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Ants

by Sherine Elbanhawy

Her home was spotless and smelled of springtime roses. She took tremendous joy in seeing it perfect. Adjusting the furniture so that the sun would hit just the right spot. Drawing the curtains only an inch and a half so that they looked elegant, yet did not darken the room. Her home was the perfect temperature; you never felt hot or cold. The smell of fresh baked goods drifted from the kitchen and they were in constant supply.

The nursery was just the right mix of pastels. The library had everything one’s heart could ever desire, from encyclopedias to comic books. It was the perfect treasure. Her bedroom mirrors were forever flattering. The bathrooms were scented, calm places of relaxation. She couldn’t ask for more.

She had just put the baby down and was baking when she spotted the first one. It was medium-sized and heading magnetically towards her oven. She reacted quickly and violently and smashed it out of existence. She took out the disinfectant and quickly got rid of any evidence of this disturbing intrusion. She glanced left and right to verify that not a single one would again consider entering her dominion.

The next day as she was alphabetizing the baby books, there it was happily strolling on the window sill. With a swift karate-like motion, she muted its movement forever. A disinfectant wipe later and it was as if it had never been.

She wanted to make sure that they were not taunting her — she would never put up with such defiance. She had a plan. She sewed up thirty long, wormy cushions of the same material as the drapes of each room, and filled each one with sand. Along every door, and every window sill, now lay a flowery cushion that would block any attempt made at entering her humble abode.

It had been a couple of days since the last appearance and she reveled in the comfort of knowing that she had protected her home, her baby, her family. She was setting the table, arranging her blue and white china which matched the silvery tablecloth. Her blue roses as the centerpiece today simply added to the perfection. She adored days like these when everything was as it should be. As she was putting the last touches on the dining table, she dropped one of the silver napkin rings. She bent to pick it up and was almost standing again, when by the side of the buffet table she saw something. She rushed to the corner and was mortified to find four of them naively going about their business. “No, no, no,” she yelled as if they would hear her and stop. Her calmness escaping for the first time, she stomped to the kitchen, grabbed the poisonous spray, and went rushing back. Within seconds, they had been obliterated. She then applied disinfectant, followed by her floral scented spray, then floor polish, and finally lit the candle scent diffusers. All this was to mask the transgression that had occurred.

She opened all the surrounding cupboards and vehemently checked under the rugs and alongside the walls. She could not spot any more. She would be able to sleep tonight because tomorrow she had called for an expert for reinforcement.

He arrived spot-on at the time she had asked. She stepped out of the front door to meet with him before entering. She was wearing her surgical face mask and was holding an extra one in her hand; in her other hand was a large bottle of hand sanitizer.

She proceeded to explain to him that it was her duty to protect her baby. So before stepping in, he must put on the mask, remove his shoes, and apply the hand sanitizer which she was holding up straight at him. Her instructions were so militarily toned and coupled with her glaring eyes, he complied automatically. She had thoroughly explained the crisis and he had reassured her that he would rectify the situation and restore the balance of her household. She committed to memory every single step he took and after he left she swiftly sterilized, vacuumed, and unscented his trail.

A week had gone by and she felt compelled to congratulate herself that she had single-handedly obliterated the imposition. Her husband should really be proud of her, for being so resourceful and efficient. She had yet again managed to assess the situation, find all possible solutions, chosen the most adequate and proceeded with its execution. All done without causing him any distress. Without adding to single gray hair of his.

More than a month had gone by, and she had forgotten what had happened. She had happily settled back into her routine. She wanted to make stained glass ornaments for the windows, so she went to pull out her craft box. Just as she was opening it, she was shocked and stumbled backward. She frantically rubbed her eyes to verify that what she was seeing was really there. An army of them, circling in the box. The reality was there, defying her, head on, in broad daylight. She sprinted to the kitchen, grabbed her gloves, her mask, and rushed back.

She took the box with all its contents and ran out into the street rushing toward the large garbage dumpster in the alley across the way. Her neighbors thought it was strange to see her outside in her house dress. She tossed the box with all its contents into the dumpster, and started rushing home. A thousand things were going through her mind: Had she left the baby alone? Had she left the front door open? Did she have her keys?

She was touching her pockets while moving back toward the home. She arrived at her front door and luckily found it open. She stood for a second to catch her breath. She then felt a sting and a desire to itch. She looked at her leg and there it was crawling up. She squished it on her leg with such vengeance, bruising herself, as if she deserved some punishment for having allowed something like this to disrupt her life. Then, she started thinking that there might be more on her, and she started feeling itchy again. She frantically started taking off her clothes on the door step, stomping on every piece of clothing, all the while examining her naked body to find any indication of invasion.

She stepped back into her home, leaving the soiled clothes outside, and triple-locked the door behind her. She checked on the baby and went straight into the shower to cleanse herself. The calculated scrubbing and washing of every inch of her body was tedious and frenzied, her red body seemed out of place in the middle of the scented calmness of the bathroom.

A heated phone conversation later, she explains to him how she will sue his company for every penny they’re worth because they are inefficient, unreliable, and simply un-exterminators. He yelled nasty atrocities at her, that she was a psycho controlling #$$#@!!!, that deserved what she got.

The following day she threw out every uncovered food item. She put out all the rugs and cushions onto her balconies. The neighbors thought it was odd because it was too early in the year for spring cleaning. She unloaded every cabinet and every shelf in her kitchen, disinfected it, and restacked it again. Every corner of the house, every cupboard, every closet was emptied, disinfected, reorganized, and restacked. During this time, she could not answer any phone calls. She told her husband he would have to find an alternative sleeping arrangement. She arranged for the babysitter to take the baby to her mother’s house and to stay there until further notice.

She worked frantically day and night. She wouldn’t stop. No one could stop her. She moved from one room to the next, corner by corner, checking every wall, every drawer, every piece of clothing, every shoe, every book, every vase, every valuable; she left nothing untouched. Everything was disinfected and returned to its place. She would fall asleep while holding the disinfectant in her hand and wake up to mechanically continue where she had left off. Her husband came and tried to impede her, saying that she had taken things too far. She clarified and pointed out how this was her duty, her responsibility, and that he should not worry and that within a few more days things would return to normal. Her words seemed to be of gold because soon enough, she had restored order and all was back as it should be.

Winter had turned into spring, and all that had happened was now a distant memory. It had seemed existential. As if it had happened to someone else or as if she had seen an awful horror movie. But she had forgotten about it and her baby had even already started to crawl. After feeding the baby, she took the plates as was her routine, put them in the dishwasher, and pressed the button to start it up. It wouldn’t start. She attempted several times and still got no response. She pulled the dishwasher out of its place under the countertop to check if it was plugged in properly. She pulled the plug out of the socket and tried another. The dishwasher still remained unmoved. Before putting it back, she decided to clean where it stood. After all, she hadn’t moved it in a long time. She grabbed her cleaning materials as she customarily did, got on her hands and knees, and started scrubbing the floor, and disinfecting it. A few minutes later she decided it was perfect. Just as she was crawling out, she noticed one more crumb near the floorboards; she went to wipe it away and her arm swung and unleashed a loose panel. She backed away silently. Her face became catatonic.

She walked out of the kitchen and double-locked the door. Headed for the baby, grabbed him, and double-locked the nursery room. Marched to her bedroom in mechanical strides, took her purse and car keys then took one last glance in her no longer flattering mirror, and double-locked the door. Walked to her front door, inhaled one long breath of her home’s musical scent, shivered, and triple-locked the door.

As she drove away a tear ran down her cheek.

 

All artwork is courtesy of Reda Khalil.

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