The Ants

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It was right after Goli’s visit. She’d spent most of her time sitting at the kitchen table, looking at me with her sarcastic stare, or walking in the backyard, counting her steps or maybe looking for something lost. After she left, I lay on the sofa while watching The Biggest Loser, my eyes suddenly falling into a deep darkness. When I woke up the stench of something rotten tickled my nose. I was dreaming, I thought. I rose, followed the smell and went to the kitchen. As I opened the drawer under the microwave, I saw them: hundreds of dead ants.

Goli was short and round like a ball, like the globe, like the circle of her face, like the black ring of her eyes, like the shape of her hair, like the perplexity of her mouth. Everything about her was round, except maybe her voice. She wore skimpy dresses she bought at flea market for 5 bucks. “Guess how much?” she asked right before leaving for my literary group. She was rolling her tongue around the pink bubble of her gum. “Sixty bucks,” I said, not even trying to sound honest. She wrote poetry at night and worked on her PHD thesis during the day. “Writing poems is essential for me,” she said, throwing at me her golden smile. The fake tooth shone at the side of her lips. She didn’t look like any other philosophy PHD student I knew. She wasn’t a copy of Sylvia Platt either. Her tone was arrogant, like her glare, and the way she chewed gum, with mouth half open, like holding a silent laughter inside, like teasing people around us and the world and even me. She looked around the living-room. “You don’t get it,” she told me and I nodded, trying to recall how we knew each other.

On the night of her arrival, she threw herself on a chair, grabbed a cigarette from her gigantic purse, shaking it nervously and raised her eyebrows like asking me if it was ok to smoke.

I shrugged, thinking of ten million possible reasons to convince her that it was a really bad idea.

“You see, all you do is to write bad poetry,” she said, lighting the cigarette. The air filled with a sudden sense of danger. She might be on a mission to kill me. She might try to start a fire in the house, or to destroy all my poems, I thought.

“I’m learning,” I replied shyly.

She laughed out loud. “Don’t even try,” she said. “It’s useless. You can’t learn poetry. It must be in your blood. But look at you! You’re nobody. You’re just a miserable wanna-be-poet.”

I took a few deep breaths. Who was this woman who didn’t even know me and still she could see my true nature, my fake attitude, my pretentiousness, my failures, this woman who was just a step away from crushing all my dreams.

I wanted to rise and to escape her poison. I didn’t want to sit there, in my own house and to listen to her endless uttering of how misunderstood she was. “They’re all a bunch of stupid fags, not that I hate gays. Actually I am bi-sexual.” She stared at me waiting for my reaction but I was so tired and my head hurt so much that I couldn’t even give her this last little lie. She could have told me that she was a fugitive criminal rapist and I’d have believed her with no surprise.

“I used to love a girl,” she said, her voice changing into a tender vibe.

“I’ve prepared the guest room for you,” I replied, stepping back toward a room where she wasn’t there.

On the first day of her stay, we went to Beverly Hills where she tried Gucci dresses and Channel boots. All the sellers of the signs of richness looked at her in disbelief. No, I mean with a tease in their glare. Still, she didn’t care. “I used to act in plays,” she said, chewing her gum nervously. She must have been terrible, I thought. “Nice,” I replied, avoiding her eyes, checking the time, wondering how longer I had to keep her company.

On the second day of her stay, we went to my literary group. Goli was a total disaster: from walking in the Malibu house with her camera on and taking pictures every two minutes to her throwing mocking stares at every writer who was reading their piece as if she knew better, as if she was above all of us, as if she floated in that empty space between us and the ceiling. The hostess looked at me raising her eyebrows like telling me what the hell…(Note to self: you need to stop reading into people’s raised eyebrows. This is all in your own head. Maybe they are just trying to tell you how much they are happy to see you and your new friend.) Did I say “friend”? In the midst of her outrageous rudeness, while she was laughing out loud at the poor quality of one of the respected members of the group, I was tempted to go to everyone in the party and tell them that Goli wasn’t really my friend. “This woman just happened to be in my car, but believe me, I have no clue who she is,” I kept telling them in my head, in a believable voice. “None of my friends are this rude. I am a good person. Harmless. Harmless. I’m not lying. Please believe me.”

