The Maggot in the Mind of My Room – Peppy Ooze
December 13, 2021
. . .
No maggot lonely, he’d think in that post-moving-into-the-room period.
I am in the belly of the maggot in the mind of the universe.
The room was an attic. Half of the ceiling sloped. So it could be a garret, so he could make something using words about a man in a room on top of a house subdivided (it was) into seven including the basement of these shithole-romantic bedsits. The Haunted Inkbottle. 32 Cutpurse. M16. The date: November 1980 in his heart.
Magpies. Maggot-pies. Maggies. Every day, as soon as the sun came up, a rowdy few gathered on the roof, claws tapping the tiles, yacks aloud enough to wake him.
Should buy a rifle, he’d growl to himself.
. . .
A tiny window, specks of mould growing over the sill, looked out to the garden-gardens. In dripping winter, when this big chestnut went bare, that glass blade above Beetham Tower peeped a few inches over the roof of a house in Range Road. Seeing the red light flash above the tower, the man in the room felt good. He put a spare pillow on the sill to soak the damp and he’d sit of an evening undisturbed by the maggies while he’d not observe but there would be the boring back of the petrol station across the road from the laundrette with the white letters of an off-blue sign and that giant tree with perhaps a squirrel jumping from one bough to another or climbing the trunk. The whale blows where it will, and you can hear its sound, but you don’t know where it goes or where it has come from. A voice wafting in the air was of SUBWAY, the sugary not-bread moving with the flow of diffusion into the room. And thru that all-hours-a-day-open window the roar of thousands would sail east when United played at home.
In the roof, the sloped half of the ceiling, was a tinier window. A skylight. So it gave a porthole view of cloud, of Mancunian greyness, on average one day a week of azure, a chimney pot, a TV aerial, occasionally a jetliner, sometimes moon and.
. . .
Soul in repose, said a novel he lay reading on the settee.
He paused to think about those words and glazed mindless at the page.
A rat walked into the room.
Brown and not too big it stood for a second, a real rat sniffing the musty carpet near the door, sniffing the man whose pulse must’ve banged when he saw it turn and stop and kind of toddle thru the hallway into the kitchen’s dark. The man held rigid, thinking: If I corner the fucker will it jump and try and bite my throat?
Up he burst off the settee. Treading easily into a pair of adidas he grabbed a FOUR FOUR TWO, rolled it into a baton as he stood in the hall before the kitsch. The door was open. The light off. So lifting an elbow he reached around the jamb for the switch and only when the bulb came on (illuminated) did he step forth, scared not shitless but. He hissed. He kicked the fridge. He kicked a cupboard and hissed again. But the rat had fled. Below the waterboiler stood a cabinet made of four drawers. Days after moving into the bedsit he’d gripped the edge of its worktop and swayed the whole unit rocking side to side. Flimsy shit could’ve collapsed. It wasn’t screwed down and he discovered under the bottom drawer a hole in the floor. A missing floorboard. Also: nearly asleep in bed a few nights ago he heard a scurrying, claws in the dust in the pocket dividing the bricks of the house and the wall’s plasterboard. Inches from his open face. Something moved.
Last week too he’d put raw chicken in the wastebin and three or four mild days passed without emptying his rubbish. Naturally the slither of breast rotted. Poured a tasty death-of-flesh into at least one rat’s nostrils.
All of the above dawned as he shuffled the flimsy cabinet across the floor until it stood in the middle.
Why me? he was thinking.
Dark inside, this hole’s perimeter was about twenty by six. Inches. Always inches. He placed the Four Four Two sideways, flat over the opening but a biggish gap remained. From a pile of other magazines in his room he set a FACE next to the football mag so they touched spine to spine, totally blocking the entrance and then he realised he needed a cig. Once he’d made one he took a few drags while he looked for a pair of scissors in the wardrobe in a shoebox of shit along with (conveniently) a roll of masking tape. After dousing his smoke in the kitchen sink he knelt among cobwebs and dust he brushed down the hole using chewed fingers that now grabbed the spool and started unfurling lengths, cutting strips and sticking down the three edges of each magazine to the wooden floor.
Hope that’s gunner be okay, he thought but then noticed the mags had a joint in the middle. Less than a hairline of space. Yet if atoms can pass thru, a rat can gnaw a tunnel. So he sealed it.
The amount of tape stuck down, it’d take even the sharpest teeth all night to chew.
He pushed the cabinet back into the corner thinking: Thank god I didn’t see that slimy tail.
Then washing his hands he growled: Fuck!
Past midnight but he didn’t care and stomped thru the hall to his bed.
Look man, he said defeated.
