Pushcart Nominee 2022
I was in Poland walking through fields filled with dried cow manure and grass that reached past my knees: no containment. I was wearing sandals, because I never seem to learn that I must wear close-toed shoes for the unruly nature here, peeled back and menacing.
I must have stepped on a clover flower that a bee was devouring when my foot made a surprise entrance. What else is there to do but sting for your small life? To warn with your dying breath? I was taken aback, never experiencing a bee sting even when I spent my summer days in Phoenix waterparks. We would hopscotch around pools of chlorinated water and drowned bees that littered the scalding floor. The dead can still sting.
I don’t go to water parks. I don’t pick spring blooms. I watch where I step. I want to see big and slender deities bouncing among yellow dandelions. I want to do what I can to keep them alive.
In my backyard, there was magic. Small, dark rectangles scattered the patio floor. Hidden inside the sprawling pink trumpet vine sat a light green caterpillar, decorated with purple stripes. Manduca rustica. Its nubby hands held the plant stems tight. My mother and I gently pried the squishy mass off. We took leaves and sticks to make a habitat in a plastic container. We were self-made scientists. Our caterpillar devoured wilted greens before turning dark purple.
My mother never remembered seeing a hanging cocoon and had the idea to place our caterpillar into a pot of soil. Sure enough, our caterpillar dug down, out of sight. It had been days. We were too curious, too eager. We dug into the soil to find our caterpillar.
The cocoon had just started to break. A sliver of a wing and antennae inside. I wanted to help. My fingers broke through the dark chrysalis. I expected a monarch or the two-tailed swallow butterfly I saw swaying among wild, purple blooms. Instead, we got a moth. The rustic sphinx. This was the same moth we watched beat itself against the window at night, craving the light inside our home.
It was a confused little thing as it existed in its new body. I tried to encourage flight, throwing it in the air hoping instinct would take over. Its wings never opened. It didn’t survive the night. We never made a caterpillar ours again.
As a child I would hug the blankets tight to my body, thinking every tickle was a beige insect, stinger ready. We’d find them with the black light, their bodies glowing green. Each year I would go unscathed I considered myself lucky.
Scorpions rarely crawled to the bedroom, rather they would surprise us in the bathroom sink or the bathtub. It was late in the evening when I found an unexpected visitor in the sink. Watching the stinging thing fall and slip made me feel powerful. I watched the pinchers open and close, the stinger dangerously poised. Neither were able to assist in this perilous moment.
My body filled with adrenaline as my face inches away from its stinger. I plugged the sink and ran the water because I could. Surely this desert creature wouldn’t survive a flood. The scorpion did not budge, did not react. Fully submerged, it still lived. I investigated. Using the end of a toothbrush, I turned it around on its back and there, yes, there was a bubble near its mouth. This was how they navigated the water-filled pipes. I popped it. The scorpion squirmed then went still. Its tail a straight line. This was my last fatal test. After this encounter I settled for catching them in glass jars, releasing them a house down, across the street, or miles away in an empty desert scene next to a Walmart. They didn’t deserve to die because of my fear.
Valentine Sargent is originally from the desert, surrounded by saguaros. She currently resides in the city of bridges, Pittsburgh. Valentine is an MFA candidate at Chatham University where she is the Managing Editor of The Fourth River. Valentine enjoys traveling, stories, yoga, fruit, and sitting under trees. You can follow her on Twitter @valentinesarg28