I Was A Middle-aged Termite – A monologue of objects by Hobart Hughes
Curtain falls on a sorry figure suspended on the rear wall of a room. It’s a man and he reaches up and playing single notes on a toy piano to one side and sings without any relationship between the playing and the singing.
Life is a series of weak jokes of which this is the latest
Life is a hole which you dig while hoping not to fall in
And further still
Life escapes us each moment we ache to live it to the fullest
Life is living and living is something we do fill in the time we have
Still in the end
Life is the big picture we paint with the smallest brush we can find
Still and all
Life is our one big chance to really really appreciate having a life
But I Still can’t play the piano, No I can’t play the piano.
I try to pretend still in the end I can’t play the piano.
The trouble always starts some momentary sense of confidence. I feel good I’ll make some decisions. It can get you into trouble.
I had really bad termites.
The nest took up the entire area of my house and went down into the earth meter after meter. This major termite habitat pulsed like a large brain just beneath me…… yet! every piece of wood in my house had been totally untouched.
The pest man studied me with morbid fascination
I looked at him he looked at me I looked at him he looked at me I looked at him he looked elsewhere.
A second or so passed, you can fit a lot into a second. I could see flocks of termites forging out from my protection, me like a medieval overlord, with my minions reeking havoc in the nearby wood. I I sensed that despite all the life forms I had eaten or had been otherwise dispatched on my behalf I was irrevocably a nature lover.
The pest man looked expectant and just like he was reading my mind …but incorrectly said
“don’t underestimate um”.
“Yes”. I said and I saw he heard the flatness of my voice. Undaunted he sized me up with a glance that was slightly too quick. He was covering his excitement but his eyeballs moved, moved as they do in REM sleep, he was racing through time. I could see him doing the calculations; order in more Rodox and perhaps call up his cousin to do the digging pay him $25 an hour claim $50 hmm $70. Two three, maybe three and a half thousand. The deposit on the boat…..all the time in the background of his mind he’s going nice and slow not too fast.
I waited for the pitch to start.
A pause and then one of those breaths where the lips are curled into the teeth; representing concern, resolve, realism all at the same time. Breath
He looked at me I looked at his lips and then at him.
“It’s very important not spook them.”
Was he talking about the termites or me?
“We don’t want them to know we’re after them. You might think they are tiny but they act as one creature. One body one mind.”
I tried to do the calculation in my head. What size would that mass of tiny bodies be if added into one single body. A dog, it certainly wouldn’t bring sticks back.
Model of a sausage dog with six legs.
But there’re millions and millions of them maybe the size of a horse.
He had been talking but I don’t know about what. But now I was listening
“Yes your house is safe…. for now”.
I shamelessly felt a surge of relief,
“So my place is totally untouched”
“It is a miracle,” said the bug man. “But I don’t know what your neighbours are going to think of you.”
My disrespect for him turned instantly to fear, my mind seized this statement with some panic…Tatania.
Tatiana is not just a neighbour, she is my special neighbour, special friend, I do not want to irritate this relationship with a nasty reality.
“Are you going to tell them” I said crashing my sense of cool. He saw my panic.
He said “Well it would be irresponsible not to…..hmmm Don’t you think”?
“Yeah I suppose so”.
“You suppose so” he said seeming to question my membership of club human.
“You suppose so”
I really did want to say “oh yes of course I’ll tell them straight away” but my mouth would not do the talking thing, I stared blankly
I looked at him he looked at me, I looked away and he kept looking.
“You suppose so” he repeated again straining the bounds bloke banter to breaking point then he just slid into version of a laugh that was more like a series of aggressive hick-ups, a laugh handed down in his family for generations; a laugh perfected to ridicule with the knowledge that only very shame wise families who know the art of loving sheep first hand…or so I suspected.
Then suddenly he walked out the door, I followed but wondered why, why not just shut the door. When I arrived outside he spat on the footpath. He did it just to one side, not quite a direct challenge.
