There’s something horrible in the bath, trapped in the small puddle that collects around the plughole. In a minute it’s going to drown, another smudge on white enamel, dirty and unhygienic. No butterfly this, but a humble brown moth, with a slimy bug’s body under its powdery wings. How long will it take to die? I avert my eyes as I walk out the bathroom.
I’m the type who puts out nuts for the birds and milk for the hedgehogs. I brake for rabbits charging across the road, for badgers, foxes, even rats, but moths I can’t cope with. The doctor says I have a phobia, amongst all my other problems. I just hate the way they charge towards light bulbs, their wings knocking against the lampshade, again and again. Stupid things. They never learn. They nip. They gnaw holes in my jumpers and even bite people.
As I pass the children’s empty rooms, I say ‘Hello’ to the soft toys propped up on their pillows. They wait weeks and months for a well-loved voice, a familiar step, heavier and firmer than hitherto, attached to an adult’s body which knocks them off the bed as they get into it. Once, we snuggled up together, Toby on my knee and Lucy’s downy head pressed against my shoulder, clasping in her chubby arms two, three or, even four, furry animals. I used to read them stories of apron-wearing mice, sweeping their little houses with tiny brooms, and of geese in bonnets carrying wicker baskets. For a few blessed minutes they all listened to me — the children and the toys.
As I rearrange the books on the shelf in Toby’s room, Thomas the Tank Engine alongside university textbooks, I notice the chink of light shining through the bathroom doorway. I thought I’d shut it. I’ll close it now, because I don’t want the death rattle of its filthy wings to creep in here. This part of the house is clean.
Walking back along the landing, I try to reach for the door handle without seeing inside, but I have to look. It’s still moving. Not dead yet. What is going through its moth brain as it surveys precipices of white enamel on all sides? It’s trapped. I decide it’s a she.
See, now, she’s flapping her wings. How can she do that so hard and fast without becoming exhausted? Yet she can’t heave herself out the wet gunge, and her legs, now splayed out sideways, adhere to the surface. I remember Lucy falling off the swing, her fractured arm bending below the elbow, where nature intended no joints. Like broken machinery, it muttered in shame, “I am no use anymore.” Maybe my moth considers sacrificing a leg, or several. Perhaps she has already tried, and failed.
Needing air, I open a window. The window cracks pistol-shots as I wrench it open, ripping apart hinges stiff with disuse. Flakes of paint drop on the ledge. I wince. If I tore off my arm, would particles of bone fall to the ground, little specs of white flecked with pink? Would I hear a noise like the window, as bones snapped and tore from sockets?
We took Lucy to hospital. Now, she tells me, she jogs every evening. I see her, in my mind’s eye, in pink Lycra, pumping iron with her arms thrusting forward in time with her thudding feet. I wish she’d run home.
Maybe if I could just…
A leaflet from one of my pill packets, that will do. Goodness only knows, there are enough of those, seeing as my doctor believes, still, that it’s possible to fill emptiness with drugs. I’m not going to touch her… not an insect, a moth. The edge of the paper shunts her a few inches up the side of the bath.
For a moment, I don’t breathe. She’ll be all right, won’t she? She’ll find the window, go out of her own accord. But she falls back into the water.
I try again, but her body’s too soggy. I’m afraid of hurting her. I can’t bear it. I step back on to the landing, even placing my foot upon the top stair… but I know what I have to do, even though my stomach retches as I rehearse it in my mind.
There, I’ve done it. Her body feels soft and brittle between my fingers. One false move, too tight a squeeze, and she will break, like a baby. I tiptoe across the tiled floor to the window. I open out my hand.
Slowly she stretches out her wings, catching gentle eddies in fresh summer air, heavy flower scents dissolved in recent rain. I watch her fly away, an ever-diminishing speck, threading her way through brambles and roses with old woody thorns. She will live for another day… or two.
Can I do the same? Throwing open the medicine cabinet, I chuck my pills into the bin.
Charlie Britten writes in Suffolk, UK.