Following is an excerpt from Love and Other Illusions, my recently published short story collection. “Letter Delivered As A Dream” is a short-short, as they call them, and was originally published in Hot & Bothered 3: Fiction on Lesbian Desire, ed. Karen X. Tulchinsky. Arsenal Pulp Press, 2001. Love and Other Illusions can be purchased as a Kindle on Amazon.
Letter Delivered As A Dream
Do you remember that summer when our biggest problem was ants?
We who were so well versed in the habits of the cockroach were astounded by the rapidity with which ants reproduced. By mid-July it had become impossible to leave any kind of unpackaged foodstuffs anywhere. It became a religion with us: our lives revolved around maintaining a crumbless kitchen.
We bought dozens of round red traps, nearly identical to the ones we used to capture roaches in the city. The ant population diminished, but by no means disappeared. I suggested my mother’s method of smoking them out of their holes; you remembered your fifth-grade ant-farm-in-a-fish-tank and wouldn’t let me do it.
It rained a lot that summer, and no one had told us about muggy country air, from which you with your allergies suffered terribly. We’d planned to go hiking and antique-hunting, but ended up playing Scrabble, venturing outside only in the cool moist evenings. We held hands walking into the small village for Haagen-Dazs ice cream cones eaten on the walk home.
Meanwhile, the ants kept on coming, an army of ruthless marauders. When I brushed one from your leg you confessed you liked the feel of them tickling your skin. And so I discovered another way to delight you: like an ant I crept lightly up your calf, past the hollow behind your knee, more lightly still up your thigh, until you pulled me into you.
Ah, summer. How old were we then? How young? What were we thinking when we rented that little cottage in the mountains, knowing so little of the country, anthills, each other?
By late August we’d given up on ant control; they traipsed freely through the mound of spilled sugar, or clustered around a cake crumb on the floor. Our truce was such that when one got squished beneath the heel of my sneaker, you stunned me with authentic tears.
The morning after Labor Day we washed the linens, packed our unused tennis gear and retrieved odds and ends from beneath the bed. What about the ants? I asked you; won’t the landlady be horrified if we leave them? Against your protests I bought a can of Raid, and while you waited in the car, I carried out a search and destroy mission. When I emerged, you looked grim. I turned on the engine and we headed back to the city–me to Brooklyn, you to the Upper West Side. As expected, both apartments were overrun with cockroaches after a summer of neglect. That night on the phone you admitted you had no qualms squirting and smashing the nasty little creatures, so much more repulsive than our industrious country ants.
Over the years I’ve developed an aversion toward killing ants. But this morning I discovered one already dead in the sink, a victim of cockroach poison. Hastily I flushed it down the drain, feeling a sudden sharp pain as I thought: where are you?