This week’s post comes to us from Kingston student Erik Eikehaug. Erik’s writings style is wonderfully unique, dark, hilarious, intriguing in all the right places and at the same time, delightfully simple. His characters are odd but relatable and make you feel just as frantic as they do in the face of what seems to be a biblically misguided evening.
Something can also be said for his measure in writing. This is a great example of how to write a well-balanced although unconventional short story.
Without further ado, we hope you enjoy Erik’s WPN debut, Flying Ant Day.
Flying Ant Day
If mum was awake she would ask us to close all the windows, so while I’m preparing dinner, Sara runs through the house, making sure none have been left open.
The pots make noises, like the food cooking inside is fighting for its life, banging against their steel prison, trying to escape. I remove the lid from the casserole and look at the meatballs simmering in the brown sauce. Is it supposed to look like zombie poo? And what about the potatoes? I shove a fork into the largest potato just like Sara taught me, all the while staying at safe distance from the hot steam oozing up. The potato is still hard inside. Shouldn’t it be ready by now?
Sara has been making dinner every weekday since we returned to school after Easter holiday. Between cooking and her other chores she barley has time to do her homework, which we both decided wasn’t fair. Now she teaches me to make a new meal every week so I can help out as well. She’s only taught me how to boil potatoes and reheat meatballs in brown sauce so far, but next week she’s showing me how to make spaghetti Bolognese, my favourite.
Like I said, today it’s meatballs in brown sauce and potatoes. It’s my first time doing it all by myself. Hopefully I’ll do a good job so Dad won’t notice a difference.
There’s a loud crash in the living room followed by Sara swearing. My instinct urges me to run to her, but I hesitate at leaving the food.
“ARE YOU OKAY, SARA?”
When she doesn`t answer, I start backing away from the stove, not taking my eyes off the pots in fear of them behaving badly the second I look away. It is when I reach the door frame that I first turn. In the living room Sara is crouching down gathering broken glass. Next to her, in a pile of dirt and white flower petals, lies mum’s favourite orchid.
“I can tell them I did it.”
Sara continues picking up the glass without raising her stare.
“Can you get me the broom from under the sink?”
I run back into the kitchen, take a quick glance at the potatoes, the zombie poo, everything looks fine. Then I fetch the broom and run back into the living room, my socks sliding across the smooth parquet.
“I can tell them I did it.”
“Don’t worry about it. None of them will notice. Just get back into the kitchen. I’ll clean this up.”
Sara has her sad face on, the kind I imagine a ghost or a homeless person would have, so before I return to the kitchen I decide to say something funny, something that will make her feel better. Maybe she’ll even laugh.
“The meatballs look like zombie poo, Sara.”
My face turns bright red and I pinch my arm for saying something so stupid. Why do I always have to be so stupid?
She says nothing, just sighs.
“Have any of the ants gotten inside?” I ask.
“I don`t think so. I haven`t checked upstairs in a while. How`s dinner going?”
“Good,” I say, trying to sound confident, “the meatballs don’t really look like zombie poo. It was just a joke.”
“Don’t let the potatoes boil too long, you hear.”
I nod, and then sprint back into the kitchen, almost losing balance as I slide up to the stove. I grab the fork, and jab its four prongs into the biggest potato.
It’s still hard inside.
I read through the instructions that Sara wrote for me yet again, praying that I hadn’t skipped an important step and screwed everything up. The sound of a car yanks my attention away, causing my heart to pounce against my ribs.
It’s not the red Range Rover, thank God, just a couple of teenagers driving around. They`ve stop outside our house and are now taking pictures with their phones. They’re not the first ones to stop and marvel at the sight.
Flying ants everywhere.
It’s never happened this early in the summer, but I’m not surprised. It’s been abnormally hot the last few days and today’s its super humid as well. It’s the perfect combination of everything.
There are thousands of them; millions perhaps, crawling on top of each other, covering every inch of our garden. In fact they’re all over the driveway now. A few are even walking across the glass of the kitchen window. If I opened it, they would conquer the house within minutes.
They really are a bunch of assholes.
A few years ago, before she moved away to attend university, our neighbour’s daughter used to have big parties whenever she had the house for herself. Their garden would be full of drunken teenagers screaming and laughing, screwing around. Once, a bunch of them broke into out garage and stole mine and Sara’s bikes. I spied on them from my room while they rode around, trying to do stupid tricks. As much as I feared them, I was more scared of dad catching them. Certainly these assholes deserved to be punished, but I didn’t want anyone to know about him.
I hated those kids so much for not leaving us alone and I feel the same way about the flying ants. Of all places in the world, why must our yard be where they come to hatch? Why can’t they bother another family, one that has the time and energy to deal with them.
My glare moves from the flying ants to the pineapple shaped clock hanging above the kitchen table. It ticks so loudly that sometimes at night while the others sleep, I hear it ticking all the way up to my room on the second floor. It`s like our house is a ticking bomb; a fragile thing that could detonate at any moment.
The longer I stare at the pineapple, the faster the big hand appears to be moving. Behind me the pots are shrieking for attention and although I know it’s time to check on the potatoes again, I can’t take my eyes off the clock.
