He had crawled on his belly in the dirty gravel below the joists with an air filter mask strapped to his head all morning long. He had a spray bottle of poison, a little flashlight, a long-handled hammer, and a steel chisel. These were to chip out spots where ants had eaten into the wood, and to poison any he saw. Down there below the house in the crawl space, he closed the vents by hand and stuffed the closed vent openings in the foundation with leftover pink fiberglass wads of wool that were lying on the ground since he’d pulled the wool out last spring. The whole job was dirty and hard and he had done it ever since he was a very young man for nearly thirty years. He hit his head against the same pipes he always hit his head against. It hurt the same way it always felt stupid to get hurt. He sprayed the poison along the cinderblock joints the same way he always did, lots of squirts to be sure, twice a year, spring and fall. For extra, he’d brought along a staple gun this time and stapled up some of the falling paper he’d noticed had fallen that he’d tacked years back below the rolls of insulation stuffed between the joists. It was a dirty job. It was a dirty and gritty job.
When he closed the vents underneath the house, it grew darker and darker. The only light was his little flashlight. Its batteries were pretty bad to begin with and the glow from it just grew worse and yellow. He turned off, while he was down there, the underground water line with a twist to the handle inside that fed the line to the outside garden faucet. It was a dirty job. But if he didn’t do it, the outside pipe would freeze, and he’d have to replace the outside pipe, the outside faucet, and the outside fittings. He’d have to remember when he got out of the crawl space to open the outside faucet now that it was turned off from underneath. Otherwise, the water already in the pipe would freeze during winter, and when it did that, trapped at both ends of the line, it would expand and bust open the whole brass apparatus, and he’d have to replace everything just the same as if he had never turned it off from underneath to begin with. That had happened once or twice, and that was an all around mess and a waste of time.
Once he got outside off his belly, he unclipped, and then ripped off the dirty mask that had covered his nose and mouth and through which he been breathing in and out with labored filtered breaths air the whole time. Once he had smelled the fresh smell of autumn again, he realized that he had left his good, long-handled hammer next to the three joists where he was hacking away the pulpy wood to stop the carpenter ants’ damage in the dark. That hammer, even though it was his good solid one, could stay where it was. What did it matter? He had his short, light, cheap hammer if he really needed it. His good hammer could stay in the gravel until spring.