Amy Butcher

The Subtle Way

The girl had an earwig problem. The bugs slipped underneath her apartment door while she slept, and when she got up in the night, she heard first one crunch and then another. The bugs made her queasy—their pointed antennas and disjointed bodies. So she asked him, not knowing who else to ask, to help get rid of them.

“I read about this trap,” she said, because she had—this trap that involved a hollowed broom handle and a bottle filled with soapy water. The idea of the trap was this: the nocturnal bugs would crawl into the handle at night, favoring dark and shallow places, and when she woke she would tip it upright and the bugs would fall into the water. They would die there, just like that.

“I’ll make it for you,” he said. It was July and the town was hot. Anything to do seemed like something.

Together they walked to the hardware store. Inside, he knew exactly which aisle to go to. He went there and stood touching things for a while, picking up first one cap and then another.

“We need something to jimmy the bottle and pole together,” he said.

He decided on one—a small, rounded piece of plastic—then picked up a hollowed pipe and walked to the counter. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said, and he took a Coke from the chilled refrigerator beside the register. “I’ll get this, and I’ll drink it, and then we can rinse it out and fill it with soapy water.”

It was his efficiency she liked—the subtle way in which everything he did was with purpose. He made more sense when he did things than anyone she’d ever known. She was not this type of person—she made risotto with white wine and peas, and bought organic tomatoes, and owned not one but two iPods: one for running and one for general use.

Still, there was something about him, and back in her apartment as he fastened the plastic nub to the pole and finished the contents of the soda bottle, rinsing it out carefully before screwing it on, she thought this again. She watched the way his hands moved, slow and with purpose.

“There,” he said, and stood back to admire his work. “In the morning, you’ll have to tip it. You’ll have to grab it quick and tip it. Can you do that?”

“I can do that,” she said, because the bugs didn’t mean a thing anymore—they moved fast but they were small, and she could get rid of them, she would get rid of them, and she would show them both just how simple things could be.

Amy Butcher recommends "Virga" by Deanna Benjamin at Brevity.

(For December at Everyday Genius, contributors were asked to recommend something elsewhere on the Internet.)

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