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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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bad luck comes in on the wings of houseflies
july 14, 2001
Bad luck comes in on the wings of houseflies.
We rarely get insects inside our home, but this past week, each evening we've had at least one fly swirling around the white counters of our kitchen.
We didn't realize they were portents, the breath of bad luck, arriving.
Good luck is loud. But localized.
Bad luck is vast, invisible. The elephant perceived only by its parts. When bad luck finds you, it takes you a while to even realize its presence. Longer still to find the shape of it this visit, a leg on this day, trunk, ear. It's impossible to map the whole of it. You can only mark its appearances and by that try to guess at how huge, this stay, it will be, like connecting the numbered dots of a child's puzzle that, so drawn, outlines the shape of an eight-legged tiger.
Our bad luck this week started modestly.
This past Monday morning I was in the shower, soaping my chest, resting my left hand against the tiles at the top, when I heard, around my bare feet, the musical sound of glass crashing.
Looked down. A tile from the wall of our shower where I had been leaning my weight was upside down by my bare feet, soapy water swirling around.
Looked up. Sure enough, a length of the tile bordering the top of the shower wall was missing.
We saw it as a nuisance rather than a sign. As so often happens. A need to stop by Home Depot and buy some grout.
The next morning, I walked out in our hot garden and saw both our euonymus, bushes we especially liked, had their long, yellow green leaves covered with small, white scale. There's something scary about seeing so many hundreds of movements, no matter how tiny the bugs are, watching them burrow their front ends down into the leaves' succulence, drying and curling the leaves up, into brittle brownness. I stepped back onto the path, looked down at my hands. I had about a dozen scale on the back of each, squirming over the sweat and straight black hairs.
Brushed them off, quickly.
Later that morning, Mary and I were talking on the phone, me at home, she in Dallas, at work, when we heard an uneven tapping on our line. The line went dead.
The bad luck had gotten into our electricity.
I called the phone company. They sent someone out the next day, Wednesday.
He was a nice, middle-aged blonde guy. After two and a half hours of testing our wall jacks, and crawling around in the hot attic above our first floor, he stood in front of me in his green clothes, saying the worst thing a repairman can say.
"I'm real sorry, Mr. Moore, but I can't fix it."
Like every other home, our phone wires run inside the walls, and above the ceilings.
I'm writing these lines in our loft, which is my library (at this moment, a little after four this Saturday afternoon, Mary is in her own study, to my right across the upstairs hall, at the front of the house, where she's doing some action scripting for a Flash movie she's creating. We talk back and forth to each other occasionally as we work). If I look up past my pc, I see the upper story of our living room, which starts one flight down. Directly beneath me is our kitchen, which is only one story high.
We have two attics. One for the first floor, one for the second (which means, it suddenly occurs to me, that we could accommodate two crazy family members, rather than the standard one member).
We have mice in each attic.
Living in the country, that's unavoidable. We have fields behind us, and our own backyard, filled with trees, bushes, flowers and paths, like a park, has been designed by us to accommodate wildlife (lots of water, edible plants, shady and sunny areas, etc.).
Mice are attracted to electricity.
This is something telephone and electric companies have known for decades, but no one's ever yet been able to come up with a method of safeguarding electrical or phone lines from mice. When a mouse finds its way into an attic, it senses if there's any electricity near, finds the wire, and starts eating the wire to get to the electricity. When Mary and I were talking on the phone just before the line went dead, and heard that uneven tapping on the line, that tapping was the rhythm of a mouse's teeth chewing interruptions into our connection, until it in fact chewed completely through the connection.
Where it had chewed through the connection, as the phone repairman told me this Wednesday, was just beyond the downstairs attic, meaning just past the ceiling of the kitchen below me, somewhere under the floor boards of the loft, where I'm now writing.
In other words, the mouse (or mice, for all I know) had chosen to chew the telephone line at one of the few places in its length where the line wasn't easily accessible to repair.
In order to repair the chewed line, the repairman now told me, it would be necessary to cut a twelve inch by eighteen inch hole in our kitchen ceiling.
Here's the funny thing about owning a house.
Because you do own it, you take a great deal of pride in it. It's yours.
