Moths

 *This short story is a work in progress, please feel free to tell me what you think of it. Thanks.*

The sold sign (subject to contract) in front of the “two bedroom terraced starter home with garage” was being taken down. The estate agent trundled the sign to his van and deposited it in the back. Walking back to the front of the house he smiled and reached into his pocket to withdraw a shiny set of keys.

Holding the keys out he said, “May I now officially present you with the keys to your new home.”

Frank and Liz Donovan both reached reflexively for the keys. They burst into pleased laughter and Liz reluctantly lowered her hand to allow Frank the privilege. As Frank’s hand grasped the keys, the estate agent smiled.

“Good luck in your new home sir.”

“Thanks.” Frank turned to Liz. “Honey, get Bethany will you?”

Bethany, their highly energetic 18 month old daughter, was inspecting something in the grass with impressive concentration. Looking up at Liz’s approach, Bethany stood up from her crouching inspection to point at the object of her intense scrutiny.

“Bug, Mummy, bug.”

“Yes dear,” Liz said. She held her hands out.

“Cuddle?”

Bethany’s attention diverted, she forgot the bug and ambled drunkenly over to Liz.

“Cuddoo? Cuddoo?”

Picking her baby up, Liz glanced uneasily at the spot where Bethany’s bug apparently resided.

Probably just a beetle, she thought.

She shivered slightly and decided not to tell Frank about it. He hated bugs even more than she did, to the point of phobia. Whereas she could at least force herself to kill them, Frank froze up completely when confronted with any multi-legged creature.

Frank

Frank stood looking proudly at their new home.  Well, not exactly new, Frank thought wryly, a little over three years old if you wanted to be truthful about it. But it was their “new” home at any rate.

At the wrong side of 35 and stuck in a promotional slump in his civilian job for the USAF, and living in a foreign country to boot; Frank had given up hope of ever owning his own home.

A letter from his best friend who retired back in the states a year ago had done little to assuage Frank’s feelings of frustration. The letter contained pages of information about his friend’s new house.  John called it his “Sticks and Bricks” retirement house. John had gotten a nice lump sum out of his retirement package and that had gone toward buying the house.

Frank had called John and they’d had a good laugh over the phrase “Sticks and Bricks.” After he’d finished his call, he made up a rhyme: “sticks and bricks and mortar and stone, I’ve got to find a home of my own.”

Liz said that it wasn’t funny. That is sounded forced and contrite. Frank thought she was right, so he didn’t repeat the rhyme again.

At least not out-loud, in his mind the rhyme had become some sort of nagging chant. It was caught in an endless loop that played non-stop until he thought he’d go crazy.

As he squeezed the house keys in his hand he thought, ‘Got it now Dad. I’ve got a house now. I’m not a loser anymore old man.’ With a lump threatening to form in his throat he turned to hurry Liz and Bethany along.

Liz

Liz felt as though someone had taken all her breath away. ‘Our first home,’ she thought, ‘maybe now it will all seem real.”  At twenty-five Liz still couldn’t believe that she was married to this strange, maddening American; even though it had been six years and one baby ago when they’d “tied the knot.”

They had met at the village pub. He was hard not to notice; back then he had looked sad, older and lonely. He would come in every night and drink on average forty gin and tonics while quietly chatting to the old men at the bar. He would then stand just before closing time and, apparently sober, wish everyone a good night.

He would walk out the door ramrod straight without a trace of stagger. Liz was fascinated by this dark-haired, hard-drinking, stranger and she decided to find out what made him seek refuge in a bottle.

After finally meeting, they started a short furious affair that culminated in marriage before he was posted to Holland. Maybe Holland was why none of this seemed real. They only spent three months as a couple before they’d left. Now they were facing her home country for the first as a family.

As Liz headed up the path to Frank and their new house she thought, ‘England. God it was good to be home.’

Happy families

She smiled as she joined Frank. ‘Home owners,’ she thought slipping her hand in his as they walked toward the door. Bethany pointed to the front of the house, “Owse? Owse?”

“Yes dear,” Frank said, “Our owse.”

Bethany had started this two-word repetition about a month ago. Frank found it hysterically funny along with her mispronunciation of bedroom (dreadboom) and scarecrow (carescrow). Winking at Bethany and Liz, he put the key in the door lock. Turning the key, he bowed his head. “Won’t you come in Madame and mademoiselle?”

