The Ants and The Housewife

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The ants were watching the housewife. Zoe, their Queen was dead. Boric acid and sugar. They had delivered it to their Queen in all innocence. Princess Zia was leading them, because without a leader they were helpless, but she was so young. She was trying to take her mother’s place but she hadn’t even begun training for her own nest when her mother died from the tainted sugar.

The ants waited, silent, deadly, hungry, watching the housewife, hoping she would release the grains of white sugar from the container that they couldn’t breach, the big white plastic gallon with the ant proof, tight blue cover. Then they could eat and regain their strength before the battle.

Oh yes, there would be a battle today.

They watched as she drank her coffee and started to pull down items from the food closet. They hated her. She had killed so many of them over the past few months and they were out for more than sugar now, they also wanted a taste of revenge
.
No luck yet on the sugar. The crazed ant killing housewife didn’t even use sugar in her coffee. They watched her, never taking their teeny eyes off her as she bustled about the sparkling clean kitchen. Bleach. The physco even knew about bleach.

She wiped down the white counters and washed the kitchen floor with it every morning, hoping to wash away their scout’s scented trails. Thanks to her, most of their scouts were dead. Cruelly crushed by her deadly pale fingers and then washed down the stainless steel sink.

It wasn’t fair. They had lived here in the empty house for years because the crumbs and sugar spilt by the previous owner, a ninety-year old woman, had been more than enough to support the nest. She had never even noticed them when she was alive. When she died, the empty house had become their own private food locker. The kitchen drawers alone had held enough crumbs to carry them for ten years or more. Under the stove and the refrigerator there had been mounds of crumbs, more than they could carry back to the nest, even if they had worked night and day. But they hadn’t worked night and day.

They had become lazy and smug, taking nights off to run around and play. They had thought the house would be empty forever. Thanks to the endless food supply, the nest had flourished, spread out to encompass over a thousand square feet beneath the house. Their house.

Then the housewife moved in and started cleaning out the drawers, washing the counters and the floors, vacuuming the rugs.

At first they had still been able to feed, favoring the new supplies she bought in abundance instead of the moldy, old crumbs. They were still happy little ants and then BOOM. One day she found them in the food pantry and she had declared war. Bombing, spraying, squashing, poisoning in devious ways. Pulling out the electric stove and the refrigerator, she’d scrubbed under them with bleach, and then she had sprayed more poison. She poured flaming Cayenne powder around the cracks, behind the appliances and under the cabinets. Then she sprayed more poison.

Just when they thought she was calming down and they could sneak back into the kitchen, she found them scouting in her bathroom and she absolutely freaked when she found the stupid baby ants playing on her bed pillows.

The war had escalated. She began to tempt them with dishes of sugar-water and boric acid, laying out traps and lairs to capture the stragglers who hadn’t died from the insecticide. That was the death of their beloved Queen Zoe.

Now, it was going to end, one way or the other. She couldn’t kill them all unless she burned the house down and they weren’t going to move out. Zia stood and gave the signal. Thousands of soldier ants silently crawled into formation behind Zia and began moving toward the housewife’s feet. The line was about an inch wide, hundreds of tiny red sugar ants on the march, silent, slow, and short-tempered. Streaming steadily toward the woman. She was oblivious to them as she continued to arrange the ingredients for her baking project

The ants were on the offensive now, crawling like an upward stream of brownish red sludge, they moved closer to her. Closer. They were almost to her feet.

Zia reached the housewife’s big ugly right toe first and she stood defiantly on the craggy toenail to instruct the troops. “I may not live long enough to become your Queen,” she signaled with her antennas. “But today we will drive this housewife out of our home and we will avenge my mother, Zoe, your Queen.”

More ants poured out from behind the fridge and flowed down the cabinet. They joined the thousands already on the floor, marching as one, they streamed toward the housewife.

