SPOTLIGHT: The Light to Never be Snuffed by Josh Dale

(First 9 pages)

On the day of the ant invasion, my parents missed their second mortgage payment.

“It’ll be hard to sell the house when it’s eaten by ants, Ron,” my mom said from the foyer. She wielded two cans of Mr. Yuck and sprayed the floors. “Gotcha little bastards.”

“They’re in the garage. Goddamn, the big ones.” My dad said. He stomped into the laundry room and retrieved the vacuum. He knelt to find the outlet, crushed ants on the floor. The vacuum roared to life. The plastic wheels and suction did the most.

It was like a fighting game but in reverse. My parents with their killing machines backed closer to each other. It was in the hallway where my mom bumped my dad with her butt. He turned from the chaos, put his hairy hand on her shoulder, and shoved.

My mom slid where she sprayed. The thud rocked the house. She bounced back and dropped a can. Rubbed her forehead with her hand. She paused for three Mississippi seconds, crouched to grab the can. A smudgy crack on the wall remained.

On the day of the ant invasion, I saw my dad assault my mom.

I did all I could to not be yelled at by him. I grabbed the broom that towered over me. I kicked the bristles with all my might. I brushed the ants into corners. A pile of them formed under our family portrait. All of us were a little bit younger, a little more together.

An ant crawled onto my hand. It tickled and didn’t look mean. I studied the head and the antennae. Saw just how squishy it was between my thumb and pointer finger. Some goo popped out like a mini slime balloon. I wiped the guts on my shorts.

“Goddamn, stop spraying,” my dad said. He yanked the cord out of the wall and huffed a lot. “They’re not supposed to be swimming in it.”

He claimed victory over the laundry room, but it smelled like Mr. Yuck. I was worried the house was toxic and dangerous. I crept down the hallway and covered my mouth with my shirt. My eyes stung as I peered through the stair banisters.

My mom rose from her knees. Empty cans dangled from her sides. Not a single thing moved except our shoes. I ended up in the kitchen. He slid the sliding door open. The smell of nature flowed in. It soothed me. The ants were finally defeated.

“Open the door, Diane,” my dad said.

“Hey Mr. Poet,” my mom said. “You pushed me into the wall.”

“What, no I didn’t. I was easing you out of the way.”

“Come closer.”

My dad stomped over to her. Like he did sometimes when they argued. Even without seeing it, I learned about my dad’s mood through his walk. Upstairs or downstairs it didn’t matter. His head followed her pointed finger, at the busted wall.

“Enough. I’m getting a shower.”

“Well, I—it was hard to know where you were.”

My mom did just that, she dropped the cans onto the floor and pulled off her socks. She plodded upstairs. She saw me through the banisters and flashed a tired smile.

“Thanks for helping Jack.”

I nodded at her as she disappeared. To reappear in the bathroom like a teleporter. My dad cleaned up in silence. Wrapped the vacuum cord around his arm. Grabbed the cans and put them outside in the recycle bin. I sunk low behind the banisters so he couldn’t see me. He puffed around like I was invisible.

“You look like you ran a mile in Arizona,” I said.

I sounded like a mouse with my squeaky voice. My dad turned into a cat. Chased my stupid joke back to my mouth. Beads of sweat plummeted from his nose onto his shirt. He saw the broom still in my hand.

“We’re done here, kid.”

The weight of the broom escaped my hand. He snagged it up for me and went back into the garage. His face didn’t look like a tomato, but his wispy mustache curled to the right. That meant business. When the door slammed, I panicked.

My socks slid across the nasty floor, and I nearly fell. I grabbed my mom’s socks and bolted up on all fours. Hand and feet thumped on the carpet, like a dog. I forced my body into the bathroom door. The latch gave way.

My mom was naked and sat on the edge of the yellowed tub. Scrubbed her feet with Mr. Yuck. She gasped. I gasped. I saw her boob for a mini-second. I barely knew what they were in my mind’s eye. She wrapped a towel around her fast.