“You are scared of everything: scared of bugs and downtown LA. You are scared of the blacks and homosexuals,” she told me during our fight that night. I kept quiet and didn’t reply that I was only scared of her. In fact, I was only scared of myself, scared of my own silence, and this huge fear of confrontation. I was able to lie, to kill a bit of my soul, just for making up a façade where I could hide behind.

“I didn’t know you were so rude,” I dared to say. “I loved your poetry, and I imagined you must be like your poems.”

“I’m leaving,” she said. It was 3 AM.

“Good,” I said, relieved…but she didn’t leave. She had nowhere to go, so she just said sorry.

And finally she left on the fourth day, the house infested with creatures I had never seen before, ants crawling at my doorway, under the bed, over the kitchen counter and at the edge of every window. The sink was blackened with agitating beings, unsure of their right to exist.

I called a terminator. The guy looked gentle. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll clean up this mess.”

I handed him the house key, walking away, hoping that once we were back my poems would be waiting for me, and all the intruders gone.

Our hotel suite smelled like bleach. The blue of the walls reminded me of a hospital. Boys seemed excited for having room service, as if it was something new. As if in every day of their life they hadn’t been served with wishes and desires. The view from the window put my husband to sleep. I curled on the futon, pretending to watch TV, but in fact I was in a deep internal discussion with Goli.

“Poetry must be the only thing that matters,” she said, pointing at my husband arguing with the boys over their grades. There was something like a transparent curtain separating me from the space of the argument.

Poetry wasn’t my everything, I thought. It was true that I had a loving husband and two monstrous teenagers I loved to death. But honesty, what does “loving to death” mean, in reality? Word by word, would anyone still hold to love despite the menacing death-threat of some imaginary enemy with their you-stop-loving-or-you-die thing, or loving so much that anything else, including breathing and eating and thinking, would become impossible? My way of loving had always been vague, without a specific contour, like the fog in scary movies, like the darkness of sleepless nights, like the underneath meaning of Hedayat’s Blind Owl. I told myself – a million times a day- that I could always live without poetry. Goli was right. I hadn’t suffered. I hadn’t experienced first-hand-torture. Nobody had beaten me up. I hadn’t witnessed a beloved’s death with my own eyes. I hadn’t died during all those years I lived without writing. Actually, I was even more successful in a non-writing job. Goli could see through my lies, my fake lines of sorrowful whining. She was my mirror, my reflection.

I turned and watched my husband snoring quietly on the bed. Kids were already asleep. The night was creeping inside the room, and into my eyesight. I pushed it away so I could keep thinking of Goli, so I could torture myself with her slimy figure, crawling over my bookshelf, chewing her gum, making bubbles and poking them over my precious copies of Beckett and Sartre, brushing her fingers over my books as if they were hers and I remembered the meaning of the Nausea in my mouth. Goli looked like a worm. No like a snake.

Her venom had no cure.

“No more ants,” the terminator said, giving me back the keys. “They’re all dead.”

I thanked him and we entered the house. It smelled like conquering death and chemicals. My books looked untouched, still in their usual orderly disorder.

Boys rushed to their rooms and I dropped the suitcase with a sigh of relief.

Life was back to normal.

But I was wrong.

Since her departure, since our return, I’ve lost my poetry. It’s nowhere to be found. I look into the deepest corners of my head and all I find is a smirk and a voice. I need to find it no matter what. I am going to be brave. I will put an ad in a newspaper. I will inspect every spot in the house, in the garage and in the attic, in the closets we never open, under the china we never use, over the roof. I will search the neighborhood, the city, the far alleys of my childhood and I will call every damn poet I know and I’ll ask them: “By any chance, haven’t you seen my pile of black poetry?”

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About lifeacrossthesun

Writer/ 2011 PEN USA Emerging Voices fellow
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