**********

When she woke up that morning, she was determined to make her mom’s Christmas cookies. She had been too depressed to make them for a few years, since Mom had died three years ago, but this year she was determined to restart her Christmas spirit engine and what better way than rekindling her best Christmas memories? Kneading Italian cookie dough for hours with her mom and hand rolling hundreds of the little wreaths for friends and relatives. She’d made the cookies for years with her own three kids and then with her grandchildren. Mom’s Italian cookies, anisette, orange, lemon and strawberry, they represented everything she now needed to touch, to smell. They would light her heart back up, she would become focused in the simple task of rolling cookie dough in the palm of her hands, little strands of finger shaped dough, folded over to make wreaths and then dipped in different types of sprinkles, chocolate, red sugar, green sugar, multi-colored dots, she had bought them all.

She knew from past cookie baking projects that she would become focused and happy, smelling the memories of her mom’s wood stove, remembering the big tins of warm cookies they would get ready to mail to all their relatives.

She didn’t realize until she was a grown woman that the cookies were all her that mom had been able to afford, that the long hours of back breaking labor needed to bake the three to four batches she’d helped mama roll each year were love offerings sent in place of store bought presents. No boxes wrapped in red and gold, no packages tied in ribbons and bows.

The kitchen and the wood stove had been the center of their minute corner of the world during Christmas seasons gone by and every Christmas, without fail, the Christmas cookie mixing bowl came out of the cupboard. People might forget Christmas presents they unwrapped under the tree and checks that came in the mail, but no one ever forgot her mom’s gift of delicious bright-colored cookies.

She reached up into the spice cabinet and took down the little brown bottles of flavoring and the four plastic bottles of food coloring. Red, green, blue and yellow.

The batch of dough required twelve eggs, twelve cups of flour, twelve cups of sugar and the mound of dough would be enormous. It would be cut into four sections and then each section would be kneaded with a different food color and flavor.

Sometimes she cheated and made a half-batch, but not this year. This year she was going to mix up a whole batch and spend several days rolling and baking the scintillating wreaths. She began to break the twelve eggs into a glass bowl, watching for pieces of egg-shell.

The phone rang and she washed her hands, catching it on the last ring. “Hi honey, nope I checked, no ants this morning. I even decided to make cookies since it’s been a few days since we’ve seen any of the little buggers. Ya, I know, I’m sorry they got in your spagetti and meatballs. It was the darn sugar I put in the sauce. I know, I know…okay, love you too, see you later.”

She set aside the cell phone and went back to cracking the eggs. Mom used to sing when she worked. Searching her mind for a suitable song, she set the eggs aside and began to measure twelve cups of flour into the huge silver bowl Mom had bought her. It sounds easy to count to twelve but knowing better than to believe she could maintain the necessasary concentration, she scratched a pen mark on a little piece of paper each time a cup went into the sifter.

Zoe paused on the woman’s big toe. Giving a silent signal to her troops, behind her the marching ants stopped. Zoe had seen a big can of Raid Ant Killer on the counter next to the woman and although she couldn’t read, she knew what was in that can and what it could do to her army. If they attacked now they would be covered in the deadly ant spray, easy targets as they grouped on the floor prepared to attack.

Zoe signaled again and the troops began to reverse their march, silently creeping back up the wall and into the small hole in the ceiling that led back to their nest. Zoe knew they would need a better plan.

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The Shoulder Knows

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The rain is coming
The shoulder knows
The bones warn me
Joints throb they swell
They ache they burn.
The rain is coming.
The shoulder knows.
The weatherman
Claims no rain
His million-dollar radar
Is wrong, so very wrong
The shoulder knows
And it is never wrong.
The rain splats down
The shoulder throbs
Sunshine withheld
Picnics are cancelled
Disappointed kids run
Through the rain
Back to the mini-van
Whining, fussing, grumpy.
The shoulder could have told ‘em
The rain will pour down today
Stay home, rent a movie
Make some popcorn.
There is no comfort
In being right
How I wish it didn’t, but…
The shoulder knows.

by Jeanne Marie

A Thousand Voices by Jodie Lynne (2008)

A Thousand Voices by Jodie Lynne

I-am-alone, yet a thousand voices surround me,

ricocheting off the sounding board that is my mind.