A quarter inch gap was visible between the carpet and the skirting board. A gap along the wall adjacent to the single bed, next to where the other night he’d heard that creeping rodent. A gap too big. A crack. A liminal space. Which any rat’ll squeeze into easy he said and pushed the bedside table along the carpet to the centre of the room and he slid the bed out, thought about lighting his cig. But he squatted by the wall, inserting four fingertips into this new hole. It was gritty within. When he lifted his hand a dead woodlice had stuck to one of his fingernails. Half of the body was missing. Like rat-chewed. He flicked it away, wiping debris onto his thigh and he fetched from the kitchen: scissors, masking tape. Half an hour (and a breakdown) later the potential rat-concourse under the bed was blocked with strips of paper and blue SCOTCH masking. He’d been cutting furiously. Sweating. Sticking.
When done, he rolled a one-skin: Blue Widow with a pinch of tobac.
The spool had countless layers left so he explored other walls, crawling on his arse-bone and puffing the joint, poking any crevice he could find in the hallway, round the toilet and waterpipes under the bathroom and kitchen sink. Anytime he pictured a rat worming thru any particular small entry he ripped pages from a magazine, stuffed it solid. Covered it with a bit of tape.
. . .
A rat came into my room, he said on the phone to the landlord.
Mm, said Mr Doily. You sure not a mouse?
It was a rat.
Maybe a big mouse no?
Pissed-off, the man in the room said: I had mice as pets and they run quick, this walked like a rat.
Did it talk like a rat?
It’s not funny Mr Doily, the cowboys you paid to renovate left a hole in the kitchen floor. That’s how it got in, a rat.
Call the council, pest control.
That should be your job.
I’ll text you the number.
Know it off-by-heart do you?
Over the next five minutes they argued after the man suggested Mr Doily cover the hole with a floorboard but Mr Doily went babababa about something irrelevant to the burrow and this angered the man in the room so he snarled and threatened to publicise that Doily let properties overrunning with vermin and this angered the landlord who suggested his tenant’s mental health was unhinged and in the background Mrs Doily said that when his six month contract ends the man will have to find another room, if he continues snarling then yeah.
So he rang.
The number was 0161 234 4928, dialled on his landline, a banal fact thru which he heard a woman say: Pest Control.
I’ve got a rat problem.
Commerical or domestic?
Well I live in a house so.
Can you provide me with your name and address?
No maggot lonely, he thought. The Haunted Inkbottle.
Ending the memory of the four minute phonecall the woman said: They’re actually very clean as animals go, but I understand, we call them terrorists in this office. We call them little terrorists like a joke we have among ourselves.
Then he felt good for half a minute, arranging a pest control visit, tomorrow 1pm. He grabbed from the hallway: adidas, adidas. Perched on the bed he put them on and tying the laces he asked: What the hell am I doing? I dunno, he said and stood. With a fingertip he wiped from both eyelids a few flecks of crust. He put on his parka. Behold keys, cigs, MAZE cashcard, he said in the mid of the room and for a moment his eyes mapped the patch of carpet near the door where the trauma had walked with dirt and plague on its paws, the translucent hairs of its ringed tail sliding: germs a metre from my sleeping lips, he kind of shivered. And went outside. Lugged his Banana racingbike down the creaking top stairs, down the sturdier set below and he was breathless dropping the bike on the groundfloor where fumes of like worn socks and boiled cabbage clogged his windpipe so he opened the front door fast, pushing the bike, not retching but on the cusp of for needing clean air.
Jesus, he coughed and then said: How’s it going.
A man in a neighbouring driveway mumbled he was sweet but the way he stood, tips of four fingers resting on his chin, seemed like he was about to march into a peopled room and reveal something unfortunate. Like: It was me who stole your money. Like: The dog’s been run over by a car. Like: We’ve got a major rat infestation, thought our man as he pedalled on that bend of Withington Road near the bus layby and the school where they’ll go to vote Gerald Kaufman for the next thirty years and he hopped the kerb and steered right into a long quiet street of 1930s-style houses painted mainly white, ballroom gnomes in a rosebush, skeletons behind net curtains and passing which he rode no-handed while the greyness of every cloud and the greyness of the tarmac and the greyness of my room is deep and holy and textured, he felt.
Breathing an oxygen rush he smiled and sang.
Mother Earth is pregnant for the third time
For y’all have knocked her up.
I have tasted the maggots in the mind of the universe
I was not lonely
For I knew I had to rise above it all
Or drown in my own (sentimental) shit.
And to Chorlton has a crossroads with its four set of traffic lights, a commercial bank on each corner. The dread of NATWEST. The X of HALIFAX. The evil bird of BARCLAYS. The bust flush of RBS, he didn’t think as his fingers fished from one of his coat pockets the MAZE cashcard he now inserted into an ATM mouth that sucked the plastic from his fingers and it whirred, the screen asking for 8008, the pin he pressed via spat-upon buttons. Dirty bastards had wretched from the depths of their throat a thick greeny and flobbed onto the cashpoint buttons, all the numbers like one-two-three splashed in baghead saliva and-or snot and the button indicating OK that our man pressed for thirty quid to be dispensed, that surface was streaked in dry fluid as well.
