Room for rent

As I am spending this weekend out in the countryside in a tiny house upon a lake, rented just for a few days. It felt natural to me as I was looking for a good read for last night to try an author that I have previously not read, simply by the title of the short story – Room for rent. It was written by Richie Narvaez in 2017.

I went into this speculative fiction piece blind and my gosh am I glad I did! The story centres around a woman in dire straits who is about to give birth. She looks for a place for her and her partner to live. She talks to a sketchy landlord and decides to rent a room. It very soon becomes clear that she is not the sole inhabitant; the place is festered with vermin. Twelve of them to be precise. She does her best to show them they have to leave. When this doesn’t work, she borrows a translator to communicate with this foreign species on their terms. She soon empathizes with their plight, lets them live in her closet and starts to feed their children. The vermin tells her that they were once thriving, peaceful people that meant no harm, but as the aliens came and took over, it left them with nowhere else to go. One day pest control knocks on the door and offers to get rid of the vermin in an eco-friendly way, it turns out vermin makes excellent fertilizer. Our protagonist pleads that there must be another way. But as her partner comes home and calls the vermin situation disgusting not fit for their future children, one of the vermin attacks him, and she sees that the vermin really are harmful and kills it. As she does so, all of the dead vermin’s fears and sadness is transferred to her. She passes the feelings on to her children as a way to bear witness.

What I find very interesting about this story is that it puts us as human beings in relation to something else that breaks of our self-image and leaves us with a mirror image that shows something we might not want to come to terms with fully. When our protagonist learns more about this self-proclaimed peaceful vermin, she learns that they were actually a violent life form that did not just start wars with others but brutally killed their own. Her reasoning on how to deal with the infestation of her home with rationality and compassion as the situation reaches her breaking point is a very human trait and poses the question of right or wrong in our treatment of other species. The story questions our very being and place in the world as well as our sense of entitlement. It was featured on LaVar Burton reads podcast this week and has all the makings of a great bedtime read.