Rats and Rain

Louis Bourgeois


Outside the window, several white boys from the H.U.D. projects stood around the drainage duct at the curb of the street. The silver water was viscous as it came down on the bare-backed boys with no shoes. I wanted to be outside with them, I wanted to be outside with them as the rain poured in streams into the drain. My grandmother Olga was watching The Price Is Right, or something else just as stupid on her beat up black and white twelve inch television set. I asked her if I could go out, she responded with an emphatic No, explaining that those boys would break my bones up at the very least or perhaps murder me outright; no telling with them, she said. I told her I would run if they tried to get me and she used her strongest weapon, her weapon of choice, and began crying at the mere notion that I could be killed so close to home. I sat at the wobbly Formica-top kitchen table and played blackjack by myself as she slowly fell asleep in front of the T.V.

Twenty minutes later she was snoring loudly and I slipped out the green front door of the duplex. The rain was still coming down hard. It was around noon and under the alcove of the duplex I took off my shirt and shoes and piled them next to some nameless and miserable plant that Olga had tried and tried to nurture back to life with sad results.

I crossed the street in the intense downpour. It was as if they were waiting for me, as if they had been waiting a long time, but, really, there was no way for them to know that I’d being trying to get out and join them for almost an hour. Instantly, one of the bigger boys grabbed me by the shoulder and said, If you want to hang out with us you have to go down there and tell us what you see. We’ll hang onto your legs and promise not to let go. I knew that I was just an instrument for their amusement, some experiment for them to observe, watching a child crawl to his death just to see what it looks like, but I didn’t care, I was lonely, my parents were recently divorced and I was an only child. All right, I said, just don’t let go.

I crawled through the drainage slit and the boy who spoke to me held me by the ankles as I descended under the street. The water was flowing very fast but surprisingly it was only knee deep. The boy let go just as I was fully underground and I fell head first into the rushing water and the gray concrete under it. Luckily, I knew how to fall in almost any situation as I’d been playing street football ever since I could remember and had taken on much worse falls than this one. I only skinned my palms a bit when I fell into the gutter. I stood up almost as soon as I fell and the light from the drainage opening was at least three feet above my head but I could still see the surface of the street and even the bottom half of Olga’s duplex across from me. Of course, I wasn’t surprised at all that I couldn’t see any of the boys, who had fled just as soon as they’d dropped me. These were the same boys who tried to all but kill me every evening as I walked from Our Lady of Lord’s to Olga’s to stay with her after school until my mother got off from work in the late evening.

Standing under the street in the rain and in the sewage water, I realized this was some kind of test, some right of passage, to become a member of the Society of Misspent Youth at the housing project, but I couldn’t seem to get adequately frightened by the situation, which by now was rather grave and dangerous and there was a good chance that I might not get out of it alive. I couldn’t at all pull myself out of the duct because it was too high up to get the right leverage. The boys undoubtedly wanted me to drown outright or save myself without any help. The rain was now falling heavier than it had been when I first came from across the street, bloated sewer rats passed by in the quick flowing water, one or two of them tried to jump on my legs to save themselves, but I easily kicked them away. Foot-long fish of dubious worth flowed by, some dead, others still quite alive and flowing against the stream for some reason. They were not the kind of fish that I caught with my dad on the weekends at our fishing camp on Lake Ponchartrain. These were “city fish” that only the truly poor would attempt to eat, mostly shad and carp. The rain stopped suddenly and even some crystal white sun shown through the drainage opening. The water began to go down drastically like someone was pulling the plug on a bathroom tub and now barely covered the tops of my feet. I bellowed and bellowed from beneath the ground for what seemed like hours until finally two old arms reached down and helped me scuttle out, it was Olga.

Her deep tears still haunt my very blood.





Louis Bourgeois is the Executive Director of VOX PRESS, a 501 (c) 3 philosophy collective based in Oxford, Mississippi. Bourgeois also serves as an instructor for the Prison Writes Initiative, a political science program for Mississippi inmates. Currently, Bourgeois is pursuing political office for the American Communist and Socialist party.



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