BY L.W. NICHOLSON
I see a video in the third grade about the invisible highways of insects vibrating above us. I realize I am only a guest at their table, merely borrowing space.
A good guest always brings dessert.
Sitting cross-legged by a tree stump, I crumble a chocolate chip cookie and wait. Soon the ants come. For hours they heave bits five times their size, stash them in a dark hole, return again. I am reverent.
When my arms become the trail, my fingers rushing rivers of black, I begin to pray. I am anointed by the thick molasses of July. Suddenly, my mother, shrieking, lifts me away, leaving my sandals behind in the spotted leaves. I hear her words at dinner: A baby copperhead right about to sink its teeth into one of her toes and her just motionless, covered in bugs.
I have ten toes still.
In January I dash through the snow to get the mail and lock myself out of the house. My brother arrives home from basketball practice and finds me barefoot in the yard with beads of ice clinging to my nose.
My father buys me special sneakers and bright green socks covered in grasshoppers, assures me that nine is as good as ten. He leaves out a little piggy. No one goes to the market. I never take my shoes off, not even when I sleep.
In May I collect lightning bugs and weep when I pull them, lifeless confetti, from my pockets.
What will we do with you? What will we do with you? my older brother chants, arms and legs as sinewy as a walking stick, wildly waving. He scoops up the wings and tosses fistfuls into the air, watching them fall like maple seeds.
At camp, a boy finds a small bird’s feather and jams it into the hind end of a horsefly. He and his friends laugh as they watch the horsefly push off above the grass with a tiny, spinning propeller.
I am sent home early for sprinkling cayenne pepper on the toilet paper in Cabin 18.
I announce at the dinner table that I am Buddhist. My mother sends me to bed early.
On my nightstand I find a brown spider the size of a penny, a small violin painted on her back, and I bow to her before slipping between the sheets and tucking my knees under my chin. I rhythmically smooth the new hairs on my shins as I fall asleep. The next night I sit in the emergency room with both my parents, vomiting into an orange mixing bowl. The string section in my ears reaches a startling crescendo.
Our teacher asks us to collect items from nature and bring them to school to be displayed. She pins a collection of delicate moths onto a corkboard, each insect’s papery wings shredded and chipped. She tapes up leaves, a forked stick used to find water, a deer antler, acorns, liquidambar, and a single buckeye. She asks us to record our observations about each.
I remove my contribution from a baby food jar and set it upon the desk. What could it be? my teacher wants to know, turning the black object over and over in her hand. She crinkles her nose and sniffs it, determining if it is charred wood or scat. She places it on the board next to a dried zinnia blossom. My classmates gather around, and they scribble in their journals.
Would you like to share with us what you found? Teacher asks.
Slowly, I pull off my sneaker and sock, place my foot upon the desk, and wiggle my four toes.
As my classmates scream, I walk to the board, carefully remove the moths, and wrap them in a tissue.