“Oh come on! Do we really have to do this every morning?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen and starred down at the infestation of ants that had taken over the sink.
They were hunting, grazing, and wandering aimlessly about the scattered plates, utensils, and Tupperware that had been left out the night before.
“Why can’t you just get out, GET OUT!” I attempted at shooing them away, knowing it wouldn’t work.
I stood their momentarily hissing at the obvious mistake, wishing I hadn’t taken my sleeping pills so early. I might have known. It’s been three years, and still this same occurrence. They wander freely as if they were leash-less dogs.
“Ah ha! So they’re coming in from the window…n-o-w,” I said hurrying myself to it, rushed with fleeting disappointment.
“What can I do to make you leave?” I whispered waving my hands above them, as though it were a magic trick.
They followed in two delicate lines, one came while the other went, back and forth.
“You’re not even carrying any food! Look, why don’t you just go back, and tell your queen that there’s no food. She’s going to see that you’ve come back empty handed, right?” I pleaded.
An ant stopped, on his way onto the window sill, rearing himself toward my direction, as if he had heard me.
“Yes you! Aren‘t you the one carrying nothing? Look around, all your buddies, they’re doing their job, and what are you doing? That’s what I thought. Tell your queen that…” I said, stopping myself when he turned back around and continued on his way.
Huffing with frustration I came to my feet.
“I’m getting the broom. This is a warning to you all. I’m getting the broom. Right now!” I alerted. Still they went on with their business, less amused with my petty threats.
Rising to my feet I watched the trail that came in across the floor, underneath the kitchen table, against the cracks in the side wall, and up along the tile counter to the surface.
“Forget the broom,” I uttered feeling hopeless.
With an abrupt decision I stopped down on the small black bits that began to scatter with less disillusion, as my feet hit the hard wood floor.
It wasn’t working. Although, with each step, I felt better inside, allowing a much needed anger to escape.
“Mr. Ants! Hey Mr. Ants open up!” a man yelled from behind the front door.
With a heavy sigh I walked over, knowing the lecture I was about to receive, since it happened every morning.
“Mr. Ants…” the man said as I stood facing him with a stern hankering for his early departure.
“Now, we go through this every day. Every single day, you wake up in the morning, and you stomp. Over and over. Meanwhile, myself, and my wife are abruptly taken out of the two extra hours we’re someday hoping to get so that we can begin to enjoy our retirement in peace,” he pleaded watching me with strained eyes.
“I know Mr. Pallis, I know.”
“No, you don’t know. I wish you did, but you don’t. You see if you did then I wouldn’t be up here every morning trying to make you understand the importance of sleep in a man’s life. When you‘ve spent most of your years raising children that never stop whining and crying, and begging you for this and that…”
He went on with his usually back story followed by continuing rants on how I ought to live from now on. I was as equally agitating as I was bored, wondering at the same time, what I should have for breakfast. His closeness made me uncomfortable, so I took a step back, leaning towards the door. Still, I pretended to listen.
“And that’s how do you it. That’s how you plan your life when you get to be, should I say…older. See…it all begins with the foundation. Now I know you miss your wife, what man wouldn’t. It’s not often a man is widowed at the age of 65, and we all miss Gracy’s kindness, we really do, but you can’t take that out on the ants. Do what any normal person would do. Call an exterminator!” he boomed.
“But I don’t want…”
“Let me guess, you don’t want anyone coming into your precious apartment,” he chuckled before continuing, “You don’t like human contact, or confrontation do you?”
“Yeah I know. I know all about you Mr. Ants. I know you’d like to think that you live in the perfect little bubble away from the rest of the world, but you know what? When you live in an apartment complex, people talk, and they get involved in other people’s lives because they stomp on their ceiling at 6 o‘clock in the morning!”
“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” I hesitated, averting my head hoping it wouldn’t cause a permanent crick.
“I sure hope it doesn’t happen again, or I’ll be back. I’m not the only one who complains. I think we both know that if the misses isn’t happy the husband will never get any peace in his life,” his voice echoed as he turned and made his way down the iron staircase that spiraled at the center of the wide open space of the hallway.
“And my name isn’t Mr. Ants…” I whispered, afraid he might come back if he heard me.
After closing the door I pressed and pulled against the chains and bolts which locked the door in place. A deeper sigh left me as made my way to the phone.
“Hello? Hello yes my name is Mr.” I said when I was interrupted by the other end of the line.
“Wait is this Mr. Ants, the, infamous Mr. Ants?” a man asked.
“No, my name is…”
“Yeah it is you, I can tell by your voice. You have that rasp at the back of your throat there. Hey guys it’s Mr. Ants, calling about his ant problem, am I right? Lemme get Vinny. Hey Vinny! It‘s Mr. Ants on the phone again,” he yelled as I cringed at the irregular decibels that rang in my ear.
