Rebecca Gaffron
The Drawer of Unknown Possibilities


          "What is this?" my 9-year-old son asks, rooting through a plethora of junk in search of who knows what.

          I like to imagine that not every household has a drawer of unknown possibility. Only bastions of chaos and disorder are blessed, or cursed, depending on the day, with drawers like these.

          "Get out of it," I call back.

          It's like Pandora's box, not to be opened casually by anyone. Or at all if you're under 30.

          "I think there are previously unknown life forms in here," my son replies, jamming recycled plastic bags and incomplete decks of playing cards back into the morass. "I've just discovered Everton Bugs."

          "What bugs?" his brother asks.

          "Everton Bugs."

          The statement falls from his mouth in the frank way one might announce that ice is cold or wool is scratchy.

          Everton Bugs? I look from one son to the next wondering what important fact I've missed now. Red-tailed hawks have a wing-span of four feet and actually aren't hawks at all, they're buzzards...the earliest chain mail was developed by the Celts but was extremely rare and used by only the wealthiest or most valiant warriors...donkey, donkey, donkey (in B-sharp) is the happy donkey song...

          But nothing about Everton Bugs.

          "What are Everton Bugs?" my oldest son asks, looking as perplexed as I feel. Obviously we're both ill-informed.

          "A previously unknown life form," his brother tells him, striding off to find other entertainment.

          "As long as they aren't ants."

          I sigh with relief. Ants are enough to drive anyone over the brink. I once knew an elderly woman who had nothing to keep her company but ants. They tormented her day and night. Especially at night. In the wee hours her neighbors heard strange sounds coming from the downstairs apartment. "It sounds like someone moving," one neighbor said in a hushed voice on the landing. "And fighting," added another. "Who do you think she was screaming at?"

          Together they dropped in to check on her. Empty cans of insect poison littered the apartment. The sofa and reclining chair were pulled away from the wall at rakish angles, blocking the center of the room. Presumably she'd drug the furniture across the lovely hardwood floors searching out the swarming insects.

          "They aren't really ants, you know. They're children. Lost children. Satan turned them into ants. And they're marching to hell, but they don't want to go. I can hear them begging for help. Can't you?" she asked suspiciously, a can of insect poison aimed dangerously eyeward. Then her preoccupation distracted her again. "I have to kill them. I have to kill them all. It's the only way to save their little souls," she explained. "But he's a tricky one. He's got them in the walls now. He thinks he's got me beat. But I'll show him," she gestured to a pile of rags and a can of gasoline leaning against the wall of the stairwell that led to the upper level apartments. "The only way to save them now is to burn them out," she confided in a hushed gravelly whisper. "Tonight, before he comes for them."

          Her neighbors exchanged terrified glances. She patted their arms reassuringly, unaware that their horror was the realization that they had only narrowly avoided an untimely and fiery demise. Several hours later she was being loaded into an ambulance, straight jacket and all. No one could believe such a feeble looking old bat had so much fight in her. One of the paramedics lifted a cold pack to his eye. He was developing a full-blown shiner where she'd smacked him with an empty ant-spray can. But after all, he mused, she had thought he was the Lord of Darkness.

          But there aren't any ants in the drawer of unknown possibilities. Only Everton Bugs. And since they come from that drawer where everything we don't know what else to do with ends up, and from which we can never find anything we are hunting for, it seems possible — even probable —  that Everton Bugs are endowed with some king of perverse magic.

          Sometimes, when I am feeling particularly uncharitable and malicious, I think that rather than waiting for terrorists to abduct the next dedicated journalist or jet full of ordinary people, we should select victims in advance and ship them abroad as needed. I weigh the loss of people like Margaret Hassan and my friend Tom Fox — people who were passionate about alleviating suffering and improving the world for everyone, with the loss of say, Paris Hilton.

          But what if one of our Everton Bugs escaped from the drawer and was discovered by a spoiled heiress who decided to add it to her menagerie of exotic pets. Mesmerized by its iridescent colors — sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes almost black — the heiress begins to carry the small creature with her, wearing it like piece of designer jewelry.

          And then one morning as she watches the tiny Everton Bug delicately picking its way along her finger, colors flashing in the morning sunlight, she decides not to go shopping, or jogging, or paparazzi baiting and finds herself instead in the dim institutional halls of a rundown hospital. And opening a door utterly at random, she enters a room with a single red begonia sitting on the windowsill and an elderly woman resting nearly upright in a bed that seems far too large for her.

          "I'm terrified of ants," the wrinkled lips confess.

          "They're awful aren't they," the heiress agrees, seating herself in a torn vinyl chair and reaching for a thin book on the bed stand. "I don't even like talking about them. How about I read to you instead?"

          The old woman smiles, her head falling gently back onto the pillow, her eyes closing contentedly, "Aren't you sweet," she murmurs.

          The book falls open and the heiress begins to read, forgetting her glimmering pet and her bank account and everything, but that moment.