“Jack! Shi—take mushrooms, you scared me.”

It felt like I crossed a line that should never be crossed. Her face was red, like my dad’s. It was a brief standoff, like in those cowboy movies. All quiet and still. My hands tightened around the stinky cotton.

“You,” I choked out. “You forgot your socks.”

She smiled at me, but her eyebrows arched like tunnels.

“Is that all?”

The bathroom and kitchen floors were made of linoleum tiles. They were made of twelve-inch squares. Stepping inside the jagged borders felt safe and I needed safety. I had to be honest with my mom, inside a tile or not.

“I’m scared. Did dad hurt you?”

My mom held the towel with a death grip. The saw blades roared to life inside the garage. I was so far up but they pursued me. The house had to be made of, like, spiderwebs. Goosebumps formed on my arms.

“We won’t lose the mort-a-gidge, right?” I yelled.

She scratched at her lead. Leaned into it like a dog. The spray made heads itchy. I didn’t feel it. I didn’t see it at first, but dark circles were under her eyes. I had no idea that was a normal look for her until it was.

“Jack, inside voice.”

“You’re not answering me.”

If I turned my Gameboy volume up to the max and rolled the batteries around, it would make a similar sound. At least the fiddling was in my control. Those sawblades screeched and cut into my eardrums like the firework factory caught fire.

“Why are you yelling?”

“The saw is loud, mom.”

She knocked the brush off the tub’s edge. “I slid, alright? And no, we won’t.” It came to a stop near the drain.

I held them tight together in the tile. They throbbed. The blades stopped. A clunk echoed throughout the room. I flinched. My mom flinched because I did. My inside voice resumed.

“How much more will dad be sawing wood?”

“Until he’s done his orders.”

“Where’s my Gameboy?”

“It’s in your room.”

I jutted back so my feet were half on the tile, half on the carpet.

“And Jack,” my mom continued. Covered in suds, her feet were inside a tile. “Always knock when girls are in the bathroom. It’s polite.

I nodded, threw the socks away, and jolted.

“Close the door, please,” my mom said.

I went ope before correcting my actions. The saw distracted me way too much. Ihopped a couple of feet into my room. Heard everything between the feather walls. My mom got up and locked the doorknob. I shut my door and shoved the yellow blanket under the door. Hated yellow after I turned eight.

I leaped into the air, and I spread my arms like a falcon. When my body hit the bed, I heard a crack. My purple Gameboy was face down on the sheets. If I had my Gameboy, I was happy. My nail caught on the power switch. The reddish part turned white.

I wanted to be mad about that the pain, but I couldn’t. The ants were gone. My parents weren’t beating each other up. It was Saturday afternoon. I had Pokémon to catch. The saw roared some more, but it was safer and quieter in my room.

The Gameboy screen took a while to load. The power light wasn’t dim. I took the cartridge out and blew the slot at the bottom. No dust. I counted five Mississippi seconds, inserted it back, and restarted.

Just then, a wave of pixelated ants marched across the screen. I felt some fog blow into my head. Like behind my eyes. Dots were everywhere. The ants broke free and marched down the case and the buttons. They got on my hands and bit into my flesh. I couldn’t move, couldn’t brush them off.

They made it onto my neck and poured into my mouth. They went for my eyes. I saw sparklers, many of them. The ants filled my ears. The saw was no more. Everything sounded like a music note. The lump of ants clogged my throat. My lungs stopped breathing and my heart stopped beating.

I rolled right off the bed. Broke right through the floor. Then, the other floor. My body plummeted to the ground. The ants had carved a little grave, just for me. It felt like every bone in my body broke at once. My brain was overheated and made me drowsy.

The light above my bed had rings around it. It was like a star through a telescope. I wondered if I was stuck there. I wondered if the ants took revenge against us humans. Took out the smallest of them as an example. The last light was snuffed before I could count at all.


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