So you got rats, said a man in his sixties behind the counter in Hardware for Homes.
That’s what I said yeah, sorry, it’s a nightmare.
Do you want advice or?
Anything that’ll get rid of them for good.
The shopkeeper turned a key in the cash register, said he’ll show the man and led along an aisle of wallpaper tubes and pots of emulsion in dozens of shades of white of beige to a rear shelf of boxes of mouse and rat traps and a row stacked saying CATCHMASTER Glue Trap: a photo of a cute-looking rat and a rectangular stickpad. The man from the room priced the pricetag and then saw one of these humane rat traps, a clear plastic cage which’d be too big anyway, for twenty five quid. The sticky pads cost one ninety nine. The shopkeeper wore a browny-grey lumberjack shirt.
Poisons here sir, he said.
Bottles, sachets, industrial tubs of rat-killing nectar had their own shelf, a handwritten sign: Rat Poison. But the man from the room pointed at the CATCHMASTER and said: These are pretty cheap, what they like?
Well the adhesive binds the paws to the surface obviously and in order to be honest, if you want to deal with a rat that’s still alive, bearing in mind most’ll sooner start chewing off its legs to get unstuck, then yes it’s a cheap option.
Nah best not deal with that mess.
A plastic container the man picked up, fondled in his right palm, shook to hear pellets bouncing within, was labelled: PEST STOP, Super Rat and Mouse Killer. It was four ninety nine so he said I’ll have this poison. And the shopkeeper walked back to the till with neither the sadness of selling a one ninety nine CATCHMASTER or the happiness of selling a humane cage, the man from the room thought and gave the killer container to the shopkeeper who whistled a few long seconds of it sounded like a slow-sped (How Much Is) That Doggie in the Window? as he grabbed the handle of his scanner pistol and aimed at the rat poison’s barcode.
The shopkeeper said: Just sprinkle a few piles around where they congregate, daily for about a week, you’ll be fine.
I’ll be back to buy more if not.
Both kind of laughed and cringed at the spiritual poverty of it all and the shopkeeper said: Do you need a carrier-bag?
Err yeah go on then.
And they exchanged their shite: poison for the money it cost to be ratless.
Good luck bud, said the shopkeeper.
The man biked back to the room. In fact no. First he visited OXFAM. To hunt for books about JoyceBeckett, cos he wanted to understand their words and their styles which kind of inspired the music in the maggot in his head. (The mawk of mawkish derives from Middle English mawke, which means maggot. Fuck.) So he went to OXFAM and flipped thru a Comic Gamut until his belly moaned hollow and after paying the cashier he went to GREGGS down the street for a tuna baguette and sausage roll, a free bag of WALKERS crisps. Chorlton was busy with zombies. Then he biked to the room and washed his hands. Then lay on the couch eating, sipping green tea, watching half of a 1981 followed by about twenty minutes of a 1982 episode of the Top of the Pops. He picked his teeth watching Japan. Ghosts. Savile appeared and the man smiled and said damn and burped loud. Then he blew flakes off his jumper. Got up and yawned on the way to the bathroom sink, grabbed the scissors and went in the kitchen where he shifted the cabinet and there were those copies of FOUR FOUR and THE FACE. On the football cover Patrice Evra, Macaulay Culkin on the babababa. The man in the room stood gormless, lips apart, eyes looking at nowhere, thinking what he had to do. The edges, the magazine spines were stuck together, maskingtaped to the floor where he then crouched and pointed the blade of the scissors into the seal. He slit.
Seconds later the rat hole was uncovered. A tang of ammonia rose up. Dozens of droppings, like rolled blimps of hashish, were visible in the dim light of this crawlspace was it?
You can’t crawl in here, he knew.
Each magazine he checked for scratches, toothmarks, gnawings. Nothing. He got from the room-room, bottom of the bed where he’d dumped it, the Hardware for Homes carrier. Inside was the book on Beckett, the Super Rat and Mouse Killer. The cannister lid was fiddly, you gotta grip the rim and twist and after undoing it he took twenty seconds to regain his breathing before he stooped over the shitty hole and sprinkled into the dust millions of these tiny grey pellets making four little piles. Death-heaps. In the hole. Then he stood and had a think. A cig? No.
He covered the burrow with the magazines only this time he put them cover-down so Evra and Culkin (spitting in the photo) would be facing the rats, hopefully scare them with the eyes of man and he picked up the masking and scissors and for the next fifteen minutes he stuck down strip after boring strip until he realised he might have to undo it all to replenish the poison.
Put some in the garden, he said. Win this war.
