The heat and humidity slammed me as I exited the gate. Honolulu weather, so bad these past few months, persisted. I’d only been away for a week, a conference on memoir, so any hope that the weather would have changed to something I could tolerate was undoubtedly futile, at best.
I asked the Lyft driver if it had rained during the past week. It hadn’t. My grass would be brown, my yard wilting.
“That’s a great house,” he said, pulling up to my front door.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s very old. They don’t make them like this anymore.”
I couldn’t tell very well by the streetlight how dead my front lawn looked, but I could smell raw dry soil.
Stepping into my house, I was overcome by an even thicker humidity and heat. I moved immediately to my bedroom, the only room with air-conditioning, turned the unit on, and sat in front of it until my shirt had dried.
Undressing, I dove into the shower, allowing the cold water to chill me as much as possible. Once out, I dropped immediately into bed, feeling the jetlag creeping up on me.
The sound of the air-conditioner lulled me to sleep. The noise of machinery has always had that effect on me. I’ve been known to fall asleep while I’m vacuuming, and I used to take naps next to the air-conditioning power plant on the second-floor lanai of Hamilton Library, back in my undergraduate days.
Around four in the morning, a strange sound awoke me. It wasn’t loud, but it was loud enough to rouse me out of a dead sleep. The air-conditioner had shut off, the room having reached perfect temperature, so everything was very quiet.
I listened. After a few seconds, I heard the sound again. It was as if someone were drawing a saw across a piece of wood, but not constantly. It was as if the one doing the sawing were just notching the wood, getting the groove right before going at it full speed.
I sat up on the edge of my bed. The sound came again. Putting on my slippers, I stood up and walked toward my bedroom door, the direction from which I was pretty sure the sound had come.
I opened the door and was overcome by the hot and humid air. Almost staggering from the blow, I stepped out into my kitchen.
The sound came again. Not louder, but definitely closer. I moved toward the counter between the kitchen and dining room, reached for, and flipped the overhead light switch.
The tiny noise came again. I was drowsy and jet-lagged, but I could swear that the sound came from the refrigerator.
Odd. I stepped to the door and swung it open. The fridge light didn’t come on, and the smell of rotting food was overpowering.
I stepped back, gagging from the stench, and leaned forward heavily, my hands on my knees.
Trying to catch my breath, I listened. The small sawing sound came again. It was the freezer.
Not knowing what to expect in terms of rancid odors, I took a deep breath and threw the freezer door open.
That light did not work either. I peered inside. Saw nothing but the dark. I stepped to the sideboard, picked up a flashlight, and then shone it inside.
Everything was rotten, putrified. A long solid line of black ants wove like a maze around the contents of the freezer compartment, roiling together like some kind of serpent.
This time I couldn’t hold back. I vomited on the floor, felt faint in the heat, and fell backward passing out.
In the morning I woke up on the cold tile. I remembered immediately what I’d seen and sat up.
Surprisingly, both the refrigerator and freezer door were closed. The flashlight lay a few feet away, the glass lens fragments scattered about.
I stood, took a deep breath, and swung open the freezer door.
A cool rush of air swept over me as the light went on. Everything looked fine.
Maybe I’d been too groggy. It must have been the refrigerator. I swung that door open, and everything was as it should be. I was met with more cold air.
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Today’s word is
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