Sunday, 5 April 2009

Clothes Moths

April delivered clothes moths, and one Sunday Daniel was tying cinnamon, and ginger, and cloves into the square envelopes he had cut from a bedsheet to hang in the doorless wardrobe in his room.

‘You’d be better off just getting a door put on it,’ I told him.

‘No, what I really need is cedarwood.’

‘Or a heavy curtain, something to stop them getting in.’

‘Cedarwood’s the best thing for repelling them, I read,’ he repeated, his thick fingers fumbling with the twine.

‘But if they can’t get in–’

‘You know, it’s not actually the moths that do the damage,’ he said, pulling the cord tight around the neck of the cotton bag, ‘it’s the larvae.’

‘But if the moths can’t actually get in with the clothes in the first place–’

‘That’s what the spices are for,’ he said, ‘to deter the moths.’

He was finding the knots difficult; his hands hardly made for such delicate work. Stooped over the table, he struggled on, bag after bag until all eight were sealed. Eight pomanders to fend off the countless moths.

‘There,’ he said with a satisfied grin upon his face, ‘that should do it.’

He showed me the holes a moth had made in the jumper he was wearing, right in the middle of the front.

‘That was last year’s,’ he told me, ‘last year wasn’t so bad for them, but the year before that! You should have seen them! They’re a nuisance more than anything. Just little holes they make, but they ruin a perfectly good jumper.’

He made us tea. He made us tea in the brown-glaze teapot that is missing a lid. He stomped about the kitchen, unable to find spoons, and cups, and finally the milk, and I said it was fine because I could take it without milk, but he said it was annoying because he was sure he had bought some the other day.

‘And how is work?’ I asked.

‘Work?’ he said, ‘work’s fine,’ he said, and he looked at the floor.

‘That’s good,’ I said.

‘It’s fine,’ he said, ‘it’s been going fine.’

‘That’s great.’

‘Only–’ he said, and he looked at me with those big empty eyes, he looked at me with the helplessness of a child who is lost and appealing to be saved from the world, ‘there’ve been one or two incidents lately,’ he said, ‘just little things, but they’re bugbears all the same.’

I nodded. I understood. I thought I understood.

‘The first,’ he said, beginning to tell his tale, ‘happened a few weeks ago. We’d had some German visitors in. It was all top brass, but they showed them round. Introduced them to us all. They were very interested in the work I’d been doing, and they complimented me on it, and I said that I couldn’t have done any of it without Karen, my assistant. “Karen’s shown me such devotion,” I told them.’

‘Devotion?’ I repeated. It seemed a funny word.

‘That was just it,’ he said, staring glumly at his cup, ‘she was there, and I think she probably heard. It’s been very awkward since then. I’ve not known what to say.’

I nodded. It was hard, I said, but it probably didn’t matter. It was a silly thing to get worked up by.

‘And then,’ he said, ‘there was the incident over the minibus.’

‘The minibus?’

‘They didn’t send one. Or rather they did, but they sent the wrong one. They sent us someone else’s minibus and they got ours by mistake.’

I nodded again. I didn’t understand.

‘We were going to take some of the seniors out for the day. There was the floral show on. We thought; floral show, pub lunch, we could have them back before their tea.’

‘It sounds nice,’ I said.

‘So we ordered a minibus for them. Minibus and driver. For the day. There’s only ten of them, but that’s too many for two cars. So we booked this minibus and the chap to take us there and back, and it was all sorted.’

I sipped my tea. I was listening, but I’d become distracted. A clothes moth was walking across the table, brazenly weaving its way in and out of the stacked bags of spice.

‘Only when he turns up, it’s the wrong minibus. He says “Minibus for Lurch.” I said, “There’s some mistake, my name’s Rudd.” I said, “I think you’re meant for somebody else.”’

‘No–’ I said staring at him in disbelief.

‘I sent him away. Clearly this Lurch fellow ended up with our minibus for the day–’


‘But I’ve had no explanation–’


‘No account for why we were left without transportation for ten senior citizens.’

No,’ I said, appealing for him to understand, ‘it was a joke,’ I said, ‘the driver, he was making a joke.’

‘A joke?’ he said.

‘He was joking,’ I said, ‘when he said Lurch, he meant –’

And there was no going back. I realised only then that the thing had to be said. That for him to understand it could not be unsaid. The hole began to unwind around him, to grow ever larger and swallow both of us inside. I looked away briefly. Perhaps he would get it on his own. I looked away, and only then saw the milk bottle on the dresser half obscured by an untidy sheaf of newspapers. There was no disguising it; it had to be said.

‘He meant you,’ I said, ‘he was calling you Lurch.’

‘It was booked under the company name. There’s no Lurch that works for us. I made the booking. It would be under my name.’

‘From The Addams Family,’ I told him, ‘the television programme from the sixties.’

‘I’m aware of it,’ he said.

‘Well the butler, the big lumbering butler, is called Lurch.’

And only then did he get it. He hadn’t known, I think, that that's was the character’s name was; but he knew now all right. We sat there in silence watching the clothes moth trip and dally about the table. It crept across the pomanders and then took flight only to settle on them again.

We watched it and neither of us said anything, until finally it took off one last time from the table and I pushed it firmly with my thumb into the wall.

‘Don’t do that,’ Daniel said as I pulled back my thumb to reveal the dead insect, flattened, surrounded in a halo of silver dust on the wall; the scales of its wings a smudged imprint of its final moments, ‘the marks,’ he said, ‘they never come out.’