Liz laughed as she swept through the door with Bethany in her arms. “Why thank you monsieur.” She went into the kitchen and stopped in front of the sink. She stood with Bethany and looked out the window. Frank stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders and they watched for the moving van to arrive.

The house seemed uncomfortably warm after the damp cold outside. The nighttime storage heating that they had so worried about seemed to be doing a fine job. As they looked out the window, a moth fluttered madly around the kitchen light bulb.

Bethany pointed to it and whispered, “Moff? Moff?” As if she knew neither Mummy nor Daddy would be pleased at its presence.

When the big van pulled up in front of the house, Bethany’s attention was drawn to the big men who came out of the van. They stood smoking and consulting their map as Frank jogged down to them and told them that they were at the right place.

Liz put the kettle on for a cup of tea for the men and Bethany watched the moth as it was joined by another one, fluttering and smacking the dead bulb.

The House

The house was a standard two bedroom “starter home.” So called because it was so small that only a couple starting out could live in it. Space was at a premium. Entering the front door you encountered a short hallway with the kitchen off to the left. Go forward two steps and you entered the living room/dining room. The left side of the room contained the stairway to the bedrooms and one bathroom. The ceiling at the top of the stairs had an attic entrance.

The garage was detached from the actual building and housed in a block with two others. Frank knew that this would soon be the overflow for the house and that it would be full of boxes that had place to go yet.

Both the house and the garage were encased in red brick with redwood stained trim. Everything about the house shouted new and it was in one of “the neighborhoods.” Almost exclusive, most certainly snobbish and very definitely “up-town.”

Over the next two weeks Frank and Liz unloaded boxes and chased after Bethany. By the end of the second week, Frank’s nerves were frazzled. Bethany had gotten into everything and Liz had kept the windows open the entire time, letting in every insect from the neighborhood.

Sipping on a beer, Frank observed for the tenth time that day that he was amazed that the English didn’t have window screens. “Look at all the things that come in. We might as well be living outside.” Liz looked up from her unpacking, “I know dear, I grew up here, remember?”

Frank set his beer down hard, foam running from the top of the can. “Is that a spider?” He pointed to a dark spot on the wall. Liz stood up quickly. “Where?”

Frank frozen in place, thrust his finger out, “over there, by the hall door.”

Liz leaned toward the dark spot, squinting. “No, it’s only a moth.” Moving closer she took a jiffy cloth from her back pocket. “Got you.” She smashed the cloth down hard on the moth.

“Creepy things,” she said. There was a small brown toxic looking smear on the wall where she’d killed the moth. “Just look at that,” she shuddered, “Disgusting things, aren’t they?”

The Cat

The cat arrived from the kennel where she’d been in solitary confinement, as Frank liked to put it. The poor thing had to stay in isolation for six months because of the draconian animal laws intended to keep rabies out of the country.

During the cats stay at the kennels, Clover (what a stupid name for a cat, Frank thought, but didn’t say) had gotten ridiculously attached to him. Liz refused to see Clover while she was in “nick” as Frank had taken to calling the poor animal’s enforced kennel time. So he’d had to visit the cat and bring treats and spend some time playing with it so, “She won’t forget us poor lamb.”

The end result was that Clover became Franks cat instead of Liz’s. He had taken to just calling her cat instead of Clover. His grandfather had called every dog or cat he’d ever owned just that, Dog or Cat. It made sense to Frank. In order to keep Liz from biting his head off, he changed the cat’s name to CC. It seemed to work fine as the animal pretty much answered to anything.

After the cat regally ignored everyone in the family, she went upstairs and sniffed each room and the carpet. She went into the bathroom and flopped in front of the small open window at the back of the room.

Frank, Liz and Bethany went out for some KFC at the new place that had just opened down the road. Leaving CC to her own devices. A gust of wind through the open window blew the bathroom door shut. The same gust then slammed the window shut.

The cat could care less. She laid her head down and flopped on her side and began to lackadaisically lick her stomach. A moth suddenly appeared and started bashing against the closed window.

CC immediately froze in mid-lick. She watched the moth and went back to licking and then she lay on her side again.

The cat couldn’t rest. She watched the fluttering moth with eyes so wide they threatened to swallow her face. Suddenly she leaped; paws clasping like little hands. She landed, twisted, and leapt up again.

The single moth she’d been chasing was joined by another as she leapt higher and tried to grab both these noisy fluttery things. The two moths became three; then they were joined by another and another.