With that metabolism, exposed as it had been to such an array of deadly chemicals I pitied the ant he might have hit. He would be a dangerous man to kiss to kiss! My mind inserted a poor chemically sick woman on his mouth. She turned to look at me and used the laugh, then I remembered never come between a sick couple.
“Oh they must really love you” “What” I said I didn’t know if he was talking about the neighbours or the termites. Though perhaps the termites were neighbours
“A very lucky man” he said from the other side of his van.
I really don’t want to think about it I feel dirty like a home wrecker, which was not far from the truth.
He got in but leant over to the passenger side and wound down the window“ I think I should come back tomorrow and to some tests….. Don’t you think”?
I dislike it when anyone puts me on the spot like this. I’d show him I’d deal with this in my own way. He seemed to read my mind, his eyes twitched like some animal watching dinner escape.
He looked at me and I looked at him like I was nailed his head to the sky.
He said “You need a professional for a job like this”
“Why d’j you know any?” I said and just kept looking straight at him like I know no tomorrows like there is only here and now and now belongs to me, it’s mine, I own now.
I owned now but now did not last long. His final look said it all contempt, pity, disgust done by the simple silence where there should have been a grunt or a nod, he drove off without another word. When one acts much tougher than one actually is one is going to feel empty. There could be maths for it, I was empty now save for my nausea and nausea is not something to be filled with.
Consciousness is a strange vehicle consistently being modified as we move along. We set out on foot change to a jet pack only to arrive on a dead horse.
I needed a solution. But I also felt something else something special and connected to the earth.
Despite this I was determined to be as thorough as possible. I looked up termites on the net and found some images,
He holds up a model of a white ant.
They seemed rather comical with their big round eyes and perfect round bald heads.
He holds up a small model of Gandhi
They looked like Gandhi.
He then takes the tiny glasses of Gandhi
once he had taken off his glasses.
places them on the model of the white ant. See head with and without glasses
I read on I was amazed by the fact that the queen and her mate might live for ten or more years consistently having sex and laying eggs in their inner chamber.
I could see them sensing my comings and goings like I was a system like the ocean or the atmosphere. Bumping crashing around, or maybe they thought of me as a giant rabbit or a bear but all this didn’t seem to do them justice.
Rather clever I thought not to attack the house you live under but just plunder the land everywhere else. Did they know or think I would do nothing if their chewing army spared my house. This might not be so strange as it first may appear. Think of all the symbiotic relationships in nature. You know where two animals trade behaviours. Like clown fish and sea anomies. Or ants and aphids, there are ants that collect aphids to chew leaves that the ants bring them a mould is created as a by-product which the ants eat, I mean there must have been a moment when some ant sensed more aphids more mould. For a moment I was touched that I was chosen as a partner in a bold new relationship between insect and man though perhaps partner is the wrong word maybe host would describe it better.
I downloaded a way of getting rid of a termite colony without using chemicals. The technique involved making a trap out of a cardboard box by filling it with delicious easy to chew damp sawdust and paper that the termites could not resist. Even in the manic worker paradise you can get slack apparently. Not so tireless after all. Just like the posters of all the communist workers from china we used to see but really they are dying for some big soft seat in front of the home theatre. Well it’s natural… I suppose they to want to relax and absorb who they might be.
They are all in it together though; termites are consistently eating each other’s shit. They can’t digest the wood any other way cause they need to share a bacteria that carry enzymes which break down the callouses. So each Termite carries another colony like multi Russian dolls, smaller and smaller till the line between animal and chemical is blurred.
If you’re talking about who’s in control you’re talking about the queen. She communicates to the whole nest with a variety of chemicals she excretes. Well that’s what the biologists say. Such precise chemicals sampled by the nurses that are her consistent companions and passed mouth to mouth, a kissing language; till each worker has had a taste of whatever she wants or she gets a taste of what she wants. When you disturb a gallery all the termites abandon it. So is there a chemical for a dangerous place?
