David Lee Moth

Moths arrived in biblical numbers last week, like locusts to a crop. At the height of the plague, you could hardly see for fluttering wings, or hear over a piercing Bernard Hermmann like soundtrack: “eeeesh, eeeesh, eeeesh” as they swarmed into every nook and orifice.

And I mean every!

OK, I exaggerate, but that’s how it felt one night recently with three tap-dancing on a lamp, six slam-dancing against a window and two (I swear) darting from a cereal packet as if they’d been sprung making out. Then there was the “clothes dryer incident” in which no less than 30 dead moths were piled up inside. That’s when I freaked out!

“This is some seriously ominous biblical shit,” I said to Helena, reaching for the Good Book.

“Yeah, um, obviously?” she replied.

“We have likely done a great wrong,” I continued. “Maybe it was just you? But I will do some reading and ask forgiveness.”

“This is a joke, right?” she asked. “Haven’t you seen the news? There’s a moth problem in Melbourne right now.”

“Not like this,” I insisted. “Consider Job 4:19 – ‘How much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth?’ Huh? Huh? Our house might be brick, but Eltham is pretty mud-brick, which might as well be clay, and the ground gets pretty dusty in summer, doesn’t it? And those things flying around look like moths to me. EXPLAIN THAT!”

“Hah,” she sayeth unto me. “You’re an idiot!”

“Well might you scoth,” I went on. “What do you make then of Job 27:18: ‘He buildeth his house as a moth, and as a booth that the keeper maketh?’”

“I make of that what I make of most of the Old Testament and much of the New,” she said. “Nothing. It’s gobbledygook.”

“What’s gobbledygook about a house being made of moths,” I cried, exasperated by now. “I mean, look at this joint right now. It’s totally made of moths.”

“Listen, they’ll leave eventually,” Helena assured me. “Until then, clear the ones from the boys’ bedroom and learn to live with the ones elsewhere.”

This, I thought, was a bit rich coming from a woman who thinks nothing of springing out of bed at 3am, deranged, to spray a mosquito, trampolining for extra height, or screaming – and I mean SCREAMING – for me to “take care of” spiders (the Sopranos meaning of “take care of”).

Mostly, I refuse. Apart from mozzies and blowflies, I won’t kill any insect – deliberately at least, which hardly makes me a Buddhist, but will hopefully spare me a few karmic lashes in the afterlife. We have a range of different-size receptacles, which I place over different sized creatures, and different size and strength papers to slide underneath before depositing them outside – in the garden with most things, to Sydney with spiders. Cups do the trick with most insects, but sturdy, ice cream containers are required for massive Eltham huntsmen, who goad you from the wall while munching on legs of lamb.

I could heed Helena’s usual knee-jerk suggestion, and smash them over the head with a cricket bat, but you only get one shot at something that big (and besides, there’s the plaster to think of).

Moths, though, required skill and patience to remove from Sam’s room, where the night light shines bright. Verbal suggestion doesn’t work, nor pleading, nor flapping sheets, nor cigarette lighters, nor tennis racquets, nor toy trombones, nor incense and trust me, I’ve tried them all. Some docile moths are happily cupped in hands, but most lead you on a merry dance that’s anything but merry, until you’re perched on a bedpost or scaling a wardrobe, while the kids cry: “Hurry up, dad, we want to sleep” (they fear moths) and there’s four more to go, and 100 or so in the other rooms, and it’s 9.30pm and you’ve had a hard day and you feel like crying.

But you don’t, because you refuse to let them break you.

I realise that by simply sending them outside I’m basically saying: “Go forth, little moth, and make more moths, so you can sneak back in through whatever crack you’ve found and magnify my torment.” But I won’t kill them. They’re moths, and I remember dad cupping them in his hands when I was young. “They’re just moths,” he used to say. “They’re harmless, you should never kill a moth.” And so I don’t, despite them peeling away at my sanity strip by strip.

I like the thought of honouring dad’s wishes, and hate the thought of ‘thou shalt not kill’ applying to more than humans in the ‘ultimate’ court. Imagine it, this giant fly in a judges wig bellowing: You, Stephen McKenzie, are charged with the first degree murder of 25,000 flies, including the torture and murder of 500 between 1973 and 1979. How do you plead?”

“Guilty, your honour.”

“Then you shall be capsicum sprayed and swatted until you are dead. Again. And then, when you have risen, you shall have the face the mosquito court and all its wrath.”

In spider, beetle, cockroach and snail court, any lawyer worth his/her/its salt will have my charges downgraded to involuntary manslaughter at worst. But I’ll never face moth court! In fact, I’d like to think moths will be character witnesses at my trials (the mosquito one especially, coz that’s where I’ll be most f*#ked!)

Anyway, sure enough, Helena was right: a few days ago, I woke up to a moth-free house. No more fluttering, no more kids whining, no more opening cereal boxes with trepidation. I checked every room, every cupboard, every nook and cranny. Nothing. They’re gone, as if it was all just a bad dream, and I’m thrilled.

Still, is it asking too much for them to have said goodbye?

P.S. Our Scottish cleaner, Norma, got to the bottom of the dead moths in the dryer mystery. When I told her how it felt like I was in the middle of some supernatural thriller, she asked whether the damp clothes in question had been outside and if an elastic-rimmed bed sheet was among them? Yes, on both counts. “Ay, thaaa’s whits haaapened,” she said. “They’ve caught theirselves in thaaa n you’ve throoon thehm in the dryer.”

(There, that explains it, sadly…)