WE STARTED our life together in clean, organised bliss. Our house was a design of prefab bookshelves (all in white) that held just the right amount of things. No double layers of books. No preposterous assortment of travel knick-knacks. That was just the way Liz liked it. Not what I was used to, for sure, but I liked it too. It had a fresh touch, with small hints of our previous lives hidden among the right amount of framed photos.
We met online, and connected over the experience of both growing up in small town on Vancouver Island. She talked about how she missed the lake in the summer, and the quiet content feeling of the street she grew up on. But she also talked about how she was attached to the city, and I nodded in agreement with these words. Liz loved to talk, and I was a man who was content to listen. She brought her hands up to her chest as she spoke, in small gestures that never expanded beyond the width of her body.
We were both in our late thirties when we met, and just wanted to settle down. At that point, Liz’s anxiety had left her little energy to actively pursue relationships. She wanted something that was easy. We could both go about our business, but in the same circle of space.
We’d both been in a few serious relationships before. Mine didn’t end well because of my firm inability to do more than is required, and hers often went south because of her condition, which her previous partners often found they didn’t have the patience for when it really came down to it. But while I am, admittedly, deeply lazy, I don’t lack patience.
So I’d sit and hold Liz when she needed it. I’d wait with her at the doctor’s office. I’d help her stay on track with her medication. I think it’s the only true reason that she stayed with me.
When we first moved in together, Liz brought a bin of highly advanced cleaning supplies. She always said that she hated cleaning, just needed it to be done, but her glee could not be hidden as she replaced my dirty mop with a Swiffer and stocked the cupboards full of pre-loaded wipes.
“It’s a healthy life practice to keep a clean house,” she’d say while testing a firm white sponge product on the wall. I agreed wholeheartedly with this notion, as long as I stayed free of the practice.
She even bought this little robot vacuum that would help get the job done. We would sit on the couch, enclosed in each other’s arms, and watch it scoot about—reveling in our own private satisfactions as it cleared minuscule debris off the darkly stained hardwood.
She loved my gratitude, is what I always thought. It was the reason I gave for us being together, so neatly in place. I needed a reason to understand why it was working when it hadn’t before. I reminded myself to express my gratitude as often as I was able. This involved telling her I appreciated her, but not actually partaking in the things I appreciated her doing.
The white sofa remained white, and I stayed in my state of wonder as to how it managed to remain so.
One Sunday afternoon (a heavy cleaning day), Liz pried open our little vacuum’s robot body to empty out the contents and she let out a squeak. Ants. They were there, in the cavity, and scurrying across the floor of our tidy den. Liz put the vacuum down for a rest and gave the ants a chance to show themselves, their neat little trail forming out of a crack in the molding next to the fridge.
“How did they get there?” she muttered. She was distressed, so I took it upon myself to help by engaging in an easy, tried and true solution: coating the cracks with cinnamon.
I spent about a minute shaking out the pungent dust before stepping back to admire my work. Liz’s nose was crinkled in dissatisfaction. I knew this face.
“….So…we’re just going to leave a pile of cinnamon on the floor?” she asked.
“Well…just until they’re gone.”
“But how long will that take?” The crinkle was now developing into a full facial scowl.
“A little gratitude would be appreciated,” I mocked. “Problem equals solved.”
In my single life, that cinnamon would have sat there for months. Even a year. A quiet reassurance that something was being done, really.
The next day, Liz arrived home with the same self-satisfied look she’d possessed the day she’d thrown out my favourite pair of old runners and replaced them with expensive new sneakers in a highly uncharacteristic shade of blue.
“Look what I gooot!” she chirped , presenting a smallish box containing some sort of electronic labelled INVISANT.
INVISANT, I would discover, in my feigned interest (“oooh…look at thaaaat”) and inspection of the box, was an electronic home system for the elimination of ant infestation. You installed it on any surface. We chose the spot next to the router. Fiddling minimally with its electronic body (no foreseeable hardware options), Liz then installed the appropriate app on her phone and hit the large “ACTIVATE” button to get it going.
“Your home is now ant free!” popped the app with enthusiasm.
I found this message presumptuous and not just a little cocky. The thing itself was unchanged. No indicator light or anything. Tech beyond the need for trivialities. If you were the type to buy this thing, you didn’t need little green lights, you needed confident automated messages in full sentences.
Liz was satisfied, though. She smugly proceeded to vacuum up the cinnamon not minutes later. I, on the other hand, was not convinced. So I chose a strategically positioned kitchen chair to sit in and enjoy a soda while eyeing the floor for ants, holding up a book and pretending to be absorbed while I watched for signs of life.
