In this month’s New Voices Revisited, we return to Krishan Coupland’s magical “When You Lived Inside the Walls” in which a man’s daughter forms an unnatural bond with a swarm of otherworldly rats that is slowly taking over their house. His wife is distant, watching an endless loop of disasters on the news. Within this surreal world, Coupland depicts the love a father has for his child, and the horror he feels as she matures and begins to keep her own secrets. Dive into Coupland’s tale below, originally published in March of 2016:
The rats don’t take the poison. You see them everywhere now. They writhe out of sight in darkened corners. They worm their way into gaps that seem impossibly small. When you go to tuck Millie in at night you’re sure that you hear a frantic flurry of scurrying just before you open her door. You see shapes moving beneath her covers—humped bodies the size of kittens.
There are few at first. You hear them scuttling under the floorboards, pinpoint claws clicking wood. At night you think you can discern their squeaking—so high-pitched it is almost inaudible. It is a month before you actually see one. You come into the kitchen one night, empty glass in hand, and flick on the light. A brown body—larger than you had imagined—streaks for the gap beneath the fridge.
On instinct, you throw the glass. It shatters so loud that it pierces your ears. Fragments skitter across the tiles, but the rat is already gone.
You tell Dinah about it while she sits up in bed reading the paper. On the cover are pictures of bombs detonating over foreign cities, smoke curdling into fist-shaped clouds. “We’ll have to get some traps,” you say. “Traps and poison. We have to deal with this quickly.”
“That sounds like your department, Dear,” says Dinah. “Do you want to take the car tomorrow?”
You nod. You think of your daughter Millie tucked up in bed. The rat was the size of her tiny arm. Bigger maybe. “Yes,” you say. “Yes, I will. I’ll take care of it.”
* * *
Millie’s school has a teacher-training day, so you take her with you to the hardware store. She likes it there—begs to come whenever you need a new lightbulb or a screw for the kitchen shelf. While you look at traps, she browses the reels of cord and chain and wiring, touching each as though she longs to unwind them.
“The ones with jaws are best,” says the man behind the counter. He’s old enough to be your father, and so you trust his wisdom. Twice he’s duplicated keys for you on the squeaky machine in the back room. You’ve always found it a marvel that a man with hands as big and broad as his can do such delicate work.
“Aren’t they dangerous?” you say. “I’ve got a little girl.”
The hardware man looks past you to where Millie is rattling a rack of graded screwdrivers like wind chimes.
“Vermin are dangerous. Traps are just traps.” But he disappears into the back room and emerges with two bulky corridors of wire—humane traps. Used, he tells you, but in working condition. It isn’t until you come to load them into the back of the car that you notice the wire is stained with blood.