On Monday morning, there were ants in the kitchen. I searched under the sink in vain for the traps I knew I had bought. I tried the
medicine cabinet, the hall closet, and finally found them on top of the refrigerator, out of my reach without the assistance of the step stool. I was twenty minutes late for work.
When I got home, there was a funeral procession on my window sill. Tiny black bodies marching in single file past the already full traps, swarming over my browning bananas and into the living room and behind the couch. I searched for hole in the screen but couldn’t find anything. I threw away the traps and reluctantly got out the spray. I didn’t like killing things, but this kitchen was my domain. I didn’t go into their hills and eat their old fruit, and I expected the same courtesy out of them.
I spent my evening vacuuming up tiny carcasses, feeling a little sad. My apartment was now the site of a massacre. I put on The Beetles as a kind of eulogy, pushing the vacuum handle back and forth to the rhythms.
On Tuesday, it was ladybugs. My whitewashed walls looked polkadotted, like a crawling Jackson Pollock painting. I sealed my kitchen window with painter’s tape and it was covered with the beetles almost immediately. If I blurred my eyes, I had a purple frame around a pleasant scene of the building across the street. I opened the door and tried to shoo them away, but they ignored me, preferring instead to recline on my couch and read my discarded magazines. I thew away the bananas the ants had decimated and took the garbage out. I left the windows open when I went to work, even though it was only February.
On Wednesday I woke, groggy and cranky, to a day overcast and dark. I hadn’t slept well, imagining every second that I felt little red beetles crawling through my bedclothes. I got into the shower without the aid of my contacts, and when I emerged found that the sun was shining after all, I just couldn’t see it though the mass of crickets covering the windows.
Hundreds, maybe thousands, of black bodies writhing and crawling, trying to get out or maybe just admire the view. I called an
exterminator and fled.
After work I was hesitant to cook, so I stopped for take-out on the way home. Chicken lo mein and spring rolls in hand, I walked up the stairs to a deafening roar and a note on the door with a single word: “Sorry-” scribbled with a dying pen.
It was dusk and the crickets were singing. Not chirping forlornly on a hearth, or musically chattering as background noise on a camping trip, but mounting a full scale opera in the six hundred square feet I had formerly called home. I took my Chinese food to the car.
Nothing surprises you, my fortune cookie said, You are ready for whatever comes your way.
I awoke early Thursday morning with a terrific crick in my neck, just in time to see a black cloud rising from my kitchen window, swirling upwards and into the dawn. I turned on the car to check the time and listen to the news. It was 6:41, and there was nothing on the air about a bug invasion. I went upstairs, changed my sheets, called into work, and fell into a deep and quiet sleep.
I awoke later to a new sound and knew I was not alone. There was clicking and swishing coming from all corners of the room, almost like the hush of a distant ocean. I opened my eyes and my bedroom was a sea of iridescent green and gold, and I a still island in the midst of roiling waves. I spilled out of bed and jumped as far as I could, rushing and swimming to the hall closet. I ousted the vacuum and pulled the door shut behind me, but I could hear the tide of june bugs rustling closer. I found my gym bag and pulled on sneakers, shorts, a sports bra and a sweatshirt and bolted from my apartment, not even bothering to shut the door against the tidal wave within.
To my surprise, the invasion had spread and there was gold and green everywhere in the parking lot below. It seemed to be raining beetles, and I pulled my hood up against the spray. My bare legs goose pimpled in the cold. How were the bugs alive in this weather? Weren’t june bugs summer creatures?
I ran along Pine Street and took a right on Main, carapaces crunching beneath my feet like crunchy fall leaves. As I reached the one mile mark by the elementary school the swarm thinned, less of a blizzard and more of a drizzle. Little kids in their winter coats kicked bugs at each other and laughed on the playground, building castles in their june bug sand box. I found a couple dollars in my pocket and stopped at Mike’s for a cup of coffee.
Inside, everyone was jumpy and skittish. Beetles swam in their lattes and played on the espresso machine. The barista tried to sweep them out with a broom, but more came in when he opened the door. I bought a bottle of water instead and continued my run.
Around Fourth Avenue the wind picked up and I was bombarded by tiny thick bodies, surprisingly heavy for their minute size. I squinted around their hairy legs and tried to keep going, deciding to cut my run short and head back.
