leah mc­fall

When the pest guy ar­rived, I liked him im­me­di­ately. I like any­one with a base­ball cap with the slo­gan “Fatal from the first feed.”

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

In the past month I’ve had dozens, per­haps hun­dreds, of house guests. And now I’ve had them all killed.

Yes! We had bed bugs! Don’t you feel itchy just think­ing about it?

It started with a clus­ter of three rasp­berry-red bites dot­ted on my ab­domen. The next day there were more, often in groups of three where it seems I’d been break­fast, lunch and din­ner.

They kept ap­pear­ing, usu­ally in the morn­ing, de­spite a frenzy of vac­u­um­ing, hot-wash­ing, mat­tres­su­plift­ing, seam-check­ing and un­der-the-breath­swear­ing. Those win­g­less lit­tle suck­ers were play­ing me like a cheap pi­ano!

I hadn’t found any ac­tual bugs but I was con­vinced we had them, so a week later I called a pest con­troller to come and per­form an ex­or­cism in the house. I didn’t care if he used a cru­ci­fix, a blow­torch or a burn­ing fag­got of sage leaves; I’d had enough.

You see, this wasn’t the first time I’d been at­tacked. Ten years ago in a guest house in Ger­many, I woke up to dozens of an­gry welts all over my torso. These were coin-sized discs with a hard, clear cen­tre, which wouldn’t budge for a fort­night. Are you feel­ing itchy now?

“Look at these!” I hissed to my trav­el­ling com­pan­ion. “This room must have bed bugs!” She was hor­ri­fied.

“We have to move,” I said. She was more hor­ri­fied. We could not, un­der any cir­cum­stances, of­fend our hosts. Let the record show that I would rather I be eaten alive than up­set peo­ple, so I wrapped my­self in a sleep­ing bag and slept on top of the bed­ding for the rest of the stay, stink­ing of calamine lo­tion.

Look­ing back we did the right thing be­cause, you know, Ger­many. (I’m al­lowed to joke about the Ger­mans be­cause half my fam­ily is Ger­man, and when I was a child they would switch to Deutsch to talk dis­creetly about Christ­mas presents, cys­ti­tis or di­vorce. We also ate a lot of meat­balls.)

Ac­tu­ally I’m crush­ing on Ger­many at the mo­ment be­cause An­gela Merkel is the only Euro­pean leader who seems com­pas­sion­ate as well as clever, is nei­ther cor­rupt nor in­clined to­ward ex­tra-mar­i­tal af­fairs and, us­ing the in­ter­na­tional lan­guage of the sin­gle raised eye­brow, re­duced Trump to the turnip he is at their White House photo call last month.

I also love that photo of her at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble giv­ing Ivanka the side-eye, which proved that never does a poo­dle look more like a poo­dle than when it’s sit­ting be­side a rot­tweiler.

When the pest guy ar­rived, I liked him im­me­di­ately. I like any­one who wears a base­ball cap with the slo­gan FATAL FROM THE FIRST FEED.

I ex­plained what had hap­pened and he nod­ded with recog­ni­tion. Bed bugs, he said, were on the rise in Welling­ton. We’d made a naive mis­take by stor­ing suit­cases un­der our bed. Bed bugs are mighty trav­ellers, ap­par­ently – unlike me, whose pass­port ex­pired five years ago. They’d likely hitched a ride from some ho­tel, and may have dug into our skirt­ing boards as dis­tantly as six months ago.

I was re­lieved there was a so­lu­tion. I liked hear­ing the per­cus­sive squirt of his spray tank in the bed­room. Thanks to him I would once more be­come mis­tress of my do­min­ion. At the mo­ment I was sleep­ing on the couch and scratch­ing my­self like a fam­ily dog.

“In­sects don’t like me,” he said, rather re­dun­dantly, as he sprayed. He’d been do­ing this for 25 years and was hardly ever bit­ten.

Ap­par­ently some peo­ple are tastier than oth­ers, and I’m one of them. “It’s your Euro­pean genes,” he said (al­ways, al­ways the Ger­mans). He also said that of all the fly species in New Zealand, only two bite; the West Coast sand­fly, and the Welling­ton one.

So here I am, half­way around the world from my ge­netic roots, un­able to es­cape them. And of all the cities in all the world, I choose the one with bit­ing flies.

He didn’t ac­tu­ally find a bed bug; just some­thing that may have been one. But it’s re­as­sur­ing, isn’t it, to think I may have held the hordes at bay? Cre­ated a mus­tard gas haven in my house? I haven’t ceded power; I’ve taken back my ter­ri­tory, even if my fears were in my own head (but the bites; what could ex­plain the bites?). I’d given na­ture a lethal serve, and the game was mine to win.

Half the house is shrouded in sheets and there’s an in­ert calm here, now that ev­ery­thing’s dead.

“Be vig­i­lant,” were his part­ing words as he packed to leave. I watched him go and so did the neigh­bour­hood cat, who was on its usual cir­cuit go­ing round the houses, look­ing for an invit­ing spot of sun­shine on a soft bed. Lately, ours.

“I will!” I said, by way of goodbye, and the moggy saun­tered in.

“Us­ing the in­ter­na­tional lan­guage of the sin­gle raised eye­brow, An­gela Merkel re­duced Trump to the turnip he is.”

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