It was a Saturday, and Saturdays were special even if Terence and Jeanette didn’t know quite what to do with this one. There was some removal of the week’s bad housekeeping decisions, mainly of the ‘it can wait’ variety. There was some dinner planning, which involved prolonged staring into the refrigerator, and narrative planning, which involved long staring at the bookshelves, without any definite conclusions being made. They had an agreed-upon early lunch, and were still unsure of how to waste the rest of the day together, when the doorbell rang.
It was a package delivery. “Dr. Terence Ransom? Signature required.”
Jeanette had paid more attention to the delivery boy’s hat-hair and his big ears, when Dad said, “Hm. 23andMe. That’s the genetic testing service, isn’t it? I looked into it, I know, but I don’t remember actually ordering it.”
“Dad, you forget things like that all the time.”
“Really? I don’t remember forgetting this one.”
He gave her a look that let her know he knew exactly what he was saying, and was doing it for her. It made her happier than she could say.
He looked at the box, computing the minimum number of cuts he would have to make to open it, and pulled out his overweight Swiss Army Knife. (It was the one with the scissors, pliers and fish scaler, and a pull out pair of tweezers and even a ball-point pen.)
He said, “This seems to be a lot bigger and heavier than it should be. I thought it was just supposed to be a few swabs and envelopes. Ah well.”
And he held up the box with one hand and attacked it with the knife.
That was it for the first part of their lives.
Because the top panel lifted up to disclose a big swarming mass of rats.
Jeanette screamed. “RATS!”
Maybe in response to that, the rats leaped out of the box. They scattered in all directions. One rat ran over Jeanette’s leg, and her leg convulsed.
Terence dropped the box, staring at it wide-eyed.
Jeanette ran to her father, locked her arms around his legs and hugged him frantically. “Oh Dada, Rats…” she whimpered. Tears poured down her face, and she wiped her face on his pants, first one side and then the other.
In the time it took to do that, the rats were gone: off around corners and behind bookcases and lamps.
Terence’s hand came down mechanically to touch Jeanette’s hair, then did that long distance standing-up hug that most fathers worth their salt develop.
It was clear that a thousand thousand thoughts were racing through his brain but he just stared at the box. He said nothing.
And before there could be any reassurance, it started.
(A skitter from one corner of the wall to the other.)
(And, best of all, a skitter from the top corner of the wall to another.)
Terence and Jeanette hugged and listened.