Death to the Moth | HumorOutcasts

Death to the Moth

May 14, 2018
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(With no apologies whatsoever to “The Death of the Moth”)

Oh that Virgina Woolf. Such a sentimental softie. There she is in a room of her own, sitting at her writing desk but obviously procrastinating by looking out the window. (I procrastinate by doing the laundry.) The scenery before her provides exquisite pastoral beauty of a September day in the English countryside: fields being ploughed, birds swooping to and fro, horses gamboling about. Yet she gives all her attention to a moth fluttering at her windowpane, seemingly “content with life” before it keels over, and she is “conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him.”

Well, I don’t have much pity for the moth fluttering around my kitchen. The pantry moth, the Indian mealmoth, the plodia interpunctella . If only our moth seemed to be just “content with life.” Our moth isn’t content unless it gets into every box of Triscuits, every partially used package of baking walnuts, every minuscule crevice of a bag of flour.

And while the moth might be as diminutive as the one that charmed old Ginny, it is definitely not frail. It zips around the kitchen, surviving a certain death blow between two hands clapping, eluding the grey cat who leaps to bat at it with outstretched paws, and cannily avoiding all of the traps, with their alluring red square and sticky surfaces, that have been placed strategically up high, down low, and any place in between that we have seen the moth alight.

At the end of her musings, Woolf admires her now dead moth, “most decently and uncomplainingly composed.” If only our moth would be so decent as to die off. Even if one of us manages to squash the thing against the wall, we know what lurks in the corners of the cabinets. We know it has left behind its eggs, and like the offspring of the Alien of sci-fi horror filmdom, those eggs will grow into larvae, then into pupa and finally to adulthood. We may be lulled into a short period when we think we have escaped the torment, when we can open a bag of granola without groaning “Oh gross!” But no, there they are again, and our only recourse is to take everything out of the cupboards; to throw away masses of what had been perfectly good cereal and crackers, nuts and other nibbles; and then to wash down the shelves and any containers that had been on those shelves.

So Woolf rhapsodizes about her moth: “as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.”

I don’t know about day moths in rural Sussex, England, but pantry moths in suburban southeastern Pennsylvania are nothing but pests.

Cf. Virginia Woolf, “The Death of the Moth,” 1942

 

To read more of my work go here or to my website (where you can see what I really look like). 

Kathryn Taylor

Kathy Taylor has had essays published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY’s website, the Broad Street Review, Purple Clover and the Princeton Alumni Weekly. Recently retired as a director for Alumni Affairs & Communications at Princeton, she has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1974. She and her husband have two grown children. Her children and husband, and sometimes her cats, make regular appearances in her essays..

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