Heavy boots clomp up the metal stairs. The maintenance man is already irritated by the heat and the general nature of his job. He would much rather be sitting by his pond with a fishing line in the water and a beer in his hand. And yet, here he is…
“You got a light problem?” he asks of the tenant who answers the door. He wipes several beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and a salty, sour smell wafts into the apartment.
A slight woman stands in the doorway holding a fussy baby with fat cheeks and a troll like tuft of hair. The baby is her only accessory, aside from a pair of rimless glasses. She looks the man up and down; the tool belt and dusty boots are enough to verify his identify as he isn’t offering any other introduction. She is hopeful that he is actually the maintenance man and not a future star of The Forensic Files show.
Fortunately, there is a Louisville slugger bat next to the door.
“Just in case,” her husband said with a grim nod as he leaned the bat against the wall when they unpacked several weeks earlier. “You know we’re not in Indiana, anymore.”
Truth be told, the bat travelled with them regardless of the state from apartment to house and now back to an apartment, always taking its designated place by the door like an old, faithful guard dog with more bark than bite. She steps aside to allow the man in and eyes the bat, unsure how she would swing it and hang onto the baby at the same time, but certain she could manage it.
She has a fresh confidence in her ability as a defender. The day before, she hunted a red wasp that infiltrated the apartment and buzzed past the troll-baby at play. She went after the intruder and crushed it with the ferocity and matching roar of a lioness protecting her young.
The baby is silent as he watches the visitor with big, bright eyes. He feels safe in his mother’s arms, blissfully unaware of the danger of a stranger. He snuggles in close under her chin, content to be held.
The man flicks the light switch with a grease-stained finger, only four out of the five bulbs come to life. He leaves and returns with a ladder and a new light bulb. The ladder groans with each step under his weight while the woman watches with the baby from the ground. Neither one is very good at small talk with the man considering where to pick up another six pack of beer and the woman planning her attack if things got weird.
“So, what about the red wasps around here? They’re everywhere and so aggressive,” the woman says.
He gives her a wicked grin from the top of the ladder, “Welcome to the South, honey. Nothing you can do about the bugs down here other than get used to them.”
Ha, she almost laughs out loud. A literal LOL. And that’s where you’re wrong, she thinks, remembering the thrill of the hunt and the satisfying crunch from the day before. She walks the man out with his burned-out light bulb and ladder in hand, locks the door behind him and feels a sense of relief. She is a fierce mother who knows there is always something that can be done about a pest.