In paradise, my dreams consist of blood

Spotted Dove, Musk Lorikeet, Rainbow Lorikeet, Australian Magpie, Red Wattlebird, Grey Headed Flying Fox, and Common House-Hold cat are some of the species that live under our window. The birds cry, tweet, and squeak. Talking to each other unbeknown to us. We can hear chickens and children playing at the local school. I live in a two-story lodge with my lover, friend, and muse – Kerensa. We live behind a giant fig tree. Surrounded by lush Monstera Deliciosa and Belladonna plants. A wet living environment full of plants and creatures uncompelled by human strive. Up the stairs, barked fingers, and green tickle the bedroom window. With legs knotted and our arms entangled, we lie supported by packing crates. Listening to the birds.

Our small house sits alongside the Merri Creek behind a turn of the century weatherboard house in North Fitzroy, Melbourne. Two grey-haired artists – Hannah and Kevin separate us from the hustle and bustle of the city. Downstairs are bottles of red wine and a vegan dinner ready for our friend’s. There is so much going on right now, this may be the last time we meet, for who knows how long. The news speaks of catastrophe and human devastation. Isolation, incarceration, fear of the unknown is all current affairs. Inside our secret location, we feel separated from the rest, different somehow, away from it all. We are connected to the Creek and our lifestyle which is above all sacrosanct.

“I think I’m being eaten by tiny mosquitoes,” I said.

“I don’t think it’s that. It’s a bug from the outside. We live in such an insect strewn house. With all these gaps and walls and things like that.” said Kerensa.

“There is a fishpond below our window. Look, bites on my ankles and check out my shoulder,” I said.

“Oh aww, exactly, and we have all kinds of catchments and so many types of species of plants that attract various insects. It’s just another bug biting you.” She said.

We’d had a crazy week. It was the beginning of the shutdown. The radio spoke of a pandemic, the spread was rapid, and the world in a state of flux. Our friends arrive, and we drink madly, we drink to chase the devil away, with our adrenalin high, and our future unknown.

“What’s going on, how are you, my Gawd!” said Alex.

“I just cancelled my flight,” said Kerensa.

“Oh, no! how do you feel.”

“Terrible, I was meant to fly in a few days but decided to cancel… Syrah?

“Here’s a Skin Contact, white, it’s natural and organic,” said Alex.

“Sounds good, not that you had to cancel, but Syrah sounds good Syrah anyone?” said Mickey.

“Go on then – I like Syrah, I think. Also, I’ve found out that Rocket Science shows with Supergrass are postponed,” I said.

“If/when you think about it,” said Mickey.

“Yeah, not sure, I imagine next year, so whatever was supposed to happen this year should happen the following, that kind of thing,” I said.

“All my plans for moving to London are rescheduled too,” said Kerensa.

Bottles gather around by the kitchen pantry. We listen to Nico – “Demon is dancing down the scene. He is calling and throwing his arms up in the air – And no one is there.” Kerensa delivers vegan mushroom ragu. She is practicing skills as a vegan chef for when/if she’s back in London. Bottle after bottle put by the food cupboard. Within the frivolity, I realise Kerensa is nowhere to be seen. Where has she gone? It is unlike her to disappear. She returns to our guests vacant and pale. Eventually, we call it a night.

I wake with the feeling that something is feeding on me; I can feel something attached to my ankles and shoulder. I turn on the light and see bugs on my body and on the mattress. There are strange insects all around my side of the bed. I throw the bedclothes off. They look gorged, and I see what’s caused all the bite marks. With a closer look, I notice how slow and cumbersome they move. With horror, I realise that these prudent insects are waiting to feed, on, me? They behave knowing what they want, and what to expect, and that expectation has something to do with me. Kerensa is having difficulty becoming awake, but she finally moves to see if there are any around her side of the bed. A little one, a tiny one, escapes from under her.

“Eh! Gross!” She said.

We leap out of bed. There are insects everywhere.

“Are they bedbugs?” Do bedbugs exist? Kerensa said.

“What the fuck are they,” I said.

We lift the mattress and see bugs moving out of the way. I raise the packing crates; again, there they are, stepping into crevices of the wood. I bang on the pallet to see. Brownish flat teardrop bugs slip in between the planks emerge slowly and return to their lair. They are confident in their home. How long they been living under our mattress is anyone’s guess, and it is the bugs which the experts are and not the other way around. After an investigation of the cracks and crevices of the wooden shipping crate, I start to feel agitated, and I bemoan my own incompetence. There are bugs everywhere, it dawns on me that we have been sleeping with these apple seed insects for weeks and weeks, who knows how long. Even months, there are so many. Some are big, some are small. We are infested.

“I feel sick, this is fucking horrible,” Kerensa said.

Kerensa cannot do anything, and I suspect she is really hoping that I don’t jump into action right there and then. I race through the information and learn how Bedbugs are active at night and usually bite people while they are sleeping by piercing the skin with an elongated beak. The bugs feed from 3 to 10 minutes to become engorged and then crawl away unnoticed. Most bedbug bites are painless at first but later turn into itchy welts. Bedbug bites are on any area of skin exposed while sleeping. I look at the scratch marks around my ankles.

“Perhaps we need to, you know we’ve got that information now, but we can’t do anything, and maybe we just need to sleep and deal with it in the morning when our minds can think straight,” Kerensa said.

We consider what to do – do we sleep on the floor right where we are or start the process of getting rid of them because there is no way either of us can go back to – THAT BED.