I take a deep breath only to feel the weight of time

as if the world rests upon my shoulders.

Tall dark fences build the walls that close me in

as the sound of freedom, close enough to touch,

is really a million miles away,

a soft breeze flows through my very core, like a crisp winter wind.

I taste his kiss on my mouth, as my head hits

the hardness of a rubber pillow, just as  I do when I rise.

Places and spaces blend together in the chaos of this insanity

that I alone have caused.

Pressure builds, yearning to combust amongst the ashes of my yester years.

Their faces stop the explosion, their eyes filled with the pain

I have inflicted, still, they plead for their mother’s touch alone-they go forsaken.

Just as his soul goes missing it’s other half, their souls scream out for me,

the same in the dead of night, as in the light of day.

Darkness at last engulfs me, even in the midst

of an afternoon’s sunlight.

I-am-alone, yet a thousand voices surround me.

Today

Every thought I think is creating my future. The Universe totally supports every thought I choose to think and believe. I choose to believe that I have unlimited choices about what OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI think. Louise L. Hay

 

 

I choose to embrace emotional and spiritual balance in my life, gratitude for all the love in my circle, the awe I feel when I gaze upon my blessings from my children and my grandchildren, gratitude for the sunshine and the ocean breezes. What do you choose to think today? Jeanne Marie

In the end we only regret chances we didn’t take. The relationships we were scared to have and the decisions we waited too long to make. There comes a time in your life when you realize who matters, who doesn’t, who never did and who always will. From Christine’s Facebook

Life mirrors my every thought. As I keep my thoughts positive, life brings me only good experiences. As I say yes to life, life says yes to me. YES! Louise L. Hay

The past looms ever-present, but this moment is God’s present to me. I won’t ignore my present by holding yesterday’s regrets in front of my eyes. I cannot change the past, but today, the present is mine. I will create good memories. I will hold this moment, I will laugh and play. I will live today, love me today, and appreciate the people who love me today. I will share my present today. Jeanne Marie

Your life is a physical manifestation of the thoughts going around in your head! Think positive, attract positive. The Secret

The Bobbsey Twins, Dad And Me

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I love hearing the soft splatter of rain against my bedroom window in those shadowy moments between sleeping and waking up. As I snuggle under the warm quilt, still half asleep, I feel silent anticipation surround me. It’s raining and from the rhythm of the drops as they splash the window it sounds as if it’s going to rain all day.

As I become more alert and in touch with reality, I realize that my happiness is flowing from the past. I learned to love the rain years ago. My dad was a bricklayer and when it rained he couldn’t go to work. I remember waking up on those rainy mornings knowing that it would be a bookstore day. I don’t know when the tradition started, but my memories seem focused on the year I learned to read. I loved books from the moment I could read, and my happiest childhood memories are of the days we roamed through the second-hand book stores, each of us searching for our favorite authors.

Dad would browse through the different cookbooks, and Mom would go digging in the dusty piles looking for Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’d gather up every volume of The Bobbsey Twins that I didn’t already have, and I’d quietly spread them out on the counter beside my father. He would talk to the bookstore owner for what seemed like hours, but eventually he’d turn to me and ask, “Jean, are you really going to read these books?” As I eagerly nodded my head he would call over to my mom and ask, “Grace is she going to read these, aren’t these books too old for her?” (I was only seven.)

It was his standard question, but I wouldn’t breathe until I heard my mom assure him, again, that I’d devour these books. “Well, just pick out two of your favorites,” he’d say each time.

I’d whisper to myself, “I want The Bobbsey Twins At The Seashore, and The Bobbsey Twins At School.” As I returned the others to their shelf, I’d change my mind. I wanted The Bobbsey Twins On Blueberry Island, and The Bobbsey Twins On The Deep Blue Sea! I wouldn’t make my final choice until my dad was ready to pay.

After he paid a nickel each for them, I’d cradle the books in my hands, and a warm excitement would flood my body. During the ride home I’d arrange the two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins on my lap, slowly brushing my fingers across the faded covers. Peeking into the book’s yellowed pages was like eating a root beer popsicle in August.