“How ya doing Mr. Ants? What can I do for ya?” Vinny asked.
“Hello yes. I mean no. I mean yes. My name isn’t Mr. Ants, first of all, it’s Mr. Kinde.”
“Right, right I know. Your name’s on our list. But everyone calls you Mr. Ants because the ants only come into your apartment, right? Me and the boys here, we decided to call you by that nickname also. You’re famous here with us.”
“I’m guessing your calling because they still won’t go away, am I right? You know, those ants, they must really like you,” he laughed as others in the background joined in on the light hearted banter.
“Can you just send someone over to do something? He can come in while I’m gone, I’ll leave the key under the door and…”
“Wait, are you telling me that you actually want one of us, inside your apartment without you? Doesn’t that conflict with one of your neurotic rules there?”
“I’m not neurotic!” I shouted, feeling threatened by an ancillary, “I do have rules, but, I can handle it if it will make these ants go away.”
“Hey, it’s good to know you’re allowing yourself to loosen up a little, but uh, like our guys have said before, there’s nothing we can do. We’ve tried spaying the outside of the widow, along the edges of the fire escape and even down the side of the stairs, but for some reason they keep coming in. You know the more ants you kill, the more that come. What you need to do is figure out why they keep coming in. Maybe you’re keep leaving something out that they want.”
“This time it was food.”
“There’s you go. Take out all the food in your apartment, and they’ll go away. And if that doesn’t work, maybe you could try scaring them,” he snickered as an echo of laughs was heard until I hung up the line.
Thoughts rushed through my head as I scanned the room, meeting with Gracy’s green eyes. Her picture starred back at me in an offset fixture beside the hallway closet. Her lips red, with her hair balancing an even darker tone that swept up behind her neck, granting her collar to fold against it freely.
She was beautiful.
“I know what you’d say. You would tell me what you always say. ‘You’re always a better person than you think you are.’ How could that possibly help me now?”
2:00pm came. It was always the best time to leave for grocery shopping, if I wanted little to no, tenant conversation. In the midst of shuffling with my keys, my mind let in the sounds of a wide-ranged, whimsical, young voice.
I pretended not to hear.
“I said Hello. Are you gonna to say hello to me to?”
In closing my eyes I hoped she could no longer see me.
“I can see you. My giraffe says to say hello to you. That’s why I said it two times. Do you want to meet him? He’s really nice.”
“Hello,” I said back, looking in her direction, without coming eye to eye.
“You can’t say hello once. One from me and one from my giraffe,” she said holding up a withered old stuffed animal which could have once resembled a giraffe, but for that moment, an animal expert wouldn’t have been able to identify the troubled mess.
It contained the noticeable markings, light tan beneath speckles of deeper browns in ripped craters that must have been there for years. An elongated neck came out from the front, although, the rest of the body resembled that of a tired old man, teeming with regret from a short lived life.
Now she was at my side. I shuttered at her closeness as if she were dangerous. I looked down and saw a bright freckled face with dreamy blue eyes, on a head that carried blatant tedious strands of disheveled hair that settled at her shoulders.
“Here. Now you can see him better? Say hello,” she forced.
“Hel…” I managed to get out when a rather tall, dangly woman appeared from around the corner, folding her sweater over her large breasts, which would have been more apparent had she bent all the way over.
“What did I tell you about bothering the neighbors? Leave him alone. I’m sure he’s very busy right now,” she said pulling the little girl away.
“But mom, my giraffe wanted to invite him to my party tomorrow. I didn’t get to tell him. Can you ask him to come?” she mumbled behind a worried instantaneous sob.
“Alright,” she whispered before turning to me with great hesitation in her eyes.
I stepped away from her.
“I’ll see if I have time. I have some important errands to run tomorrow so I don’t want to make any promises,” I interrupted as the door locked in place.
“Thank you. It would be nice if you came. I invited everyone in the building. My daughter is funny she, she prefers hanging around adults rather than children her own age,” the woman said as I sensed a change in relaxation in her tone as she looked away for a moment, reaching up, to pull at the back of her neck.
I forced a smile in response, and went on my way.
4:00pm came. I had to hurry and get inside before the afternoon rush of cenacle migrants filled the hallways with their bothersome complaints about how their pay never equaled their mind-numbing labor.
I sat the brown paper bags on the floor at either side of my feet, creating my own comfort bubble, incase onlookers were to intrude.
After fidgeting for a while with a string at the inner lining of my pocket, I found the keys. Reassurance for peace was short lived when a disturbing sound caught my attention.
It was crying.
