The small house where I once lived and no longer visited had a fire ant problem. Instead of calling an exterminator or buying Raid like normal human beings, my progressive family decided the most viable solution was to purchase an anteater off the internet. After much scouring, they found a man who would ship one from Bolivia across the Gulf of Mexico to our home in Houston, Texas. And sure enough, a large kennel arrived within three weeks.
We named it Gene, after Kiss’s lead singer, Gene Simmons. Both possessed freakishly long tongues, so there were few other logical options. We placed the unlocked kennel dead center in our backyard. Within seconds, Gene came shuffling across the grass and began lapping up fire ants to his heart’s content while we watched in awe from behind the patio door. Success.
One day after returning from groceries, something felt off. Our calls were usually met with sounds of shuffling feet as Gene hurried to greet us. Not today. With arms full, I made my way towards the back patio to inspect the situation. I dropped all bags at the sight of Gene panting on his side, tongue fully out, with a stream of fire ants steadily marching towards him.
Had the Bolivian man sold us a defective anteater?
After excusing myself, I placed Gene’s limp body into the kennel, his tongue dangling helplessly from the metal door. From yard to car then from car to vet, I scrammed to fend off birds which mistook poor Gene’s dangling tongue for a delicious earthworm. After a series of arm flails and high-pitched screams, the two of us had finally made it.
As I thumbed through a Reader’s Digest with Gene at my feet, I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was an elderly woman carrying her Bichon Frise in a cerulean blue handbag. She pointed at the kennel.
“That there, what on Earth is that?” the woman asked.
I replied, “My anteater. His name is Gene!”
“Right. Because everyone has a pet anteater.”
“He’s the sweetest thing.”
“Right. . . ”
Before the woman looked away, she mumbled “weirdo” under her breath.This struck me as I lowered the magazine and glanced at Gene. What an odd thing to say, I thought, for someone who was painting the dog’s nails in public a bright pink to match her own. I shrugged, and although his shoulders were hidden, I bet Gene did exactly the same.
Nam Hoang Tran holds a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida. His work appears or is forthcoming in Funny-ish, Montana Mouthful, Star 82 Review, and elsewhere. Find him online at www.namhtran.com.