December means indoor cricket season at your work. Tarantulic and antennaed, infiltrating the nature center. Corridors, hallways, lizard tanks, box turtle terrarium. Indifferent to coopting with humans, they evolved with the dinosaurs. Nuisance. That’s what the director calls them and instructs you to wield the shop vac.
Down the hall, a third grade field trip is more interested in you than the taxidermied barred owls. They have the cutest faces, the owls, but the children can never know that you think this. Your apathy to anything hallmarks your reputation amongst your coworkers, but it’s a coping mechanism. The brown and white sign on the wall says nature is for all. Raw umber is the color of your noble path, becoming muddy and muddier.
In the closet is a crime scene: collapsed bottle of Raid, crickets frozen, skeletal, nameless graves. A shiver and you shake in place. Crickets are like spiders, but you feel for the dead. Sadness collapses on you like a couch fort, stirring up memories from childhood. You’re a little girl again tiptoeing cold concrete. You catch frogs in window wells. You’re a boy fearing collapsed insects curled over wood framing. Caskets. You watch bees fly in and out of the cracks in the house. You run over a butterfly with your bike. How does this make you feel? Cerulean is the color of childhood. Cerulean is a clear sky to jump into after running up from the basement.
Pet cemetery tales of the trade. Neck tie jobs were never for you. In your alternate world you’re a cave crawler, damp basement lover. Scoop up crickets in your palm, take them home to mom. Construct a circus tent in the backyard, bestow them names and birthdates and reintroduce them to society as registered voters.
You hide within yourself while running the vacuum and avoiding the teacher’s death stare. The crickets make a sound like FOOMP as they’re sucked up the hose and into the belly. You wish you were separate from your appendages. Trace cracks in the foundation searching for the cricket Narnia. Searching for the difference between out there and in here. A shop vac is a casket. The third graders are bug eyed.
In the room marked staff only, rehabbing turtles claw Rubbermaid bins. Traumas from Teslas. Empathy guts you inside out. Some are lead poisoned from the auto plant up the river, the GM plant. Shells grown around plastic bags like trees into fences. A quarter of our DNA is trees. We share 90 percent with Giant tortoise. They need us now because we made them this way. You rub their butts, the tortoise butts. All in a day’s work.
In the woods lives your exhales and resting peace. Selfcare is an oak leaf. Thoreau was a phony. You’ll never work in television. Behind the woods is the highway you take home to New Year’s Eve in a drunken living room. Lamplights add shadows over red carpet. People dress in black. I wear crimson, the color of my past.
In our drunken ways, you and I get to talking about reincarnation. The clock ticks closer to midnight and our words slur closer to death. I lay out my wishes for my funeral: pulled behind a boat out to sea, off the coast of Cape Cod. I want to be eaten by sharks. We hold hands, yours are smooth and unscarred by the cut of knots. We’re both flushed and feeling. A pact is made, commitment spun. Blood on blood. Glaucous is your fear of open water and a thirst never quenched. You think of Jaws. You think of Quint, the grizzled sea captain scallywag eschewing logic for instinct and feeling. This could be you, I say. If only you gave up your fears, I say.
The world is a castle in a glass tank. I’ve lived my life in the lakes but I’ve never seen the ocean. There are no sharks in lakes, only what lives at the bottom of lakes.
How did we get here? One of us was a fish and we crawled up on the shore. But you’re not going back in the water. You insist we’re in this together, crickets and all. You want me to pull you out to a field bright with snow and lay you down under a dark blue sky like it’s your birthday. Your voice is only a whisper. Bury me like treasure, you say. Let the worms do the rest.