. . .
Such is how these things pan out, how life can be a kosmic irritant, how shit flows from one bit of crap to deal with to the next is: he stretched out on the settee. Around midnight. He was reading. Telly off. No music, no radio. The room was quiet and he web-deep into Watt. A voice spoke in the wall. It was a person talking on TV with the intonation of a narrator on some 1970s Open University. It said: Wum-wum, wum, wum-wum, wum-wum-wum. Then it paused. Then it went: Wum-wum-wum-wum-wum-wum-wum-wum, a long sentence of annoying drone. And it was like he had heard this voice every night since moving into the room a few months previous in not 1980. And it was like he’d been deaf to the noise until this evening. Yet now as he followed the words on the page this chatter in the wall pecked into his eardrum, into the space between his eyes and the novel’s ink. So he couldn’t read, couldn’t flow. So he sat thinking, pictured a phalanx of them dying, decomposing rats in the wall piled up, stinking into next summer. He went to the bog for a long and enjoyable piss. Then in the kitchen, lurching with all of his body towards the kettle, he halted and said: What’s that? A scratching? Resting his elbows on top of the cabinet, pinning his hearing towards the bottom drawer, he was sure a rustling came from underneath and a rat was feasting on the deadly pellets. But where will it go to die?
Ah man, he felt as he dropped a red teabag into a mug and said: I need a Jack Russell.
But it costs. To have pets. Like it costs to have rats. In time and stress. (A rat is a unit of currency.) But the next day, the transaction between the man in the room and Manchester Pest Control was free: gratis: fuck all for an exterminator to drive a Transit and fart to Cutpurse, climb four sets of stairs, carting his toolbox of killing equipment. He hit the door buzzer at 1:05pm. Pest control, he said via an intercom that was kaput cos the man in the room had to go downstairs. He opened the front and both said hello etcetera. Kitted out in blue overalls, the pest controller followed up the staircases and he remarked on the amount of steps. He laughed. Into the kitchen on the right.
He dumped the toolbox on the main worktop. Clapped and rubbed his palms together.
Right so it’s rats, the wee terrors!
Yeah one come into the living room and err, I’ve put a load of poison down and some outside near the drains.
How’d it get into the property?
Sorry would you like a cup of tea?
I’m alright ta.
I’m fine thank you. How’d it?
A hole under these drawers, I boarded it up, look.
He slid the cabinet forward to show the pest control the magazines taped to the floorboards.
Okay, said pest control. Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you certain it wasn’t a mouse?
No chance, I know what it was.
I mean one of these new urban rats’ll chew a great hole thu paper in five minutes.
Maybe it was an hallucination?
I beg your pardon?
Why don’t you think it was a rat?
People get confused.
It was this big, said the man with the rats and he flattened both hands five and then ten inches apart to include the pink tail.
Well if you’ve already give them this, it’ll be pointless of us to erm. It’s quality stuff is this.
Squinting, the pest control held the PEST STOP cannister. The Super Rat and Mouse poison. He read the ingredients. His lips moved and the skin at the side of his eyes changed from a few shallow crowsfeet into a few deeper crowsfeet. He seemed impressed. But if an antique clock were stood ticking on the sideboard now it’d be fucking audible, our man in the room thought as he watched the pest control whispering words like brod-i-fac-oum and echoplex, slowly-slowly until half a boring decade passed when he put the cannister back on top of the fridge.
Ain’t they gonna die under the floorboards, said our man. And won’t it smell bad?
Pest control said: A salt in the chemicals is designed to make them thirsty, so they’ll go outside looking for water.
He grabbed his toolbox by the handle adding: Don’t worry, I’ll pop two or three trap-boxes in the backyard. I’d use more but anyway.
Could magpies be classed as pests? asked the man in the room.
Pets yes, the exterminator said with a grin. I’ll put these outside and if you see any change for the worse in the next give it three week, then call us at the unit.
No maggot lonely, thought the man.
. . .
The words are from Samuel Beckett, a Pinter essay. He leaves no stoned unturned and no maggot lonely, goes the penultimate sentence which the man in the room heard on TV: Pinter reading aloud as part of a BBC Four evening dedicated to his own life and plays. That night the man was in another room but he watched the telly and knew. Enough ghosts are in me now to make art. It was September 1980 in his daydreams. Now November the man had almost finished reading Watt, which is a proto drum machine. Feet up on the settee, he lay relaxed. Two closed doors stood in solace between him and the ratty kitchen. But. The voice in the wall, the wall dividing him and the neighbour, soon after he’d opened the novel, it started talking. Not a loud noise but a depth in the bass drilled into his focus and so up off the couch, he threw the book aside and stood pressing his right ear against the wall.
Droning like womb-womb-womb-womb-womb, the words vibrated and rose thru many bricks to reach him obscurely.