As my father opened the front door I’d run past him, back to my bed; back under the covers with the sweetest possessions in all the world, two volumes of The Bobbsey Twins!

Bert and Nan, the older twins, did their best to keep Freddie and Flossie out of trouble, but it was hopeless. The two little ones bounced with energy, and they just ran wherever they pleased, charming everyone with their antics. I loved the two toddlers with their honeyed curls and round cherub faces. Their wild spirits and endless curiosity often led them into dangerous situations, but thankfully, their parents, or the older twins, always came to their rescue before they’d get hurt.

As I read each volume I knew that I could count on a sticky sweet happy ending, with hugs and kisses all around. Their escapades removed me from my life. As I absorbed the words my mind danced through each adventure with the twins. My eyes flew across the dusty pages, scanning entire paragraphs in a glance, and before long I’d feel the last few pages between my fingers. I’d force my eyes to slow down and then I’d try to read each sentence, desperate to keep the story from ending. It always ended too soon. I’d read both books the same day, and by supper time I’d be longing for one more rainy day and another visit to the book stores. I must have reread each book a dozen times.

The dad in The Bobbsey Twins adventures loved his children. He taught them in a firm, yet kind and caring way. My dad could be that way too; until late each afternoon when he’d begin to drink. I didn’t understand why my dad drank, but I learned at a young age how to fade into the walls. My books let me run away from home when I had no place else to go. They showed me another world, a world apart from the emotional violence and the verbal abuse. They gave me hope, and without realizing that it was survival tools he was handing to me, my dad bought me my books, until I turned nine and started to haunt the libraries.

So, that’s why I love to wake to the sound of rain drops splashing against my window. It reminds my heart of the love my father was able to show, the treasures he bought me, the surprise in his eyes when he first realized that his little girl could read, his reluctance to let me grow up. The soft wetness surrounding my ears soothes the bad dreams; it chases away the nightmares; and it lets me forget the angry, crazy man that my dad had become by the time I had children of my own.

When it rains I forget the names he called us, I don’t care about the things he smashed, the holes he punched in the walls. I remember the love and the pride in his eyes, a hidden smile behind his words, the rain pouring down outside the converted garage that we called home, and his playful question, “You don’t want to go to the bookstore today, do you Jean?”

Thirty years ago my ex-husband carelessly lost my entire collection of First Edition Bobbsey Twins along with my Nancy Drew mysteries. The books fell off the back of our moving truck, and although I searched the streets he had driven on, I never found them. I’ve refused to buy shiny modern reproductions. I want my softly worn, second-hand friends, the books that whispered my dad’s message to me while the rain fell around us, “I do love you.” The gifts that spoke the words he could never say.

A few months ago, as I browsed in an antique store in downtown Collinsville, I found a 1913 First Edition copy of The Bobbsey Twins At Snow Lodge, with the original jacket still intact. I bought that old friend for four dollars and fifty cents. That’s all it was worth to the antique dealer, but I felt as if I had won the lottery when I took that time-worn book home, and gave it a special place on my bookshelf.

The author, Laura Lee Hope, will never know how her stories encouraged my timid spirit, or how she set my mind on fire, burning with an obsession to read and igniting a lifelong love affair with words.

My dad? The men he worked for called him a genius. Whether his hands touched bricks and field stone, or pastels and charcoal, he created masterpieces. Sometimes he’d take my tiny hand in his, and we’d walk through the gorgeous gardens that he and my mom had designed and nurtured. He’d talk to me about the wildflowers they had transplanted from the mountains and the woods of New England. Then there was his cooking; he could out cook the finest chef. I can still smell the delicious aroma of his sour dough bread baking in our ancient, black wood stove.

My dad? Today he is homeless, lost in the crowd of mentally ill who roam the streets in every city and town across America. He is an alcoholic who first lost his mind, and then his family, because he couldn’t walk away from the bottle. Family members search for him, but he doesn’t want to be found. He tells the few people he talks to that he doesn’t have a family.

