In the rat trailer behind the pet store, I could listen to any radio station. I could talk to myself. I could stare out the window at the grain elevator and the twin, steel silos to the chorus of hundreds of feed mice and rats squeaking against dozens of glass cages.
When I used a dustpan to swish all the mice and rats to one side of the box, I thought about all the different ways to be a mom. As I scooped out the pee-soaked pine shavings and let them flutter into the trashcan, I thought about the pregnancy test tucked between books in my backpack. When I wiped the crap-stained inner glass with bleach and dumped new bedding into the terrarium, I thought about my boyfriend (Blonde hair, plaid pants. Straight teeth. Sunburn.). I thought about high school dances and the formal dresses (Light purple, tulle. Black satin, scalloped hem.) that I’d buy with my paycheck. The rats and mice were wet with urine and bleach and the pine shavings stuck to their backs, and I thought about my shrinking car payment. I thought about the backseat of my Chevy (Gray cloth. Empty Coke bottle. Iced-over windows, sharp seat buckle.). I fed the mice expired dog food by the handful and tried to imagine myself naming a person I made.
Many jobs and boyfriends later, married and deeply childless, I still think about seeing my first baby mouse. I remember pinching it gently between my right thumb and pointer fingers. I think about how when I lifted it into my left palm, I could see the tiny veins leading right to its heart. I remember lowering it back into the terrarium and returning later to find it ripped apart by its family, by its own mother and father, who were biologically offended at the smell of my hands, by the foreign, uninvited cells I left behind.