Sometimes in my father’s house the doors of the upstairs bedrooms close on their own. My sister, before moving away to Omaha, used to say she saw things that weren’t there. Still, I never believed the house was haunted, so it didn’t bother me to take a nap in my sister’s old room (“the blue room” for its walls of robin’s egg blue). It was the middle of the morning of a very warm day.
Lying in the blue room, fighting the urge to stem the sleepiness with caffeine, I calculated twenty minutes before the inspection at 11:00 am. I should have just gone for the coffee. As I dozed the sleep was shallow, and I awoke hearing the wind chimes that I had just hung on the door to the family room downstairs.
This hand-painted wind-catcher captures the beauty of the reefs without
robbing them of their wonderful resources. Sand Dollars, Starfish, and Scallop
Shells are treasures of the ocean, and Bali is surrounded by a vast ocean full of life.
The musical tuning of this chime is from the exotic instruments of the Indonesian gamelan.
The specialist who came to check our house for termites arrived early and smiling too widely. I was upset by the interrupted nap, and the fact that his red shirt was too red for so early in the morning. I concluded that he was clumsy as well as too eager to take my money. But I did not want termites.
“Oh, they’re out there,” he said, clicking his drugstore-bought ballpoint pen. “The mound over by the bamboo trees, we’ll have to remove that. And poison the soil.”
So he had stepped out through the back door into the back yard, sweeping through the property in the short time it had taken me to come down the stairs. We walked through my house and up the stairs, his eyes running across my ceilings, into corners. All wood, yes. No, not antique. Yes, we just installed it. The termites, he informed me, had invaded from the empty lot next door.
“We’ll line the perimeter with poison so they can’t penetrate,” he said, clicking and scribbling with his ballpoint pen, sweat pellets forming on his temples. “Is there a trap door in the ceiling our people can crawl through?” I pointed at an outline in the ceiling of my children’s bathroom, a square tile hidden from view unless you happened to crane your neck in unusual angles. It was muggy and still up here, where the hot air rose into the sloping eaves.
“Will the…poison…kill my frangipani?”
“No,” he said, “it’s botanical. Citrus-based. Not likely to kill anything but termites.” I pictured a liquid murk seeping into the soil to find the queen termite, a thermal missile traversing its kill zone while leaving its orange-scented wake.
I signed the contract, ensuring monthly visits without my having to think about a thing, evaluations like a military review to rid my home of termites, ants, mice. All in. Sign now and cut a check to avail of the end of month promo. And just like that, I could worry less about stove-scurrying mice, termites emerging from their lair in the dirt to chew through my walls (sometimes at night I could hear them), ants on my dining table disrupting dinner with their rivulet-shaped processions down the tassels of the tablecloth my mother had crocheted by hand.
Then I heard it, after the termite man left on his motorbike. Echoes of blissful Bali breaks, yearly each summer when the girls were little. The wind chimes mimicking a fairy-sized gamelan. Disks of bleached teak tied together by black string, cat’s cradle style; slender steel rods suspended and, when brushed with a fingertip, made a sound like the tinkling of glasses. Or like spirits trailing bells through the trees, on nights lit only by the moon and candles on dinner tables. At the end of the string, a real starfish, a fragile pentangle the color of beach sand. Of five points, I counted four-and-a-quarter. It looked like a thing dead, scavenged off a dying wave, one of its limbs missing.