Cold November Plagues
You know that scene in Outbreak when Dustin Hoffman strides purposefully into the hospital, ready to tackle the impossible task of curing a novel virus, when another doc grabs him and points out that a patient in isolation now has signs of the disease? Remember how Hoffman looks up and we get that whiplash-inducing tour of the air vents that shows us how the virus jumped between rooms?
There is no such connection between my kitchen pantry (where the moth infestation started) and my laundry room (though they are back to back and each behind a closed door), but when I opened the laundry room door two weeks ago and spotted a pantry moth on the ceiling, I felt Hoffman’s panic.
It had already been a dark month, where the darkness brought on by the increasingly shorter and cloudy days only felt like one of the many plagues sent my way, plagues that started with the (five) mice in my closet crawl space and then became larvae on my pantry rice. Instead of escaping to Florida for Thanksgiving like my neighbors, I found myself setting and emptying mouse traps and throwing out food and spraying a bleach and water solution over every pupa, whimpering with disgust, no matter how much I tried to inhabit my friend’s mindset, the one who absolutely reveres the process of metamorphosis.
Because Ms. Pennington not only owns a bookshop and solves mysterious murders that happen at a ridiculous rate in her sleepy North Carolina town (perhaps even more ridiculous how little the characters fear for their lives while living through these ordeals), she engages her customers by offering them “bibliotherapy,” that is, suggested reading to help them with whatever emotional problem they may be dealing with. While Ms. Pennington does resort to traditional self-help titles when a friend wants to learn how to promote herself at work, she mainly sticks to fiction.
I think this is why I love these books so much (and will go back to read books two, three and four in the series next): While they are fast-paced murder mysteries that skip the gore, they are jam-packed with reading recommendations! I love seeing both familiar and unfamiliar titles and gathering ideas for future reading. Ms. Pennington and her friends read both deeply and widely and somehow, in the midst of running businesses and solving impossibly difficult crimes, they also manage to meet for a weekly book discussion.
I’m still searching for my next book club, but in the meantime, these characters were great company on a dark, cold day after I was done scrubbing the pantry ceiling, shelves, walls and floor. And, when the moths returned and somehow jumped locations to the adjacent-though-not-connected laundry room, a neighbor offered her portable ozone machine.
“Just leave the house while it’s plugged in and air everything out afterwards,” she warned.
The dog and I took a walk. Time will tell whether sucking all of the breathable oxygen out of the space succeeded in ending the life cycle of the resilient pantry moth or not.
The days are still gray (enough that I planned our next trip to Florida), and I still need to set more mousetraps, but I had an unexpected gift waiting when I turned the blinds one morning: a November snowfall. Suddenly, everything was brighter and more peaceful. (Those landscapers manning leaf blowers couldn’t work in the cold weather, thank goodness!) My kids were wishing for a snow day as they stomped in their boots to the bus stop, but I told them that whether school is in session or not, it happened. Here, a snow day. A respite. Blanketing us, soothing us, and tucking us in for the long winter to come.
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