Out it flutters when I open the pantry door. A tiny, light brown moth with silver on its tips. It’s insignificant but still gets under my skin.
It doesn’t move fast and I grab it easily with one hand and squish its little body between my fingers and my palm.
What is it doing in my pantry?
Oh well, it’s just a moth and now it’s mush. But I don’t like them all the same. Not in the same way people don’t like snakes or spiders, they don’t get under my skin, they make my skin crawl. I don’t like moths for who they are, their very constitution, all the bits that make them whole. Their murky colour, their thin wings that turn to dust as soon as you touch them. They aren’t quite right, the way they fly about in stupid silence searing themselves against hot lightbulbs and then pffft, self-destruct in the palm of your hand. What has a moth got to show for itself? Where’s its flamboyance? No pretty pinks and blues, yellows and purples like the butterfly. No one hates butterflies. Everyone oohs and ahhhs when a butterfly lands on them. Not moths. No one takes photos of moths or paints pretty pictures of them. Moths are worthless. Moths are nothing.
I consider all this while I eat my Weet Bix for breakfast. It occurs to me that the cereal box could, in fact, be the harbourer of the moth. I inspect the contents of the box but put the Weet Bix in the all clear. No moths.
I finish breakfast and dump the bowl in the sink. The smart thing to do now would be to rinse the bowl, so that later the hot sun streaming through the kitchen window won’t have cemented Weet Bix to the bowl. Of course I know this. On most days I rinse, but not today. What is the point? Tomorrow will be the same, and the next day, and the next. Sometimes, on bad days, when I get back to the Weet Bix-bowl in the sink, even the thought of cleaning it is too much. I throw the whole bowl in the bin. It doesn’t happen too often.
I don’t give the moth any more thought for the rest of the day, but the next day, when I get up for my Weet Bix breakfast, what should flutter out of the pantry? The moth, or rather, another moth. Then I see two moths flapping about between the bags of rice, pasta shells and porridge.
“You grimy little fuckers,” I say to no one, and I reach in and try to grab one of them, but this one is hard to reach and it slips past my groping hand, disappearing into the back corner among the tomato sauce, vanilla essence and packets of jelly that have been in the pantry for a decade or longer. But I get the other one. I slap my hand over it, smearing moth blood, guts and dust on the pantry wall. The violence of it is unsettlingly satisfying.
Later in the day, I open the pantry looking to satisfy a chocolate craving. I know I have Tim Tams. I splurged last shop because it was a buy-two-for-one deal. One packet is already open and half eaten. As I pull out the little plastic tray for my little piece of Tim Tam heaven I am shocked to see a moth, the moth, calmly resting itself on a biscuit. I drop the packet on the floor in disgust. Tim Tams fall to pieces and away flies the moth back to the depths of the pantry. The weather, and the house, is warm, but I shiver at the thought of the moth, and potentially others, hiding in there. How many are there? Why won’t they leave me alone?
I sweep up the tainted Tim Tam packet and biscuit debris from the floor and throw it all in the bin. I have lost my appetite.
Today it’s Saturday. I don’t have to work, which is a relief, not to have to answer the phones and pretend to be happy. I should be cleaning the house, taking advantage of the warm weather to wash and fold my clothes. I could have called one of the kids by now or gone to visit my sister Anne but I haven’t. They haven’t called me either. My movements are from the kitchen to the couch, back to the kitchen, back to the couch. Maybe they are sick of me too. I flick through channel after channel on the TV but I don’t take anything in. The only thing I watch are hours passing on the clock.
I try reading a book, one Anne bought for me last birthday, but it’s a love story. I throw it aside. I want a crime novel, a murder with a devious plot full of deception, something with anger and grit. Not love. I try a magazine but images of beautiful celebrities dressed in teeny tiny bikinis with teeny tiny bellies and teeny tiny bottoms bring up thoughts of her.
“I’m leaving you,” he’d said. So matter of fact. He’d just walked in the door from work and into the kitchen while I was cooking his dinner. “I’m seeing someone else,” the words slapped me to attention. “Charlotte.”
For all the times I might have imagined this scene, or it being me who said those words, I’m leaving you, I couldn’t quite believe what I heard.
I’d turned to face him. “Charlotte?” I took another moment to process what he’d said. Charlotte, the twenty-something secretary. Was he serious? “You’re so fucking predictable,” I spat, my face was flushed, my palms suddenly sweaty. That was all I had. That was my attempt at saving my marriage.
“Ha! Predictable. Me!” He shook his head. “Predictable.”
He thrust a finger in my face. “I’ll tell you what’s predictable. Lamb chops every Thursday, My Kitchen Rules every fucking night, you bitching about your fucking boss like he owes you a life as well as more money,” his face glowed red, spit flew from his mouth, I thought he might have a heart attack. “No sex, that’s pretty predictable, for some years now, the same holiday to the same fucking cabin to the same beach every summer. Jesus, Christie, when the fuck were we going to do something?”
