They’d visit every year, in late spring as I recall. And they’d stay until the end of summer. The pantry moths were our uninvited guests. “House guests are like fish”, as my cousin in Des Moines remarks, “They’re fine at first but they start to go off after three days.”
When they first arrive the moths are inoffensive in their delicate off-white coats. Standing upright, which I’ve never seen them do, they’d be a fraction taller than a centimetre; in full and fluttery flight their wingspan is about two-and –a half cm. I don’t mind them at first. Their numbers are few and they shun attention, nestling discreetly in the groynes of the kitchen’s plaster ceiling. What they are doing, I discovered, is waiting, plotting, fantasising. What is it that the moth’s minute brain contemplates high in the groynes? Sex, of course. Sex in our kitchen. This, I believe, ranks as an offence against hospitality.
Now I’ve never actually caught the moths at it. Perhaps they are too quick. Discreet they certainly are, as I observed earlier. But I know they do it. In the lines my late and beloved Uncle Abe loved to recite:
I can tell there’s been some pushin’
By the marks upon the cushion
And the footprints on the ceiling
In the case of the moths it’s their offspring that offend. Somehow they are born lengthier than their parents, at 1.3 cm. These pale plump maggots (I know, I know, they are pupae or something), these maggots drop from the ceiling onto the kitchen benchtops and worm silently, slowly, heading for some unseen bourne.
A few weeks after the arrival of the first of these obese spermatozoa we come across them in the pantry, within sealed jars of farinaceous foods. Their brains might be small but these fellers are all Houdini.
I have written previously of the obscure pleasure of discovering that the curious black crescents in my breakfast cereal I have just consumed are actually mice poo. Less charming somehow is the discovery of pupae in your oatmeal. After the first few of these vernal experiences we examine every package, every plastic container, every jar in our pantry and empty those infested into the bin. Then we buy some more and wait for next spring.
While still invaded and under plunderous attack, we counter-attack. Our weapon is chemical, doubtless banned by the Geneva Diet of Worms: the weapon is a Hovex Pantry Moth Trap. This consists of a small square of pink rubber steeped in some chemical pheromone that seduces the randy moth, who flies towards it in a state of high tumescence and lands on old fashioned fly paper, where cruelly affixed as if crucified in glue, the moth expires.
That’s how it used to be. Come spring, when
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of the singing of birds is come,
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
our fornicating moths would return.
But last September the moths failed. No flapping in the groynes, no wrigglers in the oatmeal. It felt lonely. It felt like environmental doom. I felt a shapeless guilt. Needing to apologise I wandered empty through my springtime kitchen looking for a maggot.
This environmental emptiness reminded me of the time on the dry land when the blowflies failed. On the lonely road to Bunninyong the words of the Preacher echoed obscurely:
Lest the evil days come
And the years draw nigh
When thou shalt say
“I have no pleasure in them.”
The world had changed ominously. Drought haunted the land.
But after a decade of drought the blowflies came back. And now, at the onset of winter, our pantry moths have returned. Unseasonal visitors, they are harbingers of environmental recovery.
Let all those souls who despair for perishing species visit our flapping, squirming kitchen. Or the blowfly haven of Bunninyong. Nature, it seems, loves the maggot.