The cherished edition of The Bobbsey Twins catches my eye every now and then, and I pause to brush my fingers across the worn cover, especially when it’s raining.
He couldn’t say the words, yet the rain still whispers to me, “I do love you.” I whisper back, “I love you too, Dad.”

PUBLISHED IN THE HEALING WOMAN 1997

Update: My dad died in 2000 and was buried without a headstone, or family present because
family was never able to find him or his death certificate. Recently, my sister, with the help of two military friends, has found where Dad is buried.
October 16, 2019 he will be honored by the military and by his family. He will finally have a headstone. RIP Dad.

 

The Head Exam

Last night I examined my husband’s head. He put his finger on his head and said, “What is this?”
“It is your head,” I replied.
“No, no, what is this bump?”
I have had no medical training and do not possess any particular medical skills, but I felt more than qualified to examine his head because I have been rubbing his head while he falls asleep for 30 years.
Hmmmmm. My first diagnosis was that it was a bug bite. Or maybe an allergy to shampoo. Maybe a spider bite. Hmmmmmm. Wait a minute. Another spot.
“Two spots. This is serious now,” I said. “I think you have been in the sun way too much and this may be skin cancer.”
I described the bumps to him.
“They are raised and looked healed, but they are red. Could be eczema or maybe lesions. Maybe it’s those worm bugs that get under your scalp like we saw on the Discovery channel. The integrity of the skin has been broached for sure. (I learned that phrase when I saw a dermatologist who cut out a piece of my ear last week.)
“I’m not sure. I can’t look if you won’t hold still.”
I parted the hairs over and over but couldn’t be sure of what I was seeing. He almost fell asleep.
Until without warning, I dumped his head out of my lap and went running from the bedroom.
I shouted back to him, “I really can’t see so I’m going to go get the Magnabrite.” I was so excited that I even had a Magnabrite!
By now he had changed his mind about having his head examined, but it was too late. I was on a mission. I came bouncing back with the Magnabrite and a flashlight.
“Now, you’re going to have to hold still,” I warned him, “because I have to balance the Magnabrite and the flashlight while I part your hair and you don’t want either one to smack you in the head. They are heavy.”
I was giggling at the thought of solving this mystery and he was for sure trying to sneak back over to his side of the bed, but I grabbed his hair, flipped my knees back under his head and held on tight. I had a job to do and I would diagnose these bumps.
Balancing all my instruments was difficult, but then I tucked the flashlight under my left arm, held the Magnabrite in my right hand and used my left hand to part his hair. I looked down into the Magnabrite.
I was shocked and I started to scream. “Oh my God,” I hollered. “Oh my God!”
He hollered back, “What? What? What’s wrong?”
“Wow,” I said. “I can see every single hair on your head! This Magnabrite is so cool!”
“You’re crazy,” he said, as he moved away from me. “I’m going to sleep.”
“Okay, but I’m making you an appointment with the dermatologist,” I threatened. “This could be serious.”
With a pout, I set the Magnabrite and the flashlight on the bedside table.
Jeepers. I would have been happy to have someone examine my head for free.

The Dream. The Hope. The Promise.

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Christmas is hurtling toward me again. My fifty-third Christmas season. The emotional burden of Christmas Past swoops down from the twinkling lighted trees and brightly lit homes that surround me. The blue and red flashing bulbs wring me out until I resemble a soiled, sour dish rag. I resist the waves of regret and remorse, work and work on my computer until my shoulders are on fire, EBay until my arms are no longer able to function. Work around the house until I can’t trust my twisted, deceitful hands (hands which used to be so petite, so pretty) to hold a Styrofoam cup of lukewarm coffee without letting it fall to the floor.

I’m tired. It’s time to lie down and accept my lashes. Lashes of regret for all the loved ones whom I’ve hurt, for all the loved ones who have slashed me with the tree switch of dysfunction, my remorse that has no cure, my rage that burns inward, my self-destructive urges to destroy the vessel that encloses my anguish. My sobs break free, my muscles clench, my flesh trembles from the anguish of forcing the traumatic memories back down; but still I see the cherished faces of nanas, grandfathers, mothers, daughters, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, lovers and friends.