Before Mary and I contracted to have our home built here, this lot was just a stretch of field and trees alongside a one lane country road., winding creek on the other side. Once our home was finished, the contractor took us on what's known as an 'inspection tour' to make sure we were satisfied with his crew's work. At one point, he led us out to what would be our backyard. The 'privacy fence', a six foot high, closely-slatted wooden fence surrounding the back yard, common in Texas and elsewhere, had been put up. All the wild shrubs growing in the backyard had been cleared away, but three trees at the rear of the property, each about three stories high, had been left. "I figured you'd want 'em." That night, back in our apartment in Carrolton, surrounded by taped cardboard boxes, it dawned on both of us. For the first time in our lives, we actually owned a tree. And not just one, but three. I can't tell you how happy that made both of us. We'd owned plenty of things before-- cars, CD players, silk clothes, china, camcorders-- but to actually own a tree! (Incidentally, the end of this month, July 31, will mark the tenth anniversary of the day we moved into our home. We'll be celebrating with a pot of lobsters).
A day or two before we moved in, I went to my dentist for a cleaning. "Just remember," he told me, "You're going to get that first ding in your new home at some point. That's the way it works."
So now we're looking at a definite ding. A one foot by one and a half foot section of our white kitchen ceiling cut out, something we both view as surgery.
After we moved in, and over the years, we of course improved our home, adding this touch and that, trying to constantly make it better. When one of our cats, Chirper, for reasons probably not even known to him, started tearing off the wallpaper in our master bathroom, working a seam free from the wall, then walking backwards with the paper in his fangs, ripping the wallpaper down, we replaced the defiled area. And so forth. We wanted our home to always be at least as perfect as when we moved in.
But now I wonder if, even after the telephone line is replaced, and the ceiling put back up, there might remain, forever, a moist, ghostly outline of the incisions. I hope not.
Next week I have to contact a carpenter to have a dry wall guy come out to do the sawing. Then have the telephone company come out to replace the line, then have the dry wall guy come back out to mend the rift.
So was bad luck bored with us by then?
The next night, Thursday, Mary came home from work and almost immediately put a palm up towards the white vent in the ceiling of our kitchen. "We're not getting any cold air."
I put my palm up. "It feels cool."
She was already in our master bedroom, high-fiveing the air blowing out of that vent.
I admit I was in denial. I didn't want our air conditioning system to be broken. But it was. Because I had been home all day, working, I hadn't noticed the gradual warming of the air inside.
By nightfall, it was miserable. Our thermostat registered close to ninety.
We slept without covers or clothes, fans on either side of our bed, blowing our hair, the drapes.
The next morning, Friday, yesterday, after Mary left for work, I called Ellis Air Conditioning. They'd be out sometime between one and six.
Our home has two independent air conditioning systems. One downstairs, one upstairs.
Fortunately, the upstairs system still worked.
I shut all the windows downstairs, lowered all the mini-blinds, turned off all the lights, in an effort to keep it only warm and humid, rather than hot and unbreathable (the day ended up being the first day this year Dallas broke one hundred degrees).
I took all my work upstairs, to do on my own pc up there rather than my company's pc, which was downstairs, figuring I'd venture down occasionally to see if I had any calls on my work phone, in our hot bedroom. Because of the mice, I didn't have any Internet connection, but the evening before, we were able to patch me through to Mary's connection, which is on a separate line the mice apparently didn't find as tasty, by stringing a fifty-foot phone line Mary bought that day, from her jack in her study to the pc in my loft (Which I'm still using. We're taking turns getting on the Internet).
About mid-day Friday, I ventured downstairs to check my messages, and make some lunch.
It was dim, warm and silent downstairs, all windows shuttered, air the dark green color of cooked artichoke leaves. Like walking through a big, rectangular, shut-down submarine.
I scrambled some eggs, them quickly retreated with them to the cool upstairs.
The air-conditioner guy arrived a half hour later. It turns out a screw holding two wires together had worked itself loose after years of gentle vibration, falling in just the right spot to short-circuit our downstairs system.
So now we have air conditioning throughout the house, but phone service only through Mary's one line upstairs, one jack of our regular number in the master bedroom downstairs, and my business lines, also in the downstairs bedroom.
Deaths of famous people occur in threes, we're told. Does bad luck also recognize pattern? Does it quit Friday night? Go off for a weekend in the hallways of hell?
So far, we haven't had any more bad luck, this visitation. Things have fallen apart, but the center still holds.
Eight slow thighs crawling, orange, black striped sides rippling, maybe the elephant has moved on, slouching elsewhere to be born again.