17 Jul A Problem With Ants
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"A Problem With Ants"Written by
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Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
:: TUESDAY ::
When it finds food, a single ant leaves a chemical trail which allows fellow ants to reach the same location with considerable ease. The chemical trail is strengthened with each passing ant, and soon enough hundreds can be seen in merry procession between their undisclosed palace and the occasional leftover.
Renée knew this because she once saw it, years ago, on a British documentary. The show was hosted by one handsome gentlemen, one that, she was not afraid to admit, made her blush. She admitted it to her friend. She admitted it to her daughter. She admitted it to her husband. Such confessions made her friend uncomfortable, her daughter angry and her husband, well, they had no effect on her husband. All for the better, she thought.
These memories came to her when she saw the tiniest of ants probing her dining room table for a reason to bring back a few friends. If Renée were to let it go, the reason would soon present itself in the form of a freshly baked pear pie, cooling down on top of the table.
Renée was expecting a few visits in the following days, regarding the recent disappearance of her husband, and so she couldn’t afford a problem with ants. That’s why she gave the black intruder an easy climb to her thumb, she let it stroll around for a bit, she let it find her nail, and then, only then, she smashed it between two nails. She was able to hear the most subtle and smooth of cracking sounds escaping the poor bastard. Renée smiled. Her hearing was still in impeccable shape.
:: WEDNESDAY ::
When preparing an infusion, great care must be taken with the temperature of the water and the time during which the herbs are left to brew. Fresh tea leaves call for water well bellow the boiling point, and should not be brewed for more than two minutes. Black tea needs boiling water, and to sit in it for around three minutes. Other herbs are more tolerant. They can be brewed in boiling water for up to seven minutes.
Renée knew this because she once heard a woman explaining it in one of those afternoon shows. At that particular moment, her bag of white tea, already dipped in hot water for far longer than it should, would probably be no better than dirt. She would need to prepare a new pot once the call was over.
“And that’s why I won’t make it today,” her daughter told her over the phone.
“That is quite a pity, Madeleine. I was looking forward to play with my grandson,” Renée replied. “I made you both a most delicious pear pie.”
“Will you forget about pie? We’ll be there Saturday. What did the police say?”
“About what, my dear?”
“About what? Are you shitting me? You called the police, didn’t you?”
“Madeleine, what have I told you time and again about your language?”
Her daughter was growing more impatient with each reply. “Have you called the police or not, mom?”
Renée hadn’t. She saw no purpose to it, of course, but others would. Her daughter most of all, and she didn’t want to upset her daughter, not in the slightest. “I am about to. You have no worries, no worries at all. How are things going for you with all the teaching?”
“My teaching? I don’t believe this. Father is missing, mom! Why are you always like this?”
At that moment, Renée noticed something wrong on top of her table, something wrong with her delicious pear pie. “You have a safe flight now, you ear?” she distraughtly told her daughter.
“For fuck’s sake, mom! I will call the police! Are you listening? I will do it, I will do it right now.”
“You do that, you do just that, my dear,” Renée replied, just before hanging up the phone. Her eyes were on all those black dots moving on top of the table, all those black dots moving all around the covered pie plate.
“Well, isn’t that a pity,” she told herself upon uncovering the pie and finding it swarming with ants.
:: THURSDAY ::
Port wine is a very sweet fortified wine that originates from the northern regions of Portugal. Although other countries produce wines similar to Port, they are not remotely comparable to the ones from those God blessed valleys that fall into the Douro river.
Renée knew this because her friend Justine brought her a few bottles of Ferreirinha from the liquor store. She didn’t even know how to say it, Fe-rrei-ri-n-ha, but it was the most delicious wine she had ever tasted, and one of the most expensives too. It was when the police officer started to look handsomer than it deserved, that she knew she had one more serving than was wise. Justine started laughing in the living room as Renée escorted the officer out.
“So, your daughter called the police,” said Justine, when they found themselves alone. “Not you?”
“So many wrong doings need their attention these days. I saw no reason to bother them.”
“Alphonse was a sweet man, Renée. I am sure he deserved more. Most unlike my own husband. I told you what he did?” Renée drew a sympathetic smile and drank a bit more wine. She knew the story by heart. “He went all unfaithful with me.”
“He did, didn’t he?”
“With a women full of youth.”
Renée corrected her. “Twenty three, you told me once. Or thrice.”
“Twenty three. All firm in her bosom and quick on her panties.” Renée laughed and Justine got up. “I feel indispose, Renée. I need to use your restroom.”
As Justine slowly walked out of the room, Renée raised her glass against the sun and stopped laughing. “Alphonse had a few secrets of his own, you know?”
Justine shouted from the restroom. “Did he, now?”