My ties bind me to people whom I’ve lost to foolish games; codependent lies, contaminated love, mine and theirs.

Each time I close my eyes, Past flashes me like a crazy pervert naked beneath his raincoat. Therein lies Justice because there is no place to hide from myself and myself is where Past lives.

I try my meditation. Relax my entire body starting with the top of my head, working down to my toes. Picture a warm pot of honey and Pooh Bear with a fluffy, yellow dipping wand. He encloses me in a cocoon of warm honey, swirling his sweet warm around me, gently starting at my head. Pooh doesn’t make it past my shoulders before I shove him aside.

I want to slice the pain away, run to the bathroom, and take a razor to my wrists until I have slashed through the skin that protects my veins. I want to cut and slice until the unbidden, unwanted memories Past forces on me leave me alone, my brain waves registering a zero.

But I can’t. After numerous botched suicide attempts, I’ve decided that life is an obstacle course with Heaven as my reward and I’ll pass God’s test if I don’t kill myself or any one else. Therefore, I am trapped, imprisoned in Earth’s orbit, each moment reminiscent of a corny Star Trek film where Captain Jim can’t break free from the aliens. I am captured by that damn, “Thou shall not kill-anyone!” clause.

So; instead, I cry raggedly into my poodle’s soft pillow which he left behind when he followed his daddy to bed. I wrap my little girl Barbie blanket over my arthritic swollen joints and I weep.

I remember the carefree crazy days when I carried two razors at all times, one in my left shoe and one tucked into my size 36 AAA bra so I’d always be prepared to self-destruct at a moment’s notice. (I broke that habit when I sliced open my pregnancy induced 38 C breast by roughly pulling off my bra before I removed the blade.)

That night, I put down the bottle too, cause hell, I was high enough on impending motherhood and each time I drank, I wanted to kill me or the baby’s daddy, maybe both.

I wasn’t able to put down the Southern Comfort the next time around, and although the scar on my mature breast has faded, my second baby still bears the thumb print of my addiction on her forehead.

Past is a stubborn, relentless enemy. He sucks, he tears and he drains, he holds me prisoner under the soft lie of a safe Barbie blanket. I wet her smiling pink face with my faucet of tears.

I get up to get a tissue though, because not even Past can force me to wipe my snotty nose on Barbie’s Sweet-n-Low smile. She’s the dream, the hope and the promise. She’s the little girl still hiding inside my haggard, worn body. I drag my butt to the bathroom for the Angel Soft tissues.

Sleep would be a blessing because I’ve learned to stop my dreams by staying awake until I’m exhausted, but Awake won’t let me close my eyes.

By the way, I just had to stop writing to go back and edit all the sentences where I had slipped into second tense in this ménage a tale of woe, because that is how I distance myself from myself, a survival trick that I learned long ago to attain comfort in chaos.

I’ve surrounded myself with pink and yellow, but the blue remains. A three foot Barbie is decorating my pink Fiber Optic Christmas tree from the Dollar General, pink dolls drip from the branches, a pink and cream handmade afghan drapes over my night gown covered knees, sunflowers burst from sky blue and sunshine yellow vases. The window behind me is open and the sharp winter’s breeze cleanses my Marlboro filled lungs and airs out my smoky living room.

Still, inside I am black. My dark, tortured soul beckons to me and my gut begs me to give in to the insanity. “Just let go,” they whisper.

Psychiatrists say that the truly insane don’t even know it, so maybe I’m simply deranged, damaged goods, but either way, I keep a viselike grip on my minute drip of reason because I’m not going down that black hole alone again. Not even I am that brave.

I decide to stay sober for just one more day. I decide to stay alive for just one more day. After all, I’ve put together over thirty years of sobriety by promising myself, for just one more day. The dream. The hope. The promise. My Barbie blanket and me.