20 minutes and one page later, still nothing.
I couldn’t have this. I needed to know. This device was doing something, but I had no idea where to even look to see it in action. Was it releasing a high pitched noise? This was not indicated on the box. I ditched the book and gave it another read.
“INVISANT works with your home to eliminate pests. Removes all ants immediately upon installation and keeps your house pest free at all times.”
It was one of those modern designs with abstract shapes and sans-serif fonts. No thick shadowed letters or cartoon ants with X’s through them. I had to read it again just to confirm that it was actually for ants.
Liz was now busying herself in the other room, so I decided to scrutinise the floor more closely, leaning in to investigate the recently unseasoned floor where (admittedly) a few ants had avoided the cinnamon the other day.
Nothing. They were gone. Not even a carcass or an antenna. I decided to wait it out a little and see if anything changed.
A few days later and I was lying nose-down on the floor, investigating.
“What are you DOING?!” It was Liz. I thought she’d gone out only moments before, but clearly, she’d come back for something. Or just to check on me…that was also possible.
“I thought I saw an ant…” I lied.
“Nope. No way. This thing is guaranteed and my app says it’s fully operational.”
“Hmmm…” I trailed off, not removing my face from the floor.
“Ya know, the floor is one of the dirtiest places in the home. Most bacteria, by far.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t be stepping on it then.”
I could feel the eye roll. Sense it. Perhaps because it was mostly deserved. I just really wanted to be left in peace, was all.
“Alright…well, I’ll just grab my wallet and be off. Enjoy yourself down there.”
I reached my hand up to wave goodbye then moved to a different area of the floor, edging along until I reached the floorboard and inspected where I thought they may have been entering from before. I watched the hole closely. Thought I saw a black limb poke out, but then it disappeared immediately. Something was definitely happening down there.
I went back to the INVISANT and poked around, then installed the app on my own phone. I turned it off. I waited. I made coffee. I waited. Soon enough, an ant poked out of the floorboard and prodded about slowly. There it was. It hadn’t taken long.
I returned to the floor and scooted up close. I would not release my hold on it. I unlocked my phone, opened the app, and hit ACTIVATE.
It was gone. One moment there, the next, gone. Like an intense heat-ray had evaporated it. Or a stealth acid. A molecular rearranger. I looked at the app. I disliked technology that couldn’t be explained with 8th-grade science. Something had to have happened to the body. What did it do to the body?
I needed to witness more evaporation, so I turned it off again and set my trap. I waited quite a while until three ants were visible. I collected them in a jar and waited some more.
“UGH! Not this again.”
Liz. Home from her Sunday afternoon. Maybe she was early, or maybe I lost track of time.
“I saw an ant,” I half-lied, hiding the jar. I didn’t want her to know I’d turned it off.
She looked around the floor a bit, investigating. “…I don’t see anything. But you stay on it.” That last bit a touch mocking. She moved on to the bedroom.
I spotted one. Creeping out like it sensed she was gone now, and it was in on my plan. I collected it with the others. I had enough, now.
I was eager and nervous, hoping to take advantage of this time when Liz was preoccupied. I placed the jar on the table, and made sure all ants were in view. I set up a video with my iPad, and prepared the INVISANT app on my phone.
Leaning in close, I prepared to re-engage, and whispered softly to myself: “Three…two…one…”
Three things happened at once: the INVISANT activated, there was a loud noise in the next room, and all of the ants were gone.
I picked up the jar. I called, tepidly, “…Liz?”
I moved to the next room fearfully. I opened the door to the bedroom.
She was on the floor, gasping, arms gripping her knees. I looked at her in horror—afraid, unsure. The INVISANT was still on, and I felt like the air was alive or electric. Something. I looked around nervously. My hands were shaking with the fullness of the moment. I was afraid. Afraid to touch her, afraid to engage with anything.
She began to regain herself on her own, the attack passing. Her eyes met mine while I stood in the doorway, unmoving. She looked harshly at my distance.
“Why…why are you just standing there?” she asked.
“I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know what you want me to do.”
So she just sighed, pulled herself onto the bed and said, “I’ll take care of it.”
So I left with my empty jar, and sat with it quietly on the couch. Waiting. While her heavy breathing carried through the walls and filled the invisible space.
Angela Caravan is the author of the micro-chapbook Landing (post ghost press) and her work has also appeared in Pulp Literature, Sad Girl Review, Cascadia Rising Review, Sad Mag, and more. Find her on Twitter at @a_caravan.