Sorry ’bout da humbug
Story by Lara McGlashan | Illustration by Matt Foster
Before my son, Alex, and I moved to Maui, we would visit, and stay in all manner of condos with pristine, insect-free grounds. Occasionally, a mosquito might bother our ankles at dusk, but other than that, we lived happily in a debugged, idyllic Eden. Of course, this is how we expected to find the ‘ohana (guest house) we rented when we relocated to Maui in 2020.
Our ‘ohana was at the front of a sprawling property with a two-story home in the back, a murky-lurky fish pond and overgrown gardens dotted with disintegrating statues. The entire ‘ohana and surrounding grounds were canopied by an enormous monkeypod tree, with boughs thicker than an elephant’s thigh, stretching in all directions like a beach umbrella. Underneath, decades of monkeypod droppings mixed with an unruly thicket of ivy to create — bug heaven.
But the bugs didn’t realize how good they had it, and would visit our ‘ohana regularly to see how the other half lived. Cockroaches were our most frequent guests, hanging about in the sink, the shower, the dresser and even the coffee maker. Every morning, I’d find at least one on its back in the hallway, its legs kicking feebly in the throes of buggy death. And I learned the hard way to wear shoes to the bathroom at night.
Then there were the ants — heavy black ones, angry red ones, and the teeny, tiny sugar ants that even fit through window screens. And of course, the spiders — huge, furry cane spiders that could leap clear across a room; round, spiky black-and-white spiders who insisted on making a web in the front doorway every night; and palm-sized garden spiders who arranged their legs in a big X-marks-the-spot in the center of their webs. Fortunately for my face, this habit made them easy to see and avoid.
After a while, bugs were simply a thing. We swept the roaches out the door, wiped the ants away with a sponge and waved a dishtowel across the front door before going in or out. But then one day, I was folding laundry on my bed when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. As I turned to look, a centipede as long as my forearm and as thick as a hot dog sprinted toward me with its head held high. I shrieked, jumped into the hallway and slammed the door. Alex bolted up from the couch.
“Centipede!” I squeaked.
“Let me see!” he said. We had been warned about centipedes (and centipede stings) by some long-time residents, but we hadn’t been told how to dispose of them.
“Wait,” I said. I found a can of Raid under the sink and held it at arm’s length in front of me as Alex opened the door. The centipede raced forward, a miniature Chinese parade dragon. Screaming, I soaked it with Raid. But it didn’t die — it got mad, thrashing back and forth on the floor. I slammed the door shut again.
“I guess we have to wait,” I said. Alex nodded and we sat down to watch a movie. Halfway through, he peeked in.
“Not dead,” he announced.
We checked again when the movie was over — still not dead. The centipede had worked its way across the floor and was now flinging itself about underneath the bed. Where was I going to sleep?
Just then, our stoic plumber arrived to fix the shower. He had been here the previous week to install a garbage disposal, and within that hour, he had never uttered a word. I showed him to the bathroom and he got to work. I quickly decided that this leathery, weathered Hawaiian had likely seen many a centipede in his day, so when he was done with the shower, I explained about the centipede and the Raid and the not-dying thing, and asked if he could check under the bed for us.
“You know, to see if it’s dead yet?” I clarified.
He stared at me for several seconds with a Vegas-quality poker face, then opened the bedroom door and looked in. He shut the door, walked to his truck, and came back with a stout machete. He went into the bedroom, and Alex and I waited, listening.
Whup! He reemerged, wiping the blade on his jeans. “Dead now,” he said. Then he smiled with a jack-o-lantern grin. “No charge.”
Printed with permission from the author.