There is a mayfly on the ceiling. Maybe it hitched a ride from the river on Sam's hat.
Years ago, when I had left Drew because he told me to, I read Melissa Banks' The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing. An odd book about a woman roughly my age, navigating her way through loving her much older editor, and some other men I can't remember, before winding up one summer's day at a wedding reception. Across the assigned table from her is an unknown man, and in response to this man's presence, she feels hot, sick, dizzy - not herself. What is this? She felt perfectly OK earlier in the day. Then she realizes: she is attracted to him. That's it!
Eventually, the two go on a date. Mayflies are clouding, lolling, flapping, and dying on the lawn & tables & road & everywhere. She says to him, They live for one day. They mate, and then they die. At the end of the book, he says to her, I want to mate with you and die. A more honed-in thing to say than, Will you marry me? Anyway, it works. The book works. The mayfly works.
It was that book that helped me to figure out what was going on, the night I met Timothy. Like the woman in the book, I had more or less given up on being attracted to anyone I actually met (Aragorn does not count). Internet dating had been interesting: the sweet mathematician I met in a gravely parking lot at the base of a mountain; the bower-bird hacker who'd re-jiggered the code for his profile page so it included features no one else's had; even the boring, jaded guy who kind of but not really wanted sex after eating tater tots together outside some bar. All had something to teach. None were attractive to me.
Then this Timothy Rosenkoetter. I want to mate with you and die, I thought, while simultaneously wondering who this tall man was, to be coming towards us with such a happy lope.
That bug on the ceiling is now nowhere to be seen. Is it free? Did it find a way to get out and go be a mayfly on its one day? I hope so. I somehow suspect not. We will have to look this place over for languishing insects before we leave.
That bug on the ceiling is sometimes a gecko, calling and calling its name from within the thatch. Dropping squelchy shits onto the floor below, which you have to watch out for, barefoot and in the dark.
Or it's a tarantula weighing down a first-sized divot in the mosquito net over your bed. In that case, you have to shine your flashlight on it and get the German girl you are bunking with to understand the problem and help you escort it outside without more than a strangled giggle escaping into the silent retreat night.
Sometimes, in the argot of my mother's family - avoir one araignée au plafond - the bug on the ceiling is your own preoccupations and obsessions. Your worries and imaginings. The paranoia of the world coming to roost in your mind as a wooly black arachnid - though not a brown recluse, as I've just learned from Larissa, because they don't climb.
Hear that, bug on the ceiling? You may be doomed to entombment in Notebook Club purgatory, but no necrotizing spiders are going to come and get you up there.
Spider, spider. I remember one night when we lived in Fresno. My mother was wearing one of the ruffled bandeaux she would sew for herself out of my father's worn-out shirts, bespoke, pearl-buttoned, monogrammed shirts my grandfather used to order for him, Place Vendôme. He got Rhodès & Brousse, and she got scraps. This one was maybe white with orange pinstripes, because it was the 70's.
My mother stepped out the side door carrying a brown paper bag to put in the garbage. From the dark, she screamed a bloodcurdling scream, and my dad leapt up to her aid. Then for a while all I heard was grunting and thumping. They came back in: a tarantula had landed on my mother's chest, and my father had smashed it to a pulp. All this made me sad: my mother's inability to protect herself, my father's brutality, and the tarantula's rotten luck. I became aware of the possibility that in addition to scary dogs who woofed deep while throwing themselves at the shuddering backyard fence, and kidnappers who dumped the bodies of dead babysitters behind trash cans, and deadly wounds incurred during careless play, the world nearby contained enormous spiders that must be murdered in manly rage. Years later, my father found a Black Widow in his Volvo, parked outside the engineering building where he taught. I do not know if he managed to crush it, but I do know he felt someone had put it there. Maybe it was the long-traveling, persistent ghost of the tarantula.
In comparison, the nightly snail and slug raids on which my mother led my brother and I were light-hearted affairs. She would pay us X (5 cents? 10 cents?) per squished gastropod. We would go out at night hunting for them with flashlights, under the flowers and the vegetables. We would pause to look up for shooting stars or satellites - maybe even Skylab, before it fell to earth.
My mother's mother was also a bug-hunter. In the south of France lived voracious, plump, new-green grasshoppers she called bougrane, after the Provencal boudrague. Mimi's garden near Sainte Maxime was beautiful: brick-paved walkways, kikuyu grass, bougainvillea, lavender, witches' fingers, wisteria. But it was also a combat zone: there were bougranes to crush underfoot on the brick pavers, and ants to poison using some evil ersatz honey they were drawn to, and, altruistic, would live long enough to bring back to their colonies, killing everybody off neatly.
One summer, some unusually large lizards came to dig themselves warrens in Mimi's lawn, just outside the sliding doors to our bedrooms. They would sun there watchfully: the green one as long as a man's arm, the brown one as long as a woman's arm, and the little green one, maybe the length of my own child-arm. But they also ventured further. Once, talking to make a point, as he often did, my uncle felt something jerk at the pair of cherries dangling from his hand, and we all turned to see the largest lizard dashing off with her prize, feet flying over the fine, grey gravel. My grandmother believed these - what? iguanas? - to be useful in her overall grasshopper-eradication scheme, and so she forgave them their thefts, and treated them with benevolent inattention. The following year, they were gone.
Bugs, bugs. When I lived in Hong Kong, there were epic centipedes - brown-red, patent-leather, thorny legs protruding from between each segment. They were held to be poisonous, but how? Claw-touch, mandible-bite, skin-to-armor contact? I only ever saw a few, but I knew they were there. Once, on the slimy stairs leading by hundreds up from the train station to the hilltop where I lived, I saw one smashed, and felt sorry again. What is a world without monsters?
Years later, in the Dominican Republic, I reencountered these at a low point in my ill-advised honeymoon. (The beach? For two people who are bored by the beach and sunburn easily? A land of bland, stringy chicken, for two people who like good food?) Anyway, we'd both caught dysentery and were squitting our way through a long, sweaty night in an old stone house, when Timothy let out a terrible yell, and bounded I swear across the room in one movement. A giant centipede had been crawling on his chest. No bite, only terror. About an hour later, it was back. Was it saying, I want to mate with you and die? If so, he was having none of it.
In the morning we left, to trundle back to Cabarete in the little rental car whose donut-sized wheels could barely clear the road's weirdly inverted speed-troughs. Everyone else seemed to know what to do: carry donkeys, drive around with propane canisters and babies. We had yet to learn.
108 Names of Now