It was deep arduous clang which, if left alone, would continue to vibrate, as if two cymbals came swiftly together.
“He’s never coming back.”
I knew the voice.
“Oh don’t worry honey. We’ll find him before the party tomorrow, I promise. You probably just put him away somewhere and forgot about it. I’m sure he’s safe.”
“No he’s not. Somebody took him, and they’re going to hurt him. He’ll get scared if he doesn‘t see me.”
“Are you sure you didn’t leave him at the park? Have you checked already?”
“I already looked, he’s not there.”
“Okay well, don’t worry about it for a while, we’ll find him.”
I listened intently, while hesitation carried me from my task. A caring thought crossed my mind, wishing I could help. Then it fled, once certainty came over me and I realized, just how much, physical interaction it would require.
I carefully opened the door.
“Look mom it’s Mr. Ants, he’s home,” the little girl buzzed, coming out from around the corner, with resonating hope in her eyes.
“Honey, I’ve already told you not to call people names. It’s not nice,” her mother said following behind.
I looked down at her once again, one foot in the door, with the remaining bags serving as a fortress.
“Have you seen my giraffe?”
Her mother’s hands crept up at the sides of her shoulders, settling near her neck, as if it might stop her from being impolite.
“No,” I said plainly, lifting a bag in front of me.
“I’m sorry she…” her mother confessed, pulling her back.
“Can you help me find him?”
“No, I can’t I…I’m busy right now,” I prompted, eyes watching the door.
“Let’s leave him alone for now. We can go look together, alright? We’ll start in your room,” her mother said looking down at her daughter with adoring eyes, hoping for the best.
The two walked in unison, coming to what I thought was a comfortable distance.
A heavy breath escaped me.
“Mr. Ants!” the little girl yelled as she came running back, placing her small hand at my wrist.
The delicate softness drove away the bitter anguish I was keeping beneath my decrepit façade. It was, a cold familiarity, which, reminded me of Gracy’s smile. I wasn’t sure how the one triggered the other, but for a moment, I could see her. The warm, sweet smell of honey, tickled my nose as it came and went from what must have been the shampoo in her hair.
That too, reminded me of Gracy.
The memory was unexpected, though in continuing strangeness, I did not move away. Instead, I chose to watch her hand, as if it were speaking to me.
“Promise me,” she said in a diminishing whisper.
“Pro…m…ise?” I stammered feeling dazed.
“If you find my giraffe. Will you promise to bring him to me?”
Our eyes met.
The heavy bag fell from my grasp, remembering where I was, once it reached the floor.
“Yeah…sure. I. I…promise,” I said rushing to pick up the mess.
“Thank you,” she said.
The words left her lips, though I did not hear a sound. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so close to a human being as I did in that moment. It must have been her kindness that reminded me of Gracy’s. It seemed logical, though the endearing sentiment had grown unfamiliar with time.
She went back to her mother.
Trickling sounds of heavy feet left the hallway, once the two were well beyond the turn.
My mind stood still, frozen in a time when I once understood people, and what it meant to be with the one person who truly cared for you.
6:00am came. A foggy haze diluted my eyes sight as the walls of the bedroom came into focus. Trudging out of bed I came to the kitchen, clearing my throat for speech.
I came to the counter indignantly awaiting the cluttered array of deviant culprits to show their tiny heads.
There were none.
I went to the window.
The lines that had been so neatly made, this way and that, were gone. Still I followed the absent trail to make sure.
There were none.
In sticking my head well out the window I looked down, much to my surprise, finding a rather large substitute.
“The little girl’s giraffe? But how did it?”
Thinking it strange that it had simply fallen from above I followed the path it must have taken, then came back to my window.
Still, it seemed impossible.
I looked down at the giraffe.
The strings which had once served as a curved smile were now pulled out at either end, making him seem anxious.
I held him up in my hand and inspected further.
His eyes were the most difficult to see, having been pushed well into his head with fur surrounding the deep cavers that led out to his nose. He had a black mow-hawk that came to the swell in his back, with small flaccid looking ears. A golden transparent ribbon was tied just below his chin, tight enough to stop him from breathing, had he been real.
I turned him on his back when a tiny stranger crawled onto my hand.
I could feel them coming, like an incessant plague that wouldn’t leave.
I looked down, only to find them crowding my feet.
“But wasn’t the giraffe just there?”
I stepped back, returning his lifeless body to the floor beside me.
“They’re won’t walk past the giraffe? But why?”
I took him back up again, taking a second look. Then I smelled him.
“Ah, smells like bleach. That’s strong!” I said, now, with an even more questionable look.
“That smell would make anyone want to stay away.”
Taken aback, “Make anyone, or anything stay away,” I realized.