The idea with the trap is that once they move the Queen in, you just remove the box. The workers carry her, under her instructions to this gingerbread house. I suppose there must be a chemical for take me to the most delicious part of my empire. You know she doesn’t even chew anything herself her mate chews her wood to pulp for her and feeds her.
Once the Queen is removed then caput without her there is chaos no chemicals no centre of business. You have to be careful however. You must not disturb the box till the queen has installed herself otherwise they would become spooked and not go in there at all.
“Ralph” It’s Tetania
“Hello Ralph what you doing”
“I’m reading about sawdust”.
“I wonder why is not dandruff called head dust”
“Well you know it’s just a name”
Oh look who is all sensible, is a crap name, maybe we call you head dick”
Dickhead is foolish person you you have head like penis”
Im laughing and glad we are off subject
“why the saw dust?”
“it’s a special project”
I tap my nose
“Oh you tap nose , what this mean you allergy to talking about it. You should trust me.
“Well let me put it like this if you felt really strongly about something but other people might not understand how you’d decided to deal with the problem?
What problem? How do you say it, have you been eating bullshit Ralph,
I give her a puzzled look
“oh you know what my meaning is, you think my English is cute all times but when you don’t want to talk about suddenly it’s confusing.”
“All I said was I was reading about sawdust”
“Yes is all you say. Youcan’t see it Ralph but one of my eyebrow is minutely raised. Come on, guess, which one?
I say breathing each word
Oh such a sad attempt for attention.
and she is delighted we are playing, but in a way that acknowledges the lie that lies there.
“Is it an art thing, they are so silly?
I consider for a brief moment that perhaps it could be art somehow but I’m suddenly uncomfortable and all I have is the belief that somehow I will get away with this and that it is for the best.
So I make a stupid face
Anyway I don’t care, come out with me Ralph come on, I promise to trap you up with your own words. You know how much that comforts me”
“I will soon but I have to get on with it”
“No you have to go get on with me.”
I’m about to actually lie when I stop myself. Then this illusion of cool distance transforms into something unpleasant in my head and I rush into the house.
I fall asleep that afternoon I dream I’m bound up like Gulliver and dragged down through the floor by thousands of Termites. They build a special chamber around my head then I the odd human there to amuse the queen. I tell her about myself and she reacts by tiny changes in her eyes. I see a hole in the wall and another pair of eyes looking at me. I hear through the wall, “Don’t trust him” The queen orders silence then commands her nurses to squeeze her thorax and when they do a special chemical she has created just for me is excreted. The workers take it in their mouths and then they approach me come closer and closer they have strange shinny tiny lips they are millimetres away from my mouth when I see all sorts of sharp mouth parts and I shudder and wake.
I peep out the window Tatana is in her car waiting for me.
“I can’t come out I’m busy researching”
“re-search yourself” she yells back
but I see the Bug Guy putting cards under the doors of the neighbours including Tatana. She drives off in the other direction without seeing him. I go over and with some wire retrieve the card. I’m running out of time
So that I won’t disturb the trap until the queen moves in I installed tiny video cameras I sometimes I doze in front of the monitors. In washy dreams I imagined the queen; she turns over, away from her mate, to look into the camera, great meaning in her terribly small and intense eyes. Then I’m with her in her private chamber my long dead father is an attendant at the door and I’m led to be understood that she will excretes a special chemical just for me. “But first’ She asks “Is this a trap is this place dangerous” I say nothing and the workers approach me but now their mouths are soft and I kiss one, straight away I’m flooded with a powerful sense of knowing what to do. I want to keep this feeling but I know this is not the way to get it. I realise that the net effect of all this termite enzymes and bacteria is to have released long dormant insect genes turning my body into a mutant termite human. I’m appalled but also feel incredibly powerful. I see a small hole in the wall and know that the king has been watching me the whole time in some kind of kinky regal insect turn on. I hear him through the wall “he’s not very good is he” But I feel very composed and I turn to the queen and snap my big nippers like castanets and she squeals. The king makes a kind of animal grunt through the wall. I wake up feeling a mixture of disgust and something like an amazing insight to living, like I had the keys to the universe before somehow loosing them only to realise it’s a door that I can’t to go through.