The room was suddenly full of these maddening creatures. The moths bounced off the window, the walls, and the light bulb.

Tink, thwack, tink.

The noise increased with the mad fluttering of the tiny wings. It became deafening. The cat ran and jumped halfway up the wall swiping frantically at the insects. Faster and faster she ran and jumped until her sides heaved and her tongue lolled.

She tried to stop but she couldn’t. The moths continued to swirl and dive, now bashing into her face as well as her body. The moths focused their crazy fluttering attacks on the cat, driving her mad with the desire to catch these things.

Her jumps became shorter and she staggered when she landed and when she tried to run. Defeated she slumped to the ground too tired to even lick herself. The moths fluttered and jerked while she watched. Her sides pumped trying to draw more air into her exhausted and empty lungs. Gathering herself, she made one last launch into the air.

When she landed, she did not move again.

Copy-write Michael E Smith 14/03/2013

 

An Arkansas Razorback in Queen Elizabeth Country 3

Flats for let.

My cold-water flat was getting claustrophobic. Despite having a huge window, the room was oddly airless. Smells seemed to ‘dig’ into the room, refusing to leave no matter how much you ‘aired’ it out.

The final straw came when a girlfriend, after a particularly amorous night, threw up a horrible mixture of Yukon Jack and cheese savouries on my duvet. This momentous event occurred while I was in my communal toilet and she struggled to reach the sink which was  an arm’s length away.

Our relationship sort of cooled after that night though the memory of it remained. I was reminded of it every time I entered the flat. Despite air fresheners and freezing the room out by leaving the window wide open in the winter, the smell lingered. Even the duvet’s chemical smell from the dry cleaners didn’t mask the rooms pong.

As I went to pay my monthly rent to the landlady, I noticed someone was moving from a huge ground floor flat. I inquired about it and Lady Luck was on my side. No one else had even looked at the flat yet, so I transferred my deposit from my tiny flat to the new huge one. I was able to move my things the same day.

The new flat was an old shop, I don’t remember what type of shop it had been, but, it still had the full window street footage in front. A giant floor length curtain covered the room sized window and it was separated from the rest of the flat by a ‘false’ wall.

My front door was a glass ‘French’ door. As you walked in the flat if you looked immediately to the right you could see another door that led into another flat. This door, though permanently locked, was very thin and let a lot of sound through. One night my ‘neighbour’ had two local ladies in for entertainment.

They were very vocal about their obvious enjoyment of my neighbour’s love-making techniques. When the noise began to mimic the ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ moment in the diner, I banged on the door.

“Hey!”, I said. “Either keep it down or invite me in!”

There was a startled silence followed by muffled whispering. I did not receive an invite, but they did lower the decibel levels of their appreciation. I took a couple of cold showers and was finally able to go sleep.

Back at the front door, if you looked to the left you had the sleeping area and a door leading to a short hallway. The hallway when entered from my end had a shower room to the right and a little further down from the shower room was the toilet.

The toilet was a small windowless room with a door that was hard to close. The door itself had ‘bolt’ lock on it. The ‘bolt’ lock was as hard to use, old and a bit rusty, you had to really shove the damn thing to lock the door.

At the other end of the hallway was the other flat that I shared the shower and toilet with. He was a nice enough chap who had a lot of fondness for drink. I can honestly say, I don’t ever remember seeing him sober.

He was a very amiable ‘drunk’ who liked to laugh and loved getting ‘massages’ from the local working girls which he paid for in steaks bought from the USAF commissary for a couple of dollars that would have cost a fortune if purchased down town.

One day I came home from work and really needed to use the toilet. Rushing in, I ran for the littlest room in the flat only to find it closed and locked. Peeved, I went back to my flat and waited for a minute or two.

Nature was dying to take it’s course and I soon rushed back to the toilet door. Trying the door again, I found it was still closed tight and locked. I tapped on the door.

Frank? Dude, I really need the toilet. Can you hurry up?”

Silence. I knocked louder.

Still nothing.

I was worried now. What if my drunken neighbour had passed out in there? What if he had died in there.

This time I kicked the door. Hard.

“Frank!”

Panicked now, I pushed myself back against the narrow hall’s outside wall and shoulder down slammed against the toilet door. I had to do this two or three times before the door smashed open.

The door rebounded off the inside wall and something tinkled on the floor.

The room was empty. There was no slumped body on the actual toilet or on the floor. The only thing in the toilet was the door frame bracket for the bolt lock. Looking at the inside of the door, I saw that the bolt lock tongue was protruding.

The door had been locked and the only way to lock it was from the inside. 

It was impossible to lock the door from the outside.

So who in the hell had locked it? Or more accurately, what had locked it.

After I was finally able to answer my ‘call of nature’ I got a screwdriver and re-attached the bolt lock’s end bracket to the frame. I went to the pub and promptly forgot all about it.

One week later, I came home from work and went through the little hall to use the toilet. The door was hanging forlornly off of one hinge. I drug the door closed and paid my compliments to Mother Nature. As I came out, Frank exited his room and faced me in the hallway.

“Hey Holmes (Frank called everybody Holmes) I got home today and I really needed to use the toilet. I come in here and the door’s closed and locked.” He pointed to the door. “I thought that you were in there and I left. You know? Then when things got a little more urgent, I decided to knock and ask you to hurry up. You know? But you didn’t answer Holmes, cause you weren’t in there. But I didn’t know that. I thought that you were like, passed out or had a heart attack or somethin’. So I kicked the friggin door open? And Holmes? There wasn’t any body in there!”

He looked at me, clearly puzzled. “Holmes? How did that damn door lock itself?”

Shaking my head, I recounted my bathroom adventures from the week before. We both decided that we’d better fix the door back on its hinges and not tell the landlady that we were trying to destroy her property.

The door went back on the hinges no problem, but the bolt lock bracket was a little worse off. It hung loosely on the door frame and the bolt that slid into it was very wobbly.

Exactly one week later, I returned home to find the door closed and ‘locked’ again with no one inside. This time, however, it was very easy to force the door open. I told the landlady about the ‘self locking’ door when I moved.

Everyone I told about the door said the same thing. “The place must be haunted.” My ‘new’ girlfriend, after looking at the door and the room, said the same. “There is no way ‘humanly’ possible to lock that door from the outside. It’s definitely a ghost or poltergeist or something.”

I never did find out what had locked that door, but I did move. I had a mate at work who had rented a huge house in the country and wanted someone to split the rent with him. He asked me if I was interested.

I said yes and then moved into a house that was more haunted than the flat I’d just moved from.

Doors

We all know what doors are. Put in the simplest terms a door is an opening into another area. Going through a door signifies entering or exiting a room or space. It is an act of “going through.” And of course going through a door means you’ve crossed a threshold.Thresholds are very symbolic. Take for example the tradition of “carrying the bride over the threshold,” this last act of the marriage ceremony symbolizes the bride and groom entering their new life together as a couple. The groom, provided he is strong enough, carries the bride through the door. I assume that the groom having to do this symbolizes his having to “carry” (spelt support) the wife throughout their life as a couple. And yes, I agree, that is a very old fashioned chauvinistic way to read it. But considering the amount of time that this custom has been around, I think it is an accurate reading.

In life we are always going over thresholds. Everyday we come to doors and have to make the choice to enter or leave. I am of course talking about metaphysical doors here and not real doors. But I think that these metaphysical doors are more important and life changing than real doors. Don’t get me wrong, going in or out of real doors can be life changing. I am just choosing to talk about the “unreal” doors for the moment.

This talk of entering and exiting doors really equates to the thresholds we encounter everyday in our lives. Crossing these thresholds can result in life changing events. Other times the threshold has no consequence to our lives or our destiny, so we can cross with impunity. Often we cross thresholds, never knowing that we have done so. It is only with the advent of “hind sight” that we can clearly see where we have changed our future.

And sometimes, even with this 20-20 hind sight, we never see the threshold that has altered our perceived future.

Doors come in the guise of many things. New job opportunities, accidents, injuries, marriage, divorce, and of course death.  Some of the doors and their thresholds are allegorical and metaphysical, for example the custom referenced above of the bride and groom. Others are very real like your own front door.

My grandfather used to say that you never knew what was going to happen to you when you went out of your own front door. “You can get run down by a damned bus going to collect your mail!” I think he was right. I think that even if we know where and when these doors are meant to be opened, or conversely closed, we don’t know what the end result will be. When we cross these thresholds our life’s path is still  uncertain.

I think that is how it should be.

If we all knew where we were going to end up, would we still make the trip? I believe that knowing our end destination would spoil our journey and a lot of folks would not even bother to start it. And like Pepe LePew says, “Getting there is half the fun!”