He emphasised his words with rigid, outstretched hands. His anger was palpable and on he went. “What happened to African safaris and drinking wine on Corfu? Having sex on the beach at the Whitsundays or … or, I don’t know, anything. When did all that shit die? I can’t even look at you anymore. I’m done. I don’t exist for you. I am just the cheque book to enable your shitty life. The kids are gone, I did my bit. So … so am I … gone. I can’t do this for one more day. At least Charlotte sucks my fucking cock.”
“African safaris … what are you … she sucks your cock?”
“You’ll hear from my lawyer,” he’d said as he slammed the front door behind him.
And there I had stood, immobile, with lamb chops burning on the stove top and the noise from the TV filling the void in the background.
I throw the magazine back on the coffee table on top of an unopened A4 envelope. It had taken fourteen months to arrive but there it was, the letter from the lawyer. I’d barely heard a word from Dave since the night he walked out.
By nightfall it’s the rumble in my stomach that makes me move again off the couch and back to the kitchen. I think about what I could cook. I am not looking for flavour, I am looking for sustenance, anything that will ease my hunger with the least effort.
I’d thought we were happy. Dave and I. Not happy in a gushing, exuberant way, but happy in a contented way. I thought we were doing what was expected of us, working, paying the bills, raising the kids. I never questioned him, I never questioned any of it. I never asked him what he was thinking, what he was feeling. I thought it was normal that we didn’t touch each other anymore. I don’t even remember when all that stopped, it was so gradual. I didn’t know he was unhappy, he didn’t say he was unhappy, I don’t know why he didn’t say anything before he went with her. I never thought he would leave me. I thought now that the kids were older and moved out that we would start to plan a thing or two, although Corfu was not on my mind. Neither was sucking his cock.
Tomato soup. That will do, I know I have a tin in the panty. I rummage through the saucepan draw and pull out a mid-sized saucepan and plonk it on the stove top.
I open the panty door and out flutter four moths, more, they flitter about in front of me so quickly it’s hard to tell how many.
“Oh you little …. where the fuck are you coming from? That’s it, you gotta … I am gonna wipe you fuckers out … NOW.”
I start yanking items out of the pantry onto the kitchen bench. More moths appear, the more I yank the more they come, it feels like an endless stream of the filthy critters. They are crawling up the walls, in between the tins, they land on my face and in my greying hair. I swipe at them again and again and again. I am sweating in the warmth of the house and with the effort of it. The moths make me feel dirty.
I pull out one of those black extra-large garbage bags from a kitchen draw and start throwing pantry items into it. Rice cakes hard as bricks. Packets of yeast dating back 15 years. I open congealed jars of sauce that have developed a thick film over the rim, decorative tins filled with shortbread given as a gift I don’t know when, pasta spirals, pasta shells, dried spaghetti and fettuccine, instant noodle cups, dessicated coconut stained a tea colour over time, chocolate cooking buds, cornflakes, rice, sugar, flour, sushi seasoning from a dinner party where I once tried to make my own sushi, cashews and macadamia nuts that I don’t remember purchasing and on and on it goes. I smash at the moths, kill as many as I can get my hands on. Tears are a river down my face.
It takes two hours to empty the entire contents of the pantry onto the bench or into garbage bags.
I Google “moths in pantry” and discover that it has been infested with the Indian mealmoth. Weevils.
Evil fucking weevils.
It’s not enough to find the “source” of the problem, the evil weevils will by now have laid their eggs, will be pupating in my food, will be multiplying and squirming their way into whatever enticing meal they fancy next. They will feast on my complacency, attracted by crumbs left behind into packets left open, finally chewing through the plastic of packets I left stacked up the back for years.
I only have myself to blame.
Still the tears stream down my face.
Couldn’t he have given us another chance?
I grab a bucket and scourer. I don gloves and find the the harshest cleaning chemicals I can find in the laundry. Bleach, vinegar, disinfectant, ammonia. I will beat this. I scrub every inch, every corner of the pantry. I huff and pant with the effort. I contort myself to reach the trickiest sections. It feels good to take action. I clean away years of grime and filth. The pantry is spotless, white again, fresh.
I start to arrange the items that are still good and that I know are not sullied by weevils into a new order inside the pantry. There are many empty spaces for items I know I will need to replace, but that’s ok, I will do that over time, as I need them.
I take the tin of tomato soup and heat myself dinner. No toast, I even threw out the bread but I don’t care. I sit at the kitchen bench, wipe the sweat from my forehead, sip at my rich, red tomato soup and soak up the view of my new sparse pantry. My tears dry up.
I finish my soup and place the bowl in the dishwasher. I waste no more time. I take the contents from the envelope and sign my name. Before the ink has dried I pick up my phone and Google: holidays to Corfu. I text a picture of the island to my sister and my kids with the message: “Who’s coming with me?”
I take a deep breath, text the picture of the island to Dave with the message: “I signed the papers. I’m outta here cocksucker”.