At home the beetles had taken to the air, flying in dizzy circles, making laps around my living room. By three o’clock they were all
dead, finally succumbed to the February chill. My vacuum, already choked with ant bodies, finally gave up and joined them. I spent the afternoon sweeping bug shaped jewels out onto the landing. All of my neighbors were doing the same thing. Our staircase glittered in the sunset.
On Friday, work called me to say not to bother coming in, the office was covered in katydids. I already knew; I’d awoken to find my
belongings blanketed with what looked like pale spring leaves. I had trees where there had once been lamps, bushes of footstools, and a small hill for a refrigerator. I was living in a crawling forest. Bugs as big as my palm were nesting in my hair. I found my phone under a new growth and rang my favorite Chinese take away, but their kitchen was alive and they were closed for the day.
I called a few friends to see if I could hide out at one of their places until the invasion was over, but they were equally green.
Maurice had a newborn baby and was worried she would get lost under the swarm if she set her down for a second. She had spent the entire morning pacing her upstairs landing and shooing bugs off her daughter. I decided I was better off at home.
In the closet I found my camping gear; a tent, sleeping bag, tiny cookstove, and mattress pad. I set the tent up in the living room,
taking several hundred lives in the process. Armed with my laptop, some books, leftover lo mein from Tuesday and a bottle of water, I hunkered down in my sleeping bag. Katydids crawled over the canvas, blocking the light and shaking the tent, which miraculously did not collapse. I was worried I would end up like Maurice’s baby, smothered between cloth and this new living forest. I found some old power bars in the pocket of the tent and ate them as I waited.
On Saturday, it was quiet. I awoke in the predawn light to an absence of sound and movement. It was unnerving. I emerged from the tent expecting to find piles of dead green bodies, but there was nothing. I checked the rest of my apartment, but everything, including the kitchen window, was silent and still. I hesitantly tried my bed, and, finding it free of six legged friends, climbed in. Outside my window it was snowing.
I awoke energized, alone. I used my kitchen for the first time in days to make real hot food; coffee, a bagel, some fried eggs and
bacon. Afterwards, feeling overstuffed, I decided to go for a run. I dressed warmer this time, and brought my own water.
Outside the snow continued to fall, not piling up on the ground but blowing and drifting. The sun was shining and the air was crisp, and I realized what I thought were snowflakes were actually tiny white butterflies riding the air currents and resting on immobile objects. The light shone through their translucent wings and sparkled in the morning sun. The effect was kind of beautiful, though I was glad they were not in my apartment.
As the day went on and the temperature gradually rose the butterflies grew bigger and more colorful. At noon they were yellow and pale orange and the size of my fist, and the sunset that night was eclipsed by enormous winged insects, some prehistoric in size and all vibrant shades of red, orange, and purple.
It seemed the whole city was outside, enjoying this latest infestation. People fired up their grills and got out their lawn
chairs. It felt like the Fourth of July with a butterfly fireworks show.
As dusk fell, smaller butterflies emerged in muted blues and grays. They swirled around us in great clouds, tasting hamburgers and
lighting on bacci balls, picking up their more colorful companions and flying up, up, and away, until all that was left was the darkness and the wondering voices of my neighbors, so near in the fallen light.
On Sunday the bugs were gone. I waited impatiently until mid-afternoon to see who the latest arrival would be, only to find my
apartment still quiet and alone. I walked to Mike’s for the sheer sake of having something to do, and bought a coffee and a newspaper.
“Butterfly Weather?” The headline questioned, as though it wasn’t sure it had all happened either. It was the top story, quoting
various local scientists and politicians, who, in more words than the front page, admitted they didn’t know either. Beside the story was the black and white photo of a young girl, taken midmorning by the size of the insects, holding mittened hands up, tongue out, trying to catch a butterfly snowflake any way she could.
I finished my coffee slowly, thinking how quiet it was with only the hum of people. I leafed through the paper, but there was no mention of insects in any of the world or national news. I left the barista a generous tip, recognizing him as the one who had to sweep up all those bodies during what seemed like another lifetime ago. Outside the sun was shining, unobstructed. I cleared my dishes, put on my coat, and walked back to my empty apartment.