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A Pestilence of Love

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When mice skitter across your kitchen counter in broad daylight, it’s time to call in the pros. That’s how Dave the Exterminator came into my life. He was the White Knight to my Damsel in Distress, and I fell for him hard.


Dave praised me for correctly identifying mouse droppings in the cutlery drawer. “Most people are way more in denial—they think they’re coffee grounds,” he cooed. Who wouldn’t love a guy willing to credit me with astuteness when it had actually taken mice traipsing through the dinner preparations for me to give him a call?


Dave came, he soothed, he plugged my holes. Like a partner who loves you anyway despite cottage cheese thighs, he reassured me that mice were a natural part of living next to open space, not a sign of dubious housekeeping or moral rot. Best of all, he came every couple of days with his little black bag to discreetly remove the corpses. The dog loved him. Who can resist a man who passes the pet test, even if he cheats with props?


My friends tried to temper my infatuation. “Sure, he’s cheerful and reliable. But do you really want to date a guy whose name is stitched above his pocket and who carries around dead mice in a briefcase?”


They had a point. But even if it wasn’t true love, my first exterminator will forever have a place in my heart. Also on my refrigerator, since his company’s magnet reassures me that Dave is there for me should I ever be invaded by mice again.


Today Mick the Termite Man arrived on my doorstep. Having a doorstep meant the house was still standing, so the call was obviously premature. Since I wasn’t buried by a towering mound of sawdust, I saw no need for further Exterminator Lust. But the Homeowner’s Association insisted that I go on this blind date, interested or not.


The dog liked Mick as much as he’d liked Dave, but this time I was more discerning. Politely bored, I only half listened as he told me about what he’d found in probing my siding. He showed me a tiny hole near the garage harboring termite feces. With unseemly excitement, he said there was no way to tell if the infestation had just begun or had been there for years. For $4,000 he’d be glad to tent my house and kill everything in it, except of course the termites might come back right away.


“What’s the point, then?” I asked, like a woman pushing forty finding out after the first cocktail that her date has suspicious gaps in his resume and no interest in having children. Why even bother to order an appetizer? Chitchat over bruschetta is for those with time on their hands and hope in their hearts.


Maybe the dog was still a sucker for animal magnetism, but my taste had matured. This was a guy who went around pumping poisonous gas into people’s houses, after all! And the termites, unlike their rodent counterparts, were hardly causing me to shriek and jump on top of the stove in a pathetic pre-feminist caricature. If they wouldn’t bother me for several years, who was I to bother them?


Sorry, Mick. Sure, you can give me your phone number. I’ll maybe call to set something up. Like after the house collapses.


But wait a minute. There on the corner of the estimate was a faint notation in red ink: “Tell about rats.”


“What’s this?” I asked, pulse quickening.


“Well, there are some rat droppings, nothing much . . .”


Move over, Dave.


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