They weren’t coming in because of the giraffe. In an instant I had found my answer.
“Promise me…” I remembered.
I put the giraffe back on the floor and stepped in the window. I came to the counter, which was bare. There had been some crumbs left over beside a half a loaf of bread, and a knife stained with butter, but there were no ants.
Not one to be found amongst the table, sink, or counter top.
I looked over at Gracy. She smiled, just as she always did in her motionless state.
“I know, I know. You’re always better than you think you are. But what I’m not?”
Her look said everything, and I was well aware of her response, even though she were no longer alive. A heavy sigh took the place of my better judgment, knowing what I had to do.
2:00pm came. I walked out of my apartment carrying a pink gift bag with yellow protruding tissue around the top of the handle. My key came to a halt as I turned it back to the right, then moved the jagged metal to the interior of my front pocket.
Poise had never been a friend to me, having held more regard for the former. Knowing this, I continued on my way up the stairs. My last step knocked against the tile, as my long boney fingers held onto the railing.
Again I could hear her sobs, knowing she must have been close by. No sooner had I walked over to her apartment, had a smile crept across my face. She couldn’t see me, nor hear my steps as I approached her right side, sitting down on the floor beside her.
“Huh,” she looked up, face red, tears running down her cheeks.
“Happy Birthday,” I repeated in a more delicate tone.
“Oh. I don’t want it,” she whined, pushing away the bag I had dangled in front of her.
“But how do you know if you haven’t opened it yet?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“I can’t find him. He’s lost. I will never find him again.”
“Oh I see. And you’ve looked everywhere are you sure you’ve checked?”
“Yes, I looked in my room. I looked in the park. I even asked the neighbors, no one saw him. He’s lost.”
Her eyes grew big with worry as if I had brought grave news on top of bad tidings.
“Why don’t you just look inside? Maybe you’ll like it?”
She shrugged her shoulders placing her head between her knees.
“How about you open the gift I brought you, then we can go look for him together? How about that?”
Her head raised as she used the long sleeve of her dress to wipe away her tears.
“Really? You’ll help me look?”
“Okay,” she said as I handed it over.
The tissue crackled as she pulled the handles apart and reached inside.
“It’s soft, it’s…my giraffe!”
“I promised you I would bring him to you if I found him, and I did.”
“Where did you find him?” she asked, tossing the bag aside while she held him close to her chest.
“Do you know what my real name is?”
“No it’s not. It’s Mr. Kinde. Everyone around here calls me Mr. Ants because I have ants in my apartment. They come in through the fire escape window every morning, and take over my kitchen. I’ve tried everything to get rid of them but they won’t go away. However, this morning, when I woke up, they were gone. Do you know why they were gone?” I said leaning towards her.
“It was because of your giraffe. I found him lying in what was the usual path the ants took to get inside my apartment. I think it’s because he smells like bleach. Or at least I think he smells like bleach. I could never get around that smell. What do you think he smells like?”
“My mom washes him with my white clothes all the time. I just think he smells good.”
A side smile fell from my left ear to my chin as I came eye to eye with the little girl. Her green eyes sparkled with a brightness that could have been mistaken for a sunrise in the right lighting.
“Well, now you’ve found him again so you can stop worrying. You’re going to be seven years old. You’re far too young to worry,” I said coming to my feet as she followed suit.
Her mother appeared from behind the open door of her apartment wearing a wrinkled apron trimmed with a lace that came up over her head and tied at the back of her waist.
“Come on honey, it’s time to cut your cake,” her mother motioned waving her inside.
“Are you coming Mr. Kinde?”
I smiled, wanting to say yes.
“I have a lot to do today. There are promises I’ve made that I should keep.”
“You should never break a promise.”
“I know. That’s why I have to go. Happy Birthday,” I said as I watched her trot off towards her mother’s arms.
“Oh you found your giraffe? Where was he?”
“Mr. Ants found him. He brought him to me just like he said he would.”
“That’s great honey I’m glad you found him,” I heard he say as I made my way to the stairs.
“Wait, Mr. Kinde. Mr. Kinde,” the little girl said rushing back to me.
“Here, you take him.”
“But, I thought you,” I hesitated trying to give him back.
I looked up at her mother who was looking even more confused at her actions.
“You need him more than me. If you keep him then you won’t have your ant problem anymore. I’ll be okay without him. And, as long as he’s with you, I’ll know that he’s safe.”
“Alright then. I promise to keep him safe,” I said giving into her reasoning.
I watched as reached the side of her mother throwing her arms around her waist.
“But honey, don’t you want to keep him. Isn’t he your giraffe?”
“No mom, not anymore. Now he’s Mr. Ants giraffe.”