I am writing this post because I had two friends, each of them suppressing laughter as they did so (or not), insist that I blog about these particular happenings. This either means that the events recounted below have genuine entertainment value or I just have an apparently limitless penchant for humiliating myself on the internet.
I am afraid of insects, but, like most things in life, this fear is not a constant quantity. The type of insect matters, of course: ants and gnats merit only an irritated roll of the eyes, while spiders and cockroaches have been known to cause serious cases of hyperventilation. Then I must consider the size of the insect. All else equal, an itsy-bitsy spider equivalent to the size of a few specks of dust doesn’t have nearly the same effect as one the size of my thumbnail – or, God forbid, larger than that. Finally, the distance involved has a great bearing on my reaction. I haven’t done any regression analysis, but I would guess that, for every foot closer I am to an insect, the likelihood of my ending up in a mental asylum before the age of thirty doubles.
Let us therefore find out what happens when M. discovers that she is in close quarters with a bug of both immense repulsiveness and considerable dimensions.
I was working at my desk on Monday night when I came face to face with a centipede scurrying along my wall, its limbs a filigreed blur of motion. With a scream, I toppled out of my chair, stumbling backwards and losing a slipper in the process, as that deeply primal urge to inflict maximal harm, i.e., death, on the thing that threatens my personal security and mental well being kicked in. My gaze ever fixed on the centipede’s progress around my flat, I inched towards my coat closet and grabbed from it the sponge-ended cleaning tool that has become my default weapon for smothering the life out of insects that are either too far out of reach or altogether too fear-inducing for me to get within anything less than a human body length of them.
The centipede hid behind my television for a while, then made its way over to a stretch of wall just behind my floor lamp and stopped. This was it, I told myself, so I struck, shouting obscenities along the way. My nemesis, wounded, eventually dropped to the floor and curled up in the shadow of a kitchen table leg; I pronounced myself victorious.
When Napoleon Bonaparte destroyed his imperial foes at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1806, he commissioned the construction of that grand public monument, the Arc de Triomphe, that remains, to this day, a symbol of the glory of the French nation. I settled for a tweet.
Now needing to dispose of the corpse, I went back over to my coat closet, got out my vacuum cleaner, and wheeled it over to the site of the killing. But the centipede was nowhere to be found. Was it the Messiah of the insect world, its soul resurrected and drawn up to the heavens by the High Invertebrate God while my back was turned?
It was then that I noticed a patch of something inching along the floor. This centipede was no saviour, I thought, flailing as I abandoned the vacuum for my sponge mop thing. This was an undead horror. It seemed to sense my desperate approach, for it put on a burst of speed and successfully gained sanctuary underneath my refrigerator.
At this point, my nerves were like finely shredded tissue paper, so I called my friend Chase for psychological succour. I could not be sure that the centipede was dead: maybe it had crawled off to that dark recess to die in peace, or perhaps, having now experienced first-hand my campaign of force and intimidation, it had slipped out of my flat altogether and was now terrorising the neighbours in #406.
Alas, neither was true. After some time elapsed, it ventured back into the light, its (many) steps hobbled and tentative, and came to rest near the foot of the fridge. It seemed quite grievously injured, but I could not be content with merely maiming it: this little shit needed to be exterminated. Chase recommended that, à la Khrushchev, I use a shoe to bury my enemy for good, but that would have required engaging with it at a more proximate level. This I could not brook.
So, cleaning tool firmly in hand, I launched a punishing succession of blows upon the centipede’s defences, jolts of adrenaline shooting through my veins until, at last, it was definitively deceased.
I pay rent, write Excel formulas, and bake cupcakes like a boss. I can speak with relative competence on subjects ranging from Mozart piano concertos to sovereign bond yields. I am a member of Homo sapiens, arguably the most impressive and destructive species to ever walk the planet – we invented the atomic bomb for fuck’s sake.
But, sometimes, Real Life is just too much.