We sleep downstairs on our housemate Elisa’s mattress, as far away as possible. She is on a health retreat and won’t mind. After changing the sheets and grabbing spare pillows, we try to sleep. It is challenging, but when I do, my dreams consist of blood. I wake with the realisation that Kerensa and I circumvented by red bloodsucking freaks still have a massive task in front of us. We are both hungover, but it is Kerensa who feels it the worst. Kerensa suggests we do as much from the bed as possible. We consider hiring a pest controller. So, I message people. We refuel, ready for the day.

“There is no way we can go on without coffee and toast, I need to build some energy,” Kerensa said.

I contact the only person I know who might know something – Pat Paterson from Paterson’s Pest Control. I’d worked with Pat for many years:

-Hi Pat, hope you are well, my friend, it’s been a while. For days I’ve been complaining about an itch and rash around my feet and shoulders and last night discovered that I have bed bugs living in and around my bed. At first, I thought it was mosquitoes, but previous night realised that it was an infestation of these, flat, red insects which were both tiny and big all around the bed. After a quick Google search found the same insects called bed bugs. Do you and your husband know how I can get rid of them? Is there a quick fix, or is it a case of getting Patterson’s bug removal team in to help? Best Roman

-Hi Roman Beg bugs can be exceedingly difficult to control. It is important to engage a professional pest controller as soon as possible Collect all bed linen in a garbage bag as not to spread them around your house wash on high temp & put through dryer We don’t do bed bugs but I can recommend Adams pest control you may require a few treatments . Let me know how you get on Good to hear from you xx
Hi there, Thanks, Pat, we are talking about getting rid of the mattress, vacuuming, washing, and spraying the area around the bed or do you still recommend a pest controller?
Thank you, I just rang Adams who is coming tomorrow morning,

-Chat Conversation End
Type a message…

Alarm bells, wow if Pat Paterson is saying that bedbugs are tough to get rid of, and doesn’t want to go anywhere near them, we are in trouble. Kerensa books an appointment the following day. My blood-shot eyes see slow crawling beaked bugs feeding on my long limbs sticking out from under the duvet. I look at Kerensa.

“Well, let’s get on with it?” I said.

I sit on our Parker Timber Recliner, Kerensa grabs a pillow, black blanket and curls up on the floor. With my phone in hand, I begin to search. I do not know what else to do. I punch in ‘BEDBUG,’ a photo of the exact same insect appears with an underlining two-line description until the page runs out: Bedbugs are a type of insect that feed on human blood, usually at night. Their bites can result in a number of health impacts including skin rashes, psychological effects and allergic symptoms. Bed… –

“Feed on human blood!” I said.

I realise that there is absolute truth in the saying, ‘SLEEP TIGHT, DON’T LET THE BEDBUGS BITE.’ Bedbugs are a stubborn growing problem in cities around the world, and experts are unsure how to get rid of them.
The underlying advice is to put all sheets, clothing, pillows, shoes into plastic bags in the wash and tumble dry—a vacuum in and around all crevices. Get pest controllers – move out or find another place to sleep. Scrolling down, pest control advertisement after pest control advertisement, I learn that one thing is for sure, it will cost thousands of dollars, and they are hard to get rid of,

“What… – it costs thousands of dollars?” I said.

We both agree that we cannot afford this now.

“What are we meant to do with all this stuff? How are we meant to deal with this in this time? And we have a housemate, too.” Kerensa said.

We grab all bedding and put into garbage bags. We seal linen and clothes in the plastic bags as well. We put pillows, sheets, duvet, cushions, hats, shoes, belts, jackets, and tee-shirts into sealed containers and carry outside. Once done, we drag the mattress onto the balcony and throw it off into the garden. We pull the pallets onto and off the gallery, vacuum the space, gaps, everywhere we can think of. Our sanctuary is dirty, remedy it and go on. While the transistor radio screams pandemic, we carry the mattress right down the lane to the primary school where they have a rubbish collection. I feel terrible about leaving it there, so Kerensa writes a note – Infested, do not take. We return to the wooden pallets, I lift the pallets to see, and sure enough, the bloodletting ghouls totter back into their consecutive crevices—this time we choose left down the lane and drag the pallet to the fence across the road. I see bewildered fat, bugs peering out from the cracks as I lumber along the laneway—their bodies full of blood – my blood. I sense them searching for me, calling my name, thirsty for another feed. They are lingering and slow and wanting to feed—a sensation to drop everything and run washes over me.

That’s when I notice him. Peering out from the fence, the pizza man next door emerges from his backyard, coughing.

“Hello, cough, what you up too, hmm, I see you have some wood. I’m always lookin’ for wood, that’s for sure, I’ll burn it, for you,” he said.

“I know but…,” I said.

“D-d-d-don’t worry, cough, I’ll break up and burn myself’, in my pizza oven,” he said with a smile.

“Look, the reason we are here is that it has to go,” I said.

I feel conflicted, should we tell about the bedbugs?
He smiles, and I notice his bloated midriff and red face.

Things will never be the same again.

Within minutes we push a supermarket trolley off to the laundry mat. Washing and drying everything to the grand old sum of $80aus, a total rarely achieved. Hannah looks on, bemused. A pest control person arrives and sprays upstairs, he puts out traps. There are no social distancing rules. He is enthusiastic, to say the least. Kerensa and I purchase a new bed base and mattress. We invest in powder and tape that guarantees protection. My eyes are getting worse, I keep seeing bugs on the mattress, but only to find a crumb or seed from eating in bed and watching shows on the laptop. Kerensa laughs. For weeks I dream of bugs, but the memory is fading.

We sit in the living room downstairs, the late afternoon autumn sun glistens through the leadlight windows. Light sprays around the room, the furniture, and cushions shimmer. Georgia Spain turns round and round on the stereo. There is something on a pillow, Kerensa takes a closer look and finds a bedbug crawling towards us…