By Meredith Sabini
It’s late October — one of those sweltering nights when the heat rises from the valley floor and the temperature at midnight is still 95 degrees. I’m lying in bed drenched in sweat, billowing the sheet to aerate myself, imagining I’m on a straw pallet on the floor of a mud hut, hearing the drums from a nearby village where others are also restless at this hour.
The bed is too hot to remain in, but I recall that trick my Oakie cousin taught me years ago: Put a wet towel down and lie on it. (When I first tried this, I thought moisture might seep into the mattress and rot it; but it doesn’t—by morning, the towel and bed are usually dry.)
After groping my way along the hallway to the bathroom, I take two towels from the shelf, then dunk them in the tub half full of cold water. As I’m wringing them out, I notice a large black beetle wedged into a tiny space between the curling linoleum and the wall. It appears stuck. Why not move it to the open window just above the tub so it can fly away?
In the kitchen, I find some plastic corn tongs with wide flat ends that should hold the beetle gently and also keep it at arm’s length. I’m not sure if beetles bite and don’t want to make that experiment right now.
“I will rescue you,” I say, bending down. Its body fits nicely into the tongs. But as I lift it, a shriek fills the room—a noise one might expect from a mynah bird or a cat whose tail is caught in a door, not from anything this size. Startled, I drop the tongs and, with them of course, the beetle. It scurries under the clawfoot tub.
With adrenaline pumping through my system, I’m now fully awake, wondering if beetles make that sound by rubbing legs together the way crickets do or if they have vocal cords. My lack of knowledge is lamentable.
“So sorry for disturbing you!” I apologize for my presumptuous gesture of salvation. Beetles are major stockholders on this planet; any species that has survived ice ages, comet explosions, and dinosaurs hardly needs my help moving a few inches upward toward fresh air.
The obvious then occurs to me: it settled in that spot because it’s the coolest around. Instead of trying to relocate the beetle, I should have gotten down on the floor next to it. Dismayed by my hubris, I carry the dampened towels to the bedroom, draping one chilly rag across my forehead and stretching out atop the other in a posture of crucifixion, praying for my own—brief—survival.
If I’m gone from the cabin too long, mice move in and claim a spot soft and dark, scurrying right past the electronic device that chirps Go back! Go back! Their droppings trail from room to room. I run their maze, well-trained in hide-and-seek, and find they’ve birthed among my socks, which reek of pee and poop and must all be washed. Last year, they discovered that Kotex made a cozy nest and glycerin soap was a special treat.
When I draw back the quilt and see one turd centered just so atop my yellow pillow case, I shriek, and nominate these vermin for the Endangered List. But their trick with the soup ladle that hangs above the kitchen stove finally makes me hoot, and I recant. I don’t know how they shimmy down that slippery shaft, sniff, then turn heinie in, and shit just one into the ladle’s cup but I love their concept of sport.
It all began at the Primate House of the Chicago Zoo when I was thirteen. The gorilla was so huge—taller by a head or two than I, body covered in black hair. It stood and looked at me, resting knuckles against the pane, and I saw it had fingernails just like mine, not claws or hoofs like some but oval nails with moons slightly white. This detail of anatomy made us kin—more directly than any kid would want to be. Where was Darwin when I needed him? In Biology, I learned Homo sapiens stood atop the line, with primates underneath and well behind. The animal resembling me was no surprise. But no one warned me the reverse was also true—and we resemble them.
It's All Relative
Squeezed into the freezer compartment between jars of plum puree and holiday turkey broth are a raven, a barn owl, an opossum, and two squirrels. Peeking into the Amana, my nephew asks, Why? I tell him that giving roadkill a decent burial is my New Year’s resolution. Relatives tease me about this cache, decline to have ice cubes in their lemonade, fear of cooties. Yesterday I had to pass up three raccoons lying on the freeway off ramp, freezer’s too full. Do you suppose, my nephew says, they were from the same family?
Meredith Sabini is an evolutionary psychologist and dream specialist as well as a widely published poet and essayist. Her recent literary work appears in the journal, Catamaran.