lepidoptera

In her hand lay the remains of a moth.   She’d found it on the bedroom floor as she shuffled past in the baby blue slippers Devon had bought her last month.  It was in the doorway, orange and brown, one wing tilted, the other torn, its legs bent tightly into its abdomen.  Or was it thorax?  She’d look it up in the field guide: moth anatomy.

Retrieving it from the floor took some time.  She had to take off the slippers, give herself some traction.  Her bare feet, purple-veined and thick-nailed, gripped the floor as she bent over.  Time was, she could angle from the waist and reach the ground without a thought.  Now she had to hitch her nightgown above her knees and bend.  The small of her back cracked, she wavered an inch or two above her destination.  Bend the knees more.  Ridiculous.  One hand held the door frame defensively, the other scrabbled at the floor.  There.

She straightened, heard the bones in her back creak and pop, felt a wave of dizziness from the sudden departure of blood in her head.  She caught sight of herself in the long closet mirror.  White hair standing on end, her face a bluster, satin nightgown hitched above her knees – the legs, once smooth and muscled, sagged and spotted, a curdle of veins in a knot along her thigh – her breasts swinging, two long-necked squash beneath the peach fabric.  “It will make you feel pretty,” Devon had said when they went shopping for the nightgown.  Pretty.  What could the girl be thinking?  She straightened, let the nightgown descend, fumbled her feet into the slippers.  With her left hand she clawed at the recalcitrant hair; her right hand protected the moth.

She shuffled to the living room bookcase.  Field guides, middle shelf:  North American Butterflies and Moths.  She carried the guide to the couch, shook the stiff insect body from her palm onto the coffee table.  It landed softly, wings down.  “…three pairs of jointed legs on the thorax.”  That was it then, thorax.  Forewings, she read.  Compound eyes, probiscus, antennae, abdomen, hindwings, legs.  Straightforward.  A no nonsense creature, this.  She pinched the tilted wing between her shaking fingers and lifted it from the table.  Death had flattened the features of the head, she couldn’t tell the antennae from the probiscus, couldn’t even distinguish the compound eyes.  Or perhaps it was her own eyes that had flattened, made detail impossible.  She blinked and a viscous fluid slid over her eyeball, blurring the moth even further.  She dabbled at her eyelid with her free hand.  The world had fewer edges now, but it wasn’t softer.

She let the moth body fall into the palm of her hand again.  It was spotted, the wings papery and translucent on the tips as if it had been dead for a long time, enough time for the scales to unhinge and drop away.  She imagined the moth crawling beneath the bed unseen, crumpling in on itself, time eroding the once lovely body.  It had stormed last night, perhaps a gust of east wind through the window had dislodged the corpse, sent it skittering to the doorway.  She tilted the moth into her lap, opened her hands.  Time would erode her to translucence as well; it was not far now.  Her own skin would darken and shrink around the bones, tear away into dust.  She accepted this without fear.  When she was younger she had feared death for its potential pain.  She could die underwater, or trapped in a cave; there could be a mudslide, earth in her mouth and throat; a car crash, the piercing of metal.  But she no longer feared such things.  She would die, she was nearly certain, in the same bedroom as the moth.  In a year perhaps, in a month.

The phone rang.  Devon, no doubt, calling to make sure she was awake and ready for her appointment today.  She rolled her eyes.  The girl was too efficient, bustling around with her oversized behind, clicking her long, decorated nails on everything she touched.  “You want to keep your hair up Nana, it will make you feel better,”  she’d said when she made the appointment for her, as if a girl of twenty-five could know what would make her feel better.  Well, she was young, and she cared.  Martha Drubky had rotted away in a nursing home with no one to annoy her at all.  At least she wouldn’t go like that.   She scooted to the edge of the couch and hauled herself up.  The moth fluttered from her lap onto the bare floor.  The phone was on its third ring.  By the time she reached it, the machine came on.  Devon’s chirpy recorded voice, telling herself to leave a message after the tone.

“I’m on my way over, Nana.  Hope you’re up and around.  It’s salon day!”

She sighed and shuffled back to the couch.  If she was forty again, she’d cancel the appointment, braid her hair, put on that yellow sundress she’d bought in Carmel and hike up Paulson’s Butte, watch the butterflies flirt with the meadow flowers.  She’d done that once, skipped work, left a note for Don, spent the day under the sun alone.  Marvelous day.  She leaned her head back against the couch, felt the remembered sun on her skin.  She must have dozed.  When she woke, Devon was standing over her, face shining vaguely with sweat, lipsticked mouth frozen in a patient smile.  She was supposed to be dressed by now.  Devon tilted her arm to look at her watch.

“Ten minutes,” she said.  “Let’s get you dressed.”

She nodded, offered her arm for the hauling up.  When they were upright, she remembered the moth.  It was there on the floor, wings frozen open, a wild tilt to the left, hovering almost at the shadow of the couch.  Devon’s foot in its strapped sandal came down heavily, just missing it, the disturbed air pushing the moth under the edge.  It slid out of view.  She almost cheered.  She imagined it in the darkness, resting on its tissue wings.  Devon led her to the bedroom, began the indignity of suggesting the wrong clothes, watching her wobble her ruined body into pants, a knit shirt, the sensible shoes. Lepidoptera, she thought, the same Order as butterflies.  Life span: one week to eight or nine months.  She was of the nine month variety, she supposed.  Somewhere under the couch now, the little brown and orange moth lay with its eyes fixed on the horizon of the floor and the wall trim.  She imagined its wings flexing, the eyes focusing, the threadlike legs straightening and bending.  Any time now it could take off again, bank toward some softly suggested light, follow the cant of some unseen road.

7 thoughts on “lepidoptera

  1. Truly very beautiful. This story will stick with me, especially because once I was a Devon and now illness has telescoped my life fast to the other end of the story and I’m the lady in the nightgown shuffling around and marvelling at what time has wrought. Thank you for sharing

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  2. I appreciate your input so much. I, too, have been Devon more than I’d like to admit. Maybe it’s impossible not to be, until you’ve had to suffer limits, discomfort, in some way. I pray you’ll find your way through to strength and health again. xo

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  3. This was so very beautiful , Tonia . Thank you for sharing . I have missed you and hope all is well with you and yours . Love ~Sharon Goemaere Soli deo gloria 

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