enough i do get a visiter on a late afternoon in September.

School has ended for the day but Ms. Juli has an after school spanish workshop so i shut myself in the back room.

The room is still dim and peaceful from nap time. Lots of little two year olds sleep in this room every week day and i sleep in this room every night.

The white noise machine is still on, the curtains still filtering the meek amount of sunlight that manages to make its way in. I have a Himalayan salt lamp that is nearly always on, glowing soft orange.

I feel like i could take a nap myself but instead i reach for a book from my library of the esoteric. Juli is singing a song in spanish in the the front room. The only word i catch is “manos”.

I stack two then three pillows behind my head in an attempt to make my Japanese mat feel more like a sofa.

After three paragraphs my eyes begin to close involuntarily. White noise, dim light, spanish lullaby...

I hear a sudden scuffling sound right out side the window, then a scratching on the glass.

I pull aside the curtain and utter a mild “eek”.

A smallish gray she rat is standing on the top of the window bars. i expect her to run away but she stays put, pressing her twitching nose up to the glass. We stare at each other for some seconds. She is clean and soft looking, like a Japanese watercolor.

She finally turns away and begins descending hand under hand down one of the bars. Indeed her paws look so strikingly like particularly delicate and dainty hands that I find myself smiling.

I note how one can go from revulsion to curiosity, from antipathy to empathy based only on the act of observation.

Dear little most reviled of animals. Her paws look not unlike the hands of a twenty week human fetus. Anytime I have ever been looked at by a rat their expression has always seemed to portray a fleeting mixture of fear and distain. Neither of those reactions seems at all unwarranted given how humans react to the sight of these creatures. These beings that follow us where ever we concentrate ourselves, like shadows we refuse to confront. I wonder why this one trusts me enough to look back at me for so long. I remember the love I felt at the consecrated stone. Love in all places. Even in the temple of the rat.