Our Freedom was supposed to arrive last week. I heard there’s a strike at the warehouse. I know I should’ve paid for express delivery but Kim said that just placing the order was “a financial stretch.” She hasn’t even noticed that our Freedom isn’t here yet. This is hard to believe as it seems like everyone else already has theirs.
Night falls. Anton, our neighbour, starts singing Russian ballads. He sings often, sometimes after midnight, and he doesn’t stop until I throw a shoe at his window. His repertoire is usually more up-beat which makes me think he’s also waiting for his Freedom to arrive.
Howling like wolves, the twins take turns swinging on the refrigerator door.
I worry about the hinges.
HOW TO COMMIT REGICIDE
I tell Kim that the landlord replied to my email about the ants in the kitchen. His reply, in full, read: “We cannot kill them. We cannot outsmart them. They have been here longer than us. They will find a way.”
I need a strategy.
“There are over 13 000 identified ant species, and thousands more that haven’t been classified yet,” I say. “What if these ants are an undiscovered species? Maybe I should order a microscope and find out.”
Kim tells me to shut up and get rid of the ants. She refuses to listen to any policy initiatives I put forward that involve “appeasement” or “mutual understanding”. Such actions, she argues, will inevitably lead to the annexation of our kitchen and “that’s just the first step in their long game of total domination. It’s us or them.”
She reads from her phone: “Uncooked grains, like oatmeal, will kill them by exploding in their stomachs.”
“We’re out of oatmeal,” I say.
She scrolls then stops.
“Here. This method is better anyway. You have to kill the Queen. Follow the trail of ants to their colony and pour boiling water onto it. The ants will panic and flee. When you see the Queen – that’s the one with wings – end her reign of terror forever!”
A HISTORY LESSON
I suspect people are hoarding. It wasn’t always like this. Dad came over for dinner last week so I asked him about Freedom in the old days.
“Did you order it straight-up?” he asked. “When I was a teenager, your uncle Jimmy and me ordered some without checking the fine print. It was newspapers in them days and some of the fine print was very fine and we didn’t read so good. Anyways, we ordered Freedom and, next thing we knew, we were contracted to construct the New Jersey Turnpike for the next ten years.”
The twins sat at his feet, listening intently.
“But my Dad – your Granddad – he had stories. Back in his day, people used to let Freedom sing. In every village and small town, you could hear it echoing round the hills. There was so much Freedom no one would ever think of paying good money for it!”
SOMETIMES THE CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN
Kim dusts off the fondue set and loosely curates a table-scape – the antique brass candelabras, a scatter of cushions, sprigs of dried wildflowers – before the guests arrive. As usual, I’m the nominated DJ. Tonight’s theme is Clyde Stubblefield’s unacknowledged background beat of the late 20th century. That is, I have chosen only songs that use the drum loop from James Brown’s Funky Drummer.
Kim begins the conversation.
“It’d be adorable if he hadn’t paid for it.”
“Freedom was easy when we were young,” says Katya as she stirs the fondue. “I’d just recline in a leopard-skin robe on a chaise lounge and smoke.”
“It was enough to lip-sync as you wandered around an abandoned building, peeling wallpaper and rust-spotted mirrors in the background, wrapped in a satin bedsheet.”
“Or recline in a bathtub in a fur coat,” adds Kim.
“Faux fur,” says Katya, “faux fur, champagne and...”
“…COCAINE!” the trio shout in unison, then collapse into laughter.
Katya returns to the fondue.
“My dancing shoes have rusted,” says Najda, “and I look like a cello.”
I knew this was my signal to crank up the volume, which I did, then dimmed the lights and pushed the table to the wall. Kim, Katya and Nadja danced in a circle, hands clasped like Botticelli’s Three Graces from his celebrated tempura panel, “Spring of the Glossy Print Magazines”, and all three sang out of tune (but right on cue), “all we have to do now is take these lies and make them true.”
To mark Koningsdag, the Dutch national holiday, the owner of the flower stall gave me a free tulip. I was there to buy a bunch of irises for our regular Friday night Van Gogh dinner. The tulip clearly didn’t fit the bouquet but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. This would be disrespectful to Van Gogh, who, though he never painted a single tulip, was Dutch after all. I was in a hurry to get home so I called a car.
“Aha. I see your stress, friend,” said the driver as we ground to a halt in the cross-town traffic. “How do you think they built the pyramids? Freedom! The Roman Colosseum? Freedom! Man on the Moon? Yes, you know it! I’ve ordered up big, my friend. Freedom is the new awesome!”
He pulled the car into the service lane and zipped along the line of standing traffic, then continued.
“I make it a point to steep myself in information. Always on, 24/7. Hey, you’ve ordered, right?”
He watched my reaction in the rear-view mirror.
“Sure,” I nodded, “I even paid for express delivery. It should arrive today.”
His Jesus dashboard bobblehead nodded. He grinned into the rear-view mirror.
“Today, a single tulip. Tomorrow, first-class tickets to Hawaii!”
As soon as we stopped I got out and carefully pulled the orange tulip petals off, one by one, dropping them in the gutter, leaving only a naked stalk hidden among the irises.
A LETTER FROM AN ANT COMMUNE TO KARL MARX
The ants’ trail extends across the kitchen and ascends the pantry door, an invisible path of chemical signals from the nest to the drip on the side of a sauce bottle.
Night falls. There’s a knock at the door. It’s Anton. He returns last night’s shoe.
I invite him in for a beer.
“Great climbers,” he says, motioning to the ants.
“There’s a lot to admire about them,” I reply. “They collectively care for each other and solve problems in teams. They’ve abolished private property. It’s communism in action.”
Anton shakes his head.
“Ants didn’t move through the historical modes of production. An ant is no more a communist than a pig is a capitalist. They work for a queen. At the end of that trail, there’s a winged Marie Antoinette with silk slippers on each of her six feet. Every one of these workers must bring her cake crumbs.”
“But in some larger colonies,” I argued, “workers have been known to forcibly remove the queen. She’s less powerful than you’d think.”
He laughed and took a swig of his beer.
“But how are you going to get rid of them?”
“I thought I could engineer division, seed misinformation. Plant a crumb here, a crumb there. Disrupt the trail enough that they overthrow the monarch and found a new worker’s colony.”
I imagine them waving the queen’s head on a toothpick. Kim would approve.
I reached for a book from the shelf and continued.
“Listen. This is the Second Letter from an Ant Commune to Karl Marx: ‘The Free Traders here are making use of prosperity to buy the working class by appealing to their basest material interests.’”
Anton finished the last of his beer and nodded.
“It’s hard to penetrate their ideology,” he said.
FREEDOM IS SOMETHING PEOPLE TAKE
After Anton left, I took a torch and searched up and down the street, behind hedge-rows and fences, in low branches and on front porches. Sometimes mail goes astray, delivery guys get lazy or kids think it’s fun to raid a letterbox and, when they find nothing interesting, dump the evidence.
I see something glinting in Anton’s front garden, a golden glow in the compost heap. I climb the fence and, crawling on hands and knees, I scoop out handfuls of goopy vegetable scraps, rotten fruit and teabags. It’s just an old chocolate wrapper but I brush it off and smooth it out.
Clutching the golden wrapper, I open our front door and I’m hit by a noxious smell of burning plastic and a cacophony of mad noise. I run down to the kitchen. Kim’s screaming maniacally. She’s got an aerosol can of bug spray in one hand and a lighter in the other and she’s torching the line of ants on the bench with her home-made flamethrower.
Side-by-side, the twins swing on the refrigerator door. The top hinge creaks, then breaks, and they fall, howling, onto the floor.