September 30, 2008

by Cathy Borders

As they did the night before, as they do every night, the ants have returned. I have sat near the hole which they march out of, and one by one squished their conga line with the pad of my finger. I have sucked up whole families with the vacuum cleaner and taped the hungry mouth of the hose shut. Doing a lezginka, I have slaughtered thousands with the soles of my boots. And still, they return.

These idiotic ants, possibly particular only to Australia, move in single-file curved lines towards the fuse box, where they suck at the wires, getting high on electricity. I have to remove the carcasses with a wooden stick from the electrical box every morning. I would leave them there, as a warning (like a head on a pike), or to help aide them in their malfunctioning common sensibilities, but I’m afraid they’ll catch fire. At least it’s gratifying to disembowel the leviathan, to suck out the shiny black bodies from the colorful wires.

Last night I captured one and placed him inside my ashtray where he desperately, and with futility, tried scaling the convex glass walls. I could not decide whether it would be more merciful to kill this one ant, my prisoner, or let him return to his pack, where I would, almost undoubtedly, kill him later.

But I’m in no mood for boots tonight. I’m in no mood for anything. How like that tortured ant I am, here, suspended in the desert, except my walls are vast, vast horizontal expansions of red sand, with the occasional hopping marsupials as my chimerical jailers.

“All right spiders…I need you…” I say aloud. I do need them. Without them my cottage would be overrun by clouds of flying insects, the useless, irritating kind, the kinds that fly into your mouth, nose and ears, the nipping kind. I hate them all, especially the flies, and especially the ants. I walk over to the left corner, near the standing lamp. Four spiders have spun an expansive web together. There is only one ant in their web. “This is unacceptable!” I threaten to vacuum them as well if they don’t get to work. This one-sided conversation is tedious, usual. It’s the same with all the spiders; the Huntsman, the Wolf, the ones with the domino bodies and bright orange legs. “Please…I implore you…”

I go to the bathroom. There’s a new spider in the corner, its pathetic silk web is made entirely out of ants, meaning it had no reason for a web, meaning its web is a pile. I like the red diamond stripe across her bulbous black body, which looks as if it would secrete green goo when squeezed. Its vinyl legs are perched atop at least 44 ants. I could kiss it. “Where and how can I obtain more of you?” At this I raise my voice for all to hear, “Why can’t the rest of you be more like…Charlotte?”

I’m telling this story to Carey over Scrabble. I’m speaking slowly. We have a thick translation curtain between us. I can’t understand half of what he says. His signs are different from mine. His brain is puffy from years of copious alcohol consumption, and he eats very little, picking at kumquats and sucking on the salt water Pigface leaves. His leathery face and bloated stories remind me of salt. I am methodically picking at a kumquat, more interested in the wooden brain in the middle, then the small nuggets of savory fruit.

He stops listening to me and walks into the dunny. “You beauty! Get this fucker out of here!…one ripe bloody way to the hospital she is.”