There had been, I realize now, three factors that conduced to a recent collapse of harmony between me and my girlfriend Annie. The lead factor, not surprisingly, was money-related, specifically the long night I spent organizing the final financial report that I was to give to Mr. H, the attorney I’d hired to file my Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The document did not augur fortune and so put the both of us in a high, saber-rattling grump.
The other two factors − which may best be considered a binary force − had been at work for weeks already: insects and heat. Annie does not like insects very much. I do not like insects very much. The old house Annie and I rent is ventilated with gaps and fissures and sinuses and other corridors that pop open in the dotage of any structure, rendering our house in particular about as well-insulated as a tree fort. Just as we humans here in central Texas are at present bedeviled by a merciless heat wave (106°F and 80% steam every goddamn day!), so are our bugs and arthropoda: we all want to be indoors, in bed, luxuriating under swamp box coolers and noshing on Donettes.
The untypical weather is driving inside not only the regulars − tree roaches, longhorn crazy ants, scorpions, cicadas, walking sticks − but also fauna I’ve never seen before, and which have even eluded field-guide authors. There’s a little black flying beast not unlike a Sikorsky Blackhawk but absolutely silent and given to suddenly halting mid-flight and falling in the bed or the laundry basket or my chowder. It’s a hard little bloke, feeling underfoot much like a jack.
And then there’s an especially violent creature, a member of whose species somehow trapped itself in the mailbox one night, wherein it threw such a body-slamming temper tantrum it made the cat puff up. Alarmed, I opened the door to see what was going on − it sounded like woodchipper eating a drum kit − and the thing shot out of the mailbox and zipped into the house and up into the smoke vent over the stove. As far as I know it’s still there, waiting to emerge and eat my soft organs in the night.
But the worst of the émigrés is the slut spider. I named her that because as soon as she gets inside she climbs up into a corner of the ceiling and issues a sac of babies, which, when hatched, drift away by the score on strands of web, often passing through my line of sight on their way to copulate and whelp in other high corners of the house. They even suck at spidering; I’ve never seen one catch so much as a fruit fly.
Still, I’ll put up with cryptozoology to have air conditioning. At no time was I more certain of this than during a recent power failure. It happened during a nap. We woke in lakes of sweat. I was sure the power had been shut off because I was late − quite late − in paying the bill, the car note always taking priority by a nose. But the shame, panic, and growing discomfort confederated to convince us that it would be fine, just his once, to embezzle a couple hundred bucks from Annie’s A.A. group’s petty cash fund. So done, I ran to the grocery store and paid the bill. Only later did I learn that it had been a block-wide outage, brought on by block-wide overuse of air conditioning.
All the factors were in place for a fight. Generally Annie and I are not the ashtray-pitching type of couple (though both of us have been in relationships that included such acts), or even the hollering kind, but rather the quiet signal-flaring kind. After I gave Annie an ugly, pouty signal (whose nature I choose to suppress), I received in response the double-bird signal. By virtue of a punishing silence that somehow turned into a wickedly uncomfortable night on the sheet-less and pillow-less cat-lacerated plastic divan, I signaled back that my feelers were so badly hurt by her double bird that she’d forced me to punish myself with a tossing-and-turning night, and that she ought to feel guilted into contrition and apology. She signaled that she owed me none such by walking out of the house and going to see Brüno by herself. With face signals, I made her feel bad about liking it. She looked for apartments on Craigslist. I signaled with another galling night on the divan in the society of wreaking bugs and heat. We kept up this dialogue for a day or two, and then, having finally wrung all the guilt out of each other, we made up. It was in the post-mortem that we identified the vera causa of our discord.
All the factors remain, though. But the bankruptcy will be more or less over in a couple of weeks (at which time I’m allowed to earn money again without fear of wholesale garnishment); the heat will disperse in November; and the bugs will…
Well, they’re here forever.