We told our friends we bought the house because of the neighborhood and the beautiful front porch, but really it was because of the orange tree in the backyard. I grew up where winter has a stranglehold on everything living for at least half the year. After moving to Southern California, I was struck by the lemons, limes, avocados, and oranges that peeked out on branches over fences seemingly all year round.
We moved in while the tree was still blossoming. In a few months’ time we would have a bounty of fruit that would become juices, marmalades, tarts, or sliced up and eaten for breakfast.
When the first green fruits emerged, I’d find they’d quickly disappear. Birds, I thought. I purchased an enormous net and with the help of my husband and a questionable ladder, draped it over the top of the tree. And yet, the fruit still disappeared, never able to grow larger than a ping pong ball.
I took out my ladder, searching in the areas that were the hardest to access. A hard, pockmarked fruit managed to make it twice as large as any other I had found, but it was covered in tiny bites, that had eaten away thick chunks of its flesh. Rodents, for certain.
I laid out traps of all kinds; ones that snapped, ones that were sticky, ones that shut a little door and trapped the bastards after they went inside. Nothing was working. My fruit would die as infants. I even lured the neighbor’s cat over with treats. We’ll brush your coat, give you tuna, even lay a warm bed out for you on the patio. If you happen to see a rat or two when you are here, well, it would be great if you could—
The cat made barely a dent in the rat population. My tree was practically bare and I was beginning to think I’d lose the whole season. Poison was still an option, but I had saved it for last on purpose. I knew that it was terrible for the environment in so many ways, but I justified it by only using half as much as the box suggested. It worked.
My tree no longer looked mangy. I was winning the war, but after a week or so I started finding the bite marks again. Most of the fruit that was nearly ripe had disappeared entirely.
I bought another box of the poison. It worked so well—how could I not? I needed to knock out their army. No more warning shots. I poured out the entire box, using even more than I was instructed to. And this would be it. One heavy blow, and then no more poison. Maybe some traps for good measure, but no more poison. One morning I found the cat. The sweet neighbor cat that was practically ours. She had trusted us. She couldn’t have gotten into the poison. She was smarter than that. After the nets went up, she left the tree alone. But she hadn’t left the rats alone. Not far from her soft body was a limp, partially eaten rat. It’s innards more toxins than blood. I was able to get a decent crop of oranges, but all of the fruit was bitter. The next year, I let the rats have it.
Molly Osborne is a Portland, Oregon based writer. She has fiction in STORGY, Bewildering Stories, and Button Eyes Review. When she isn’t writing, she works in stop motion animation production. She is currently writing a speculative fiction novel for adults.