BOOKS IRELAND FLASH FICTION
Woodlice Lessons, by Claire-lise Kieffer
Woodlice and spiders live in the little house on the hill in perfect harmony.
At least, they seem to have always lived there, judging by how stricken they look when I move in. I sweep them up and put them out into the high grasses that are their natural home, or so I read in my hypocritical little book on biodiversity.
The book extolls the virtues of the woodlouse, very useful for soil health. In the natural world, it’s got a better CV than I do.
When I say harmony, I probably mean symbiosis. Woodlice are the perfect food for spiders. They are small crustaceans that have evolved to live on land, and they have shells that spiders can pierce or slide their hungry teeth under to suck out their nutritious little bodies.
I like to think they taste like bisque. That would explain why such a diverse population of spiders comes to my house to sample the delicacy.
What strikes me most, when I move in with those unbidden pets, is their utter sense of identity. The woodlice scuttle in a licey way when I unexpectedly open the door. They live in narrow cracks in the frame. When stepped on, they curl up in a way that is supposed to make you think they are dead. To me, it looks like they are shaping their disgusting little bodies into commas to soften me. I can never bring myself to step on them hard enough to kill them. I know, because once I did by accident, and it exploded with a little “pop”.
They are totally sure that the crack in the door is where they belong, in spite of my raids with the brush, then lemongrass oil, and finally the insecticide that decimated their population and probably shortened my own life span by several years. They’re just going about their business, the business of living, and what am I doing here, in their house? Am I sure that this is where I belong?
Same with the spiders. They are proficient at using their long legs to express shock when brushed up or swatted at with a book. Spiders intimidate me with their confidence. One runs along my arm in the middle of the night because it is the shortest route to its destination. When I shake it out of the bedsheets, it lands on the floor in a state of reproach. It’s a brown, nondescript medium specimen.
The one I shake out of my coat is in a bad way. It’s got yellow stripes on its back, thin legs all atangle. Probably a side casualty of the war on woodlice. What am I thinking, moving the coat where it had set up residency?
Alone in this house, I am struggling to define who I am. Sometimes, in the mornings, when I can’t sleep, I curl up in bed in the shape of a comma. I take my cue from former flatmates. All dead now.
Claire-lise Kieffer has been published in Banshee, The Honest Ulsterman and more. She is working on a short story collection for which she has received an Agility Award from the Arts Council of Ireland.