My Turn: An unwelcome present


Friday, September 15, 2017

There is probably no way to say this without sounding pitiful, so I will just say it. There are tiny black flecks, poppy seed-like deposits, on our windowsill. Not all of the windowsills, just two, but the two closest to the dining room table, so hard to miss.

They’ve been there for weeks now. Every day I check, hoping the flecks are gone. When they’re not, and they never are, I go at it with vacuum, whisk broom, scrub brush and bleach, then dry the sills carefully with paper towels, only to find that hours later the flecks are back with a vengeance.

And it’s not that I’m a lousy housekeeper. Please don’t think that. Okay, I’m not the best. Not my grandmother who waged her own germ warfare, down on her knees, tackling her black and white floor tiles with a full court press — muttering, humming, ordering clean in two and sometimes three languages. I’m less vigilant, perhaps less inspired. But I don’t deserve this plague of black flecks.

My husband seemed a tad complacent, but had no explanation. So I asked my son-in-law, a building contractor, highly knowledgeable about all sorts of critical things. I sent him a photo on my smart phone, marveling at its efficiency and at my own techno-wizardry. He texted back in minutes. “Ant poop” he declared.

I am puzzled. It’s true that we have had our share of infestations this summer, which we treated with various chemical and herbal infusions, but not here and not now. So for the next thirty minutes, I stared at the windowsills expecting to catch the culprits in action. When I don’t, not an ant in sight, I text back, “I don’t see any ants.” Our well informed son-in-law explained that ants may live in walls, rafters, roof beams, without being seen, except for the parts they shed and leave behind. “Use Borax,” he advised.

With that highly graphic picture of ant nests hidden in our beams, raining down their poop, I headed directly to Big Y. But couldn’t find the Borax. Finally, the manager located a single box behind other boxes. The ingredients, lots of them with multi-syllable names, sounded serious; sounded like they meant business. But then I started to imagine our cat perched on the windowsill, which he tends to do, paws in the powder, licking his paws, and how that couldn’t be good. Googling cats and Borax; it wasn’t good. Still, the next day, when the poppy seed flecks returned, I caved in and slathered a thick blanket of the glop on both sills for a sure fire deterrent. Problem solved. Not.

Hours later, the flecks were back now couched atop cushions of white clumpy powder. No sign of retreat. No sign of defeated ants taking their poop outside. Not the next day or the day after. “Maybe not ants?” I wondered. Rather than ask my authority on all things again, I went online. Sure enough, there was information on sites under the heading “black flecks on window sills.” Ants showed up as did spiders, but also termites.

“Termites, ” I read, “might reside in a window frame, or burrow into wood beams leaving their signature trails of termite poop. Also, I discovered that the technical term for insect poop was “frass,” which though more scientific, was equally revolting. Now I am thinking about sneaky termites eating the very structure of my home bite by bite. I am imagining those tiny bites and tiny poppy seed excreted year after year, their menu to include the beams so lovingly installed by my husband. Even though it won’t be a fast food production, how long before they have digested our entire house?

Time, clearly, is on their side and maybe, in the end, I will not be around long enough to see the results. But for now, I remain vigilant and continue to vacuum, sponge and whisk away the evidence. Perhaps, my son-in-law will discover the hiding places, but whatever happens next, we won’t give up.

Ruth Charney lives in Greenfield.