Yesterday, it was a swarm of termites. Their silvery wings reflected the July sun, creating a pulsating curtain of insects. Thousands of wood-chewing bugs, scattered on the deck, the door, the window and the doorknob. They poked in and out of the keyhole, as if to demonstrate how easily they could enter and exit our home.
Dustin, he scoffed the same way he always does when he wants to act like it’s nothing and everything’s normal. He narrows his eyes and curls his lip at anyone who freaks out, who says it is something, that it’s anything outside of usual.
“What the hell is this?” I said.
“Well, what does it look like? They’re termites.”
“This many termites? Where did they come from?”
“From… wherever. You don’t live in the city anymore. This is the country. There’s bugs here. You’ll get used to it.” He rolled his eyes. Shook his head. This is how he says my questions are ridiculous and exhausting. This is the kind of thing Dustin does when he doesn’t have any answers.
I could see how much he hated questions the first time I asked about her. What she looked like. Why she left and where she went. How did it end. He often answers me with silence. I ask anyway. My hope is if I keep asking, he’ll give in and break down, even if only to stifle my probing. All second wives get curious about the first one. If they say they don’t, you know it’s a lie.
Last week, it was the giant black millipede. I sat helpless and alone with my pants around my ankles, ass on the toilet, unable to do anything but shriek when I heard the tink-tink-tink of it skittering on the glass shower door beside me. This long, black, shining creature, like a snake with legs, paralyzed me. Frozen and screaming, I wondered if its bite would be painful and full of poison.
When Dustin kicked the door in and his eyes landed on the thing, I could see surprise. Uneasiness. Alarm.
“It’s just a bug. Why do you have to scream like that?” He shakes his head and gives me that look. The one that says, I’m just as freaked out as you, but I’d never admit it to anyone.
The day I moved in, it was a pile of spiders behind the dresser in the walk-in closet. I lost my breath and jumped back when I saw them there. I remembered how to inhale again when I realized they didn’t move. I took a closer look and discovered it was a heap of dry, empty skins. Years of arachnid molting in the corner of the closet Dustin gave to me when I moved in. He’d never even noticed. “I hardly ever went in there,” he said.
When he kissed me and eased me down on the bed, I forgot about the dead things for a while.
After we hosed off the front door to wash away the termites, I asked about her again. Am I living in her house? Did I fold my clothes and tuck them away in her dresser? Did she have to clean the corpses of creeping, crawling things from the walk-in closet, too?
Dustin stood in front of the grill, turning bratwursts with a deep concentration. His face carved out of stone, his wild blond hair falling around it.
I kept pressing, wondering why she is gone and I’m taking her place. I posed more questions, hoping, in spite of everything I knew about Dustin, that some other fragile, softer version of him would crawl out from behind his gray eyes and convince me that I wouldn’t have to live with her ghost.
“Are you ever going to stop nagging me about this?” He stabbed a sausage with his barbecue fork.
“I just get curious, you know? Sometimes the past affects the future.” I felt something tickle my arm. I brushed it away.
“That’s fucking stupid. Past is past. You’re here, I’m here and whoever came before doesn’t matter… and it’s none of your business.” He looked up at me, the flesh of his hand wrapped around the fork, white and trembling. “You have to let this go.”
“Well, now that I’m living here, I have a right—” I ducked out of the way of the sausage he hurled at me. It exploded against the side of the house, spraying me with hot grease and barbecue sauce. Dustin blew past me, stomping through the front door.
The tickle ran up my arm again. I looked down at the house centipede scurrying toward my shoulder. I squealed and danced, wiping and slapping at my arms, legs, and body.
I watched it fall to the deck, then scuttle between two slats of wood, disappearing into the darkness below. I didn’t want to go inside with Dustin and his anger. I turned the grill off and sat down on a chair in the yard with my warm beer and smoked one cigarette after another, watching the door of the house, waiting for him to come out again.
Dusk settled in among the trees around the yard. A gray shadow on the deck caught my attention. It darted from the edge of the wood and stopped in front of the door under the porch light. The light brought it into focus. A fat, hairy spider, not much smaller than the dinner plates sitting on the table next to the grill.
Keeping my eyes on the spider, I called out for Dustin to come outside. I looked up as he appeared on the deck holding a broom. He brought the broom down on the creature. It scrambled back and forth, attempting to dodge the blows.
It skittered left, then right, then toward Dustin, then away from him, toward me. I squealed and flinched each time he brought the broom down on the thing. A few moments later, it was finished. The spider lay on the wood, twitching in a small pool of blood.
I turned away as Dustin swept the carcass off the deck. The sweeping noise was enough.
“You ever seen anything like that?”
I stepped up onto the deck. “Like what?”
“It bled.” His eyes open wide, this is how he says, maybe it is something. Maybe it isn’t normal. “Have you ever seen a spider bleed red… like a person?”
“Well, there’s bugs here.” I shrug. I roll my eyes. This is how I say I don’t know. I go inside and leave him standing there, a broom in his hand, staring down at his blood-stained wooden deck.
Rasmenia Massoud is from Colorado, but after a few weird turns, ended up spending several years in France. Once she learned all she could about cheese and macarons, she found herself in England, where she writes about what she struggles most to understand: human beings. She is the author of the short story collections Human Detritus and Broken Abroad. Some of her other work has appeared in places like The Foundling Review, The Lowestoft Chronicle, Literary Orphans, The Molotov Cocktail, Full of Crow, Flash Fiction Offensive and Underground Voices. You can visit her at: http://www.rasmenia.com/
QUESTIONS CRAWLING PAST was previously published at Crack the Spine in November, 2012.