Some days later I see her for the first time. She is so much more translucent that I ever suspected. In an indulgent fantasy I let myself imagine the king as some kind of rival. This thought is kept away from the rest of my consciousness, but the walls are noticeably thinner these days.
Time has come for me to take the box away, yet I stall, convincing myself that the video recordings will sell as a nature documentary.
“Hello Ralph” I block Tatania from coming in. You look like the bat shat on your face Ralph. Are going to come out? I know the time has come to choose. I take the box and hold the bottom cause it’s loose.
We see something fall out.
As we drive away She asks “what’s in the box”. “The Queen” I say and finally tell her all about what has happened not holding back any details about my obsession. I do not tell her that her house may well have been attacked as the problem is now solved, yeah. “Are you on her Majesty’s service then Ralph” Pointing to a dumpster I say “Not any more” I notice lots of wood and figure that the rubbish dump for insects is like getting to the big city and start to feel good.
We have the kind of fun you always want to have, the kind that always unfolds in a way you cant predict and I forget everything but as I’m walking into my house I notices a plie of paper and sawdust. I bend down and there in a small pile of protective wet sawdust sits the queen I cannot bring myself to kill her and against my better judgement bring her inside.
I set up my old fish tank with sawdust and paper and some wood. I make a light to keep it warm put in a sponge to keep it moist. Through my reading I realizes she cannot feed herself as her mate had always done this. I begin to chew the paper and soft wood and feed her.
She seems to do well I notice how like the Venus of Wulendough she is. So I make a model.
Holds up a Venus with many legs
“I have done as much as any man could have done and perhaps a bit more” But as wonder at my moke intensity I think why not experience what my tiny cousins have. I hold her up and stand there with my tongue extended and taste it. “It’s like battery acid and I have to acknowledge this is unhealthy then I look up at Tatana at the door behind her is the bug guy.
As I’m standing there with my tongue out licking an insect and holding a model of the Venus of Willendorf with six legs I say nothing. I chuck everything in the tank and place one hand on the edge of the tank, in a desperate search for aloof. The world stops for a moment and I suddenly realize it is art, it really is art. Like the angel she is Tatania says
“Is ok as performance work but I think you should be naked except for a log tied to arse”
“That’s a good Idea” I say nodding
there’s a burning smell, I turn and see light I’d set up has fallen into the tank and sparked some of the dry paper, it’s on fire. The pest guy just empties in a beer and there is a nasty sizzling sound. He looks in and pulls the writhing burnt body of the queen.
“Queen termite” “What of it I suppose you’d have understood if it’d been a sheep”
Everyone is confused but they are still staring at me weirdly.
Tatania stands over the tank and whispers . “I thought you said it was over with queeny; really Ralph she is what one tenth of your age at most” She winks at me
As the pest guy stands there with the limp queen shaking his head confused
“Did you just have oral sex with this insect”
Is art Tatania interjects I have eaten cockroach in Vietnam”
I sense my moment and take Tatania aside
“She fell out of the box as I was going out the door and I just couldn’t kill her”
“Quite right Ralph but my stiletto heel went through my floor this morning I was stuck there balancing like popsicle. Have to move out while floor is replaced.
“Oh well I say snapping my fingers as if I had nippers, “you can stay here”
“It is quiet good as art but you do know it’s me or her”
The bug guy interjects. “So what was that like?”
I look at him he looks at me, I look at him then at Tanania. She looks at him and he looks at the Queen.
Some months later I had another dream. I’m wandering down a tunnel and Tatana is walking with me. We laugh at nothing at all and we kiss. Her kiss tastes of something amazing and I realizes that she has the body of the termite queen. She looks at me earnestly and makes me promise never to spray inside. Then the whole colony starts to sing.
White ants are going through my mind.
I find a very strange reaction.
White ants are going through my mind.