ENTOMOLOGY • by Meera Baldwin

Insects always died beneath the paisley curtains of my childhood bedroom. It never bothered me to see the dried-up bodies of ladybugs in the dust of the hardwood. Their rust-colored exoskeletons were amusing to play with, making a satisfying pop when crushed between my thumb and forefinger with the right amount of pressure. I’d rub the residue into the fabric of my curtains and never wash my hands. The ladybug-colored stain on my curtain was the harbinger of springtime: when it appeared above the matted heads of my dolls, I could count also on the wild growth of dandelions in the front lawn.

A few dead grasshoppers appeared in the following months, always crisped up from the mid-July heat. I’d pick the grasshoppers up by their protruding hind legs to inspect them closely, only for their bodies to snap off entirely. The fine hairs on their front legs or the notches on their delicate antennae would catch on my curtains, giving the impression that the zombified bug wanted to claw its way out of the cemetery beneath it. I tried in vain to attach the legs back onto their dried abdomens but knew not how to use my sister’s art supplies with restraint. Pools of glue, dried nearly clear and flecked with grasshopper carcasses, decorated my summer skirts. I hardly noticed the stains, though, unless examining my clothes in direct sunlight. Even then, I wore them with pride.

In October, cold fronts would shepherd spiders of all sizes into the dark corners of my house. Withered, silken egg sacs and abandoned cobwebs resided where nature slipped in uninvited. The spiders made homes of untouched work shoes or old cereal boxes. They safeguarded electrical sockets and killed lesser insects behind our trash bin. More than anywhere else, spiders reigned over the bathroom. I’d find them in the shower scrambling for leverage after I had turned on the faucet. There was no kinship between the spiders and I, so I didn’t mind watching the water sweep them, pull them, down the open drain. When I would find them dead in my room, it was always a delight. Spiders died like carnations, with their wiry legs scrunched into themselves. The contortion of their bodies charmed me as if they were demonstrating how to huddle into oneself for warmth. Their abdomens were swollen like the porcelain Santa Claus figurines we brought out in December. No larger than a quarter, they looked more comical than intimidating. More than that, they looked like something I wanted to interact with — to know intimately. It was on gut impulse, not hunger, then, when I placed one of the lifeless creatures from my bedroom floor into my mouth.

The taste was bland and dusty