You’ve not seen beetles like hers, such gentle wing-noise and pearlescent blue. In spring she cooks with the doors open, those are the days I find bugs all over. In the courtyard, on the street, popping away as I slow the car in. Beetles throughout the house, in every room.
When she hears from her parents it is moths, they blanket the windows and ceiling lights. Every room is dark, even at afternoon. The floor, walls and every garment in our wardrobe, a hazy charcoal tint. When the sky is gray and our property is gray, you cannot tell where the horizon is. No property, no distance, only ether.
In our last years, as we forget things, we give in to rage. You see that with my in-laws, how yellow jackets follow them around. They swarm but do not sting; that is, they do not sting me or Amanda. When they visit and her father lets himself in, there is barely time for a handshake until he is stung and cursing.
Yards behind him is Amanda’s mother, in full sleeves. When they leave the clouds of hornets mostly leave. But that some stay back means we are becoming creatures of rage, too.
In September, there is an accident with Amanda’s sister. She lingers at first, but after a week she worsens and dies. We are there every day, moths in the waiting room, throughout the hall. Even when I am alone the bugs are thick: the girl sends them from her sleep. The nurse has to shoo at the screens to take a reading.
When word comes the hallway is clear. We knew something was wrong, feared she had given up the ghost and all of her insects.
You read of psychologists who think our natural state is not happiness, grief, but a certain unnamed restlessness, which we never see because it calls insects from the ground. Before the swarm can reach light it has dissipated: we are on to different emotions again.
You see researchers in the field, peer review with pickaxe and sunburn. Unearthing, unearthing.
In February Amanda says, —Did you schedule the hearing test?
Daniela says beetles come when I sleep, and that it’s adorable. We laugh all the time, about sad fishing, rural sex. There are laughter-bugs all over. She says, —You need to pull it together before you get home. A wife knows.
It is true. I only come here when the work day is short. I keep the same brand of soap as I do at home. But despite that she says, —A wife knows, Robert.
I see the cloud from down the street, watch it brewing as I approach. Did Amanda light the chimney in summer? No, it is coming from the windows, too. A house fire?
Closer still, I see her mother’s car. There are moths in every tree and all across the neighbor’s fence. Grief enough for ten women.
There is nothing else it could be. Her father has died, angry until his last day.
—I should just buy a suit.
—I don’t see why. You have black everything. Coat, ties.
—Sure, but getting it together, getting it laundered.
—Why is this a question, Robert? When is buying easier than just dry cleaning?
Hornets fly in; there are not many and it is not long until the moths are back. But no, she knew to trust her first impulse and now the hornets come again. She says, —What are you not telling me?
There is nothing to tell, no lipstick, perfume in the fabric. We do not need to argue about this but she is sure of it, we need to argue about something.
Autumn again, and Daniela has a business trip. She wants me to visit before that and she says, —You can help me with the luggage and then help me with that other thing.
I nod off afterward and she leaves me there, a kiss on the hair which I mostly sleep through.
It is evening when I wake and my car keys are gone. Is she teaching me a lesson? Forcing me to choose? I consider those but no, Daniela only took the keys without meaning to. I know better than to telephone her but I try. All I hear is the recording of her voice. She is on the plane.
I have no one else to call. My family lives in Sacramento. My closest friends—the ones from Reno—are still in Reno. Panic means flies and look at them all, they nearly fill the living room, drive me out. I begin to walk.
Even as a young man I was not the one for endurance. In an hour my feet are hot, and the crotch of my pants leaves a dry, thickening scuff above the pubis. Of glucose, I have barely enough of it to wheeze.
In all, Daniela has seven miles of dirt roads, a gradual incline. The highway is a mile further. I am half the distance from where I can hitchhike, not that I would.
The fatigue and chafing are cruel enough, but with the plunge in blood sugar I have to lie on the shoulder, take a few minutes of recovery at least.
The airborne pests are gone: beetles, flies. My swarm, then, is geothermal, coming up from the earth. One that eats, leaves the surface free of rot. I cannot hear it but am sure it is there.
Daniela found me crying at her dock once, with a hook in the water. —You won’t catch any fish like that.
I disagreed. Bass were eating my moths by the dozen: plip plip! Plip! Gray insects vanished from the surface, faster than I could call them over.
I felt nothing and disgrace, both at once. For that, a plague came up from the roots. I should have decomposed that day, expired by sitting still.
Fred Nolan has published short fiction in Molotov Cocktail, Empty Oaks and Dali’s Lovechild. In October, Emery Press will publish his debut novel Alexei and the Second Empress. He writes technical articles and specifications for a commercial subcontractor, and lives near Dallas with his wife and two children.
Artwork: Natalia Drepina