What is it counting up to?
“DANNY! HURRY UP HERE!”
My body jolts forward. It takes me less then five seconds to climb the stairs. As I rush towards the door of my parents’ bedroom, the only one that’s open along the corridor, I notice flying ants soar past me.
My sister is sitting on the bed, shaking mum, yelling at her to wake up. There are flying ants everywhere, crawling across the white walls, the ceiling, the carpet, the floral bedspread. There are even some in mum’s hair.
“The idiot must have opened the window after I checked in last. And now she won’t wake up.”
“Is she breathing?”
“Yes, she’s just taken a sleeping pill or something.”
I look at mum and for a moment I’m convinced she`s a stranger. This is just some woman that sometimes steps in for mum while she’s grocery shopping, gardening or visiting grandma at the nursing home. This woman’s got nothing to do with us. I don’t need to feel anything for her.
“Don’t just stand there, Danny. Do something.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Get rid of the ants.”
“Get the vacuum cleaner from the laundry room and suck them up, one by one. Just hurry.”
My body is paralyzed; I can’t take my eyes of her.
“There’s some in her hair.”
“Will she be okay?”
“She just needs to sleep it off.”
“She promised she wouldn’t do this on weekdays.”
“Can you please just get the vacuum cleaner?”
Sara’s expression softens as she notices my face. For the first time all day, she smiles at me.
“She’s going to be okay, Danny. I’ll make sure of it.”
My sisters’ eyes are all watery and I feel so bad for her. She’s the one who gets us through each week. Fair enough, dad pays the bills and leaves grocery money on the kitchen counter before he leaves for work, but Sara takes care of all the rest. I wonder if Jenny, Margo and all her other friends still remember her name. Or have they forgotten all about her now that she spends all her time taking care of mum and me.
Mum and me, we’re the useless ones. The burdens.
But at least I’m trying to help. I’m learning to make spaghetti Bolognese next week.
I abandon my vacuum cleaner mission and make a sharp turn at the end of stairs. The potatoes are bound to be ready now. Maybe they’re just perfect.
Abrupt pain shoots through my body as my foot treads on something sharp. I collapse onto the floor, biting my teeth to keep myself from screaming. While I lie there waiting for the pain to subside I focus on the sound of the pineapple ticking. Somehow it calms me down.
Once I’m up to sitting position I manoeuvre my foot around. There’s a piece of glass sticking out of my blood-stained, white sock. I pull it out and place it on my palm, closing my fingers around it. Sara can’t know what happened. She will blame her self for not noticing the last piece of glass and that’s not fair. It was my fault. I’m the useless one.
The sound of the pots boiling gets me on my feet and I manage to limp into the kitchen. When I reach the stove I grab the fork and stab it into the biggest potato. It immediately breaks apart, smoulders up and becomes one with the boiling water. I stab another potato and the same thing happens. They’re all ruined. I ruined it.
A few flying ants buzz around me as I notice the red Range Rover standing in the driveway. The car is almost covered in flying ants and inside it I see him leaning back into his seat. He’s probably happy it’s the annual flying ant day. He is grateful for everything that prevents him entering his house.
I’ve read somewhere that ants can carry five thousand times their own body weight. I’m sure that goes for flying ants too. What if they managed to lift dads’ car and fly it far away.
I would find a way to make money. I could help the neighbours with their chores for instance, mow their lawns, walk their dogs and after next week I could make them spaghetti Bolognese. They would probably pay me extra since they’d feel sorry for me.
Maybe mum could start working again, too. She’s always talked about how much she loved her job at the bank. Maybe having a job would bring her back.
“I’ve been waiting for ages. What the hell happened?”
And Sara wouldn’t have to do anything. We would take care of her for a change. Whenever she had her friends over, mum and I would clear away, go to the cinema or visit grandma. I haven’t seen grandma in months.
“What’s the matter, Danny, You look terrified.”
“The potatoes broke.”
“Yes, and now dad will know mum didn’t make dinner. Hers never break.”
“Don’t panic, it’s fine. Just get started again and I’ll help you once I’ve gotten rid of the ants. Who knows? Maybe dad’s working late again.”
She leaves without noticing the trail of blood that’s followed me from the living room.
I watch the car in the driveway. It looks like most of the flying ants are on it now; I can’t even see him behind the windshield. The flying ants are about to join forces. Soon they and the red Range Rover will ascend to the sky, never to return.
Through the noise of the vacuum cleaner roaring upstairs I can hear the pineapple ticking.
I know it’s unlikely but what if it is counting down to something good.
As if the characters are on the eve of something major while their entire world is about to spiral out of control, this short story stands out because of how uneasy it makes the reader feel. It is dark humor like this that is often incredibly difficult to master and Erik does a wonderful job at it.
Despite their pitiful circumstances and bizarre family life, Danny and Sara never lose hope as they struggle for a bit of normalcy in their lives. Although an entertaining read, Erik makes us happy to be watching from afar.
Until next Sunday, enjoy the lovely weather and another week of summer reading.