Renée knew she was now on the verge of tossing out too much of what she held inside. It was that darn sweet Ferreirinha, slowly taking her by the hand where she didn’t want to be taken, not with Justine, not with anyone. “He was having his way with children”, she said. Renée heard a small shriek from the restroom as response. “I was appalled too when I found out.”
“Oh, God!” shouted Justine.
“I confronted him, of course. No children, I told him. You must promise me, no children. And promise he did. He swore we would stop. Only he didn’t.”
“Oh, my God!” shouted Justine, louder than before.
“I found out he hadn’t stop a few years later. Oh, what fury did I unleash upon him. He cried and sobbed in front of me, but I was filled with rage. We are not monsters, I told him. And I repeated it, again and again, as I punished him. We are not monsters, Alphonse!”
That was the moment Justine screamed from behind her. Renée felt a shiver racing from her fragile skull to her osteoporosed toes. What happened next happened so fast that Renée’s hazed mind had trouble grasping it fully, and so only a few minutes after it was all over did she pick up the phone and called for an ambulance.
:: FRIDAY ::
Boric acid affects the metabolism of insects, and its dry powder form is abrasive to their exoskeletons. For this reason, it is a chemical commonly found in pest control poisons.
Renée knew this because the clerk at the local drug store told her as much when she went out to shop for something to deal with her ant problem. Renée was highly suspicious of industrial chemicals, and she used them as little as she could, but the former’s day incident was not to be ignored, specially not since the call came that morning.
And the call came to tell her Justine just passed away.
Renée was having a hard time remembering all the details from the previous afternoon. The little she remembered involved Justine crying Oh God! a few times over. At first Renée thought such was her reply to what she was hearing regarding Alphonse, but when she came running and screaming from the restroom, undergarment on her heels and a battalion of ants crawling up her legs, she knew otherwise. She had a strong visual recollection of Justine’s large body falling, arms raised like an alleluia. After that she remembered a handsome paramedic inside her house, taking her friend away with great care. “You’ll be all right, lady,” he told her. “You’ll be all well and good.”
From the damage in her living room, Renée was confident that Justine’s head went all the way into her porcelain’s dalmatian, but that was not what killed her, they said. She died from massive internal bleeding, they said. Preliminary observations suggest the bleeding was in her uterus, but an autopsy was needed, they said. Renée didn’t need an autopsy to know what caused the bleeding. She left her home immediately after the phone call, decided only to return when she had in her hands something like boric acid.
Once back inside her house, she proceeded with extreme caution. She had the restroom clean of ants the night before, with plenty of water and plenty of detergent. She now knew it wouldn’t be enough. She went there first, but the restroom had no sign of the small beasts. Cautiously, she inspected her kitchen, then the three bedrooms, then the study room, then all the cabinets and again the dining room. Every time she saw a crack in a wall or on the floor she would pour boric acid inside. But she didn’t find one ant, not a single one.
When she ran all out of house to search, she realized something. There was one place she didn’t look. “I see now,” she cried. “Oh, Alphonse, you monster! This is your doing!” She then went back to the study room, moved the carpet aside, and pulled open the trap door that lay beneath.
:: SATURDAY ::
During the previous two decades, one hundred and fifty five people were reported missing in the nearby towns. Eighty three of them would not be found alive ever again.
Renée knew this because she and her husband tortured and killed each one in a secret compartment in their house. Truth be told, Renée was not part of all the torture and all the killing. She never touched children, of course, and when she found out Alphonse was doing it she resorted to everything she could to stop him. “Only monsters kill children, and we are not monsters,” she told him. He did succeed in killing nine sobbing infants, four boys and five girls. This was what a slightly drunk Renée was telling her daughter that Saturday afternoon. “So don’t come into my house talking about him like you would of a saint,” she cried, while savoring one more sip of Port.
Madeleine was covering her son’s ears with her hands. Then she told him, “Go to the study room, you go and you stay there until I go get you.” The boy did as he was told, and the door closed behind him. Renée went on with her story.
“I thought that last time would truly be his last, but then your boy was born, and this year he reached the age at which he picked them. I saw how he looked at my sweet grandson, I knew it in my heart that he would sooner or la – ” Madeleine stopped her with a violent slap. The wine glass shattered at the kiss of the floor, staining the carpets all over. She then held her mother by her arms and shook her like she was casting the devil away.
“Are you deranged? Are you fucking mad? What are you talking about? I’ll put you in a fucking institution! Where’s father? Where is my father?”
“I’m trying to explain it to you,” Renée begged. “What I did to your father, I did to protect your son, my grandson. I am not a monster.”
“A monster? You are telling me you are not a fucking monster?”
“The swearing, dear, please stop it.”
“Fuck the fucking swearing. Fuck you,” and she slapped her mother once more.
Her son cried from the open study door. “Mom?” Madeleine shouted him back. “Go back to that room and close the door.” The boy did as he was told.
“You go easy on your boy, Mad-” Madeleine slapped her again. And then again. Renée tasted something different from Port. She tasted blood. She looked up at her daughter and, for the first time, she was afraid.
Madeleine’s eyes were predators, her voice was a predator, each word a sharp claw. “You fucking tell me what you did to father, or, so help me God, I don’t know what I’ll do to you.”
Renée started to cry. “I killed him, of course,” she said. “I had to. I did it in our secret room. But then I got ants all over the house, and I went down there, and I found out his body was covered with them. It was his body that was bringing them, summoning them. He was commanding the ants, you see? And those ants killed Justine, Madeleine. You see what monster he is? Our dear Justine! But I went down there again, I confronted him one last time, yes I did. I took poison with me, and I poured it all over his body. We’ll be fine now, we’ll be safe, dear! It was boric acid!”
Renée stopped talking. Madeleine was still holding her by her harms, sketching bruises where her fingers touched. For a brief moment there was nothing but the sound of mother and daughter panting like they where one.
“Why are you doing this?” Madeleine asked, her eyes all tears. “Why?”
“You have always liked him better, Madeleine, but you loathed me. Why? He was the monster. He. Not me.”
The boy’s timid voice came once again from the study room. “Mom?”
Madeleine was getting ready to shout her son back to the study room, but then she saw his face. Only she didn’t see his face, she didn’t see his eyes, his nose or his mouth. All she could see was his head covered in black, the deep black of furious ants.
It took Renée fifteen minutes to get up from where her daughter left her when she ran from the house with her son in her arms. During that time the walls got slowly covered in black, as did the floor and the furniture. It was when the ants started to cover her whole body that she decided to go down the trap door one last time.
A few seconds later smoke started to come out. By evening the whole house was burnt to the ground.
:: SUNDAY ::
A severe burn victim is frequently placed in a medically induced coma. Typical analgesics are ineffective to relieve patients as they are treated. If awaken, these victims experience excruciating pain.
Madeleine knew this because she worked as a teaching anesthesiologist in a university hospital near the capital. Before, Madeleine used to work at her local hospital, but the new job payed better, and her husband worked nearby. For the past three years she lived a two hour flight away from her parents and her friends.
“Firefighters pulled your mother out before it was too late,” the doctor said. “But I won’t lie to you, Madeleine. With these burns, well, I don’t think she’ll make it.”
“I understand,” Madeleine replied.
“We will do our best. You know we will.”
Madeleine nodded. The doctor placed her next question with caution. “Madeleine, what happened?”
Madeleine didn’t answer. “I mean, the police came with her, and I’ve heard things, about bodies found beneath your house.”
“Not my fucking house.”
“I understand, but -”
“Listen, I know I shouldn’t, I know the rules, but can you find a way for me to stay with my mother tonight? Just for this one night? For old times sake.”
And this was how Renée got to see her daughter one last time. It wasn’t, however, the most pleasurable of experiences.
Late in the night, when the hospital’s roar calmed to a low hum, Madeleine disconnected her mother from all the monitors and alarms, then she woke her up from the coma. The suffering was probably unbearable, but Renée had her throat in such a condition it was impossible for her to scream. Madeleine knew this. She also knew the pain would rapidly throw her mother into a syncope, and so she gave her small adrenaline injections, enough to keep her awake and aware, not enough to shut down her heart.
That was all Madeleine did before siting in front of her mother’s bed. She didn’t speak. She didn’t touch. She just observed. She observed as her mother tried to move her burnt arms, as she tried to move her burnt fingers, as she tried to move her lipless mouth. Madeleine noticed how her mother never shed a tear from all the pain. She assumed her lacrimal canals were probably roasted meat at that point.
She wondered why she wasn’t crying herself.
Hours later the sun rose from the hills and Madeleine rose from the chair. Her mother followed her movements with fearful eyes. Madeleine wanted to say something, something painful, something final, but she felt empty, she couldn’t find the words, and so she returned her mother back into her coma and left the room.
:: EPILOGUE ::
Two months after her mother died, Madeleine lost her first patient. She was washing her hands when the chief surgeon came storming in. “What the hell happened in there?”
Madeleine’s reply came stone solid. “The correct dosage was administrated. Patient had unforeseeable allergic reaction.”
There was a problem with Madeleine’s reply. The problem with Madeleine’s reply lay in the fact that it was a lie. The truth was she had recently found out that she came from a house of monsters, and so she needed to test herself, she needed to know.
Now she knew.
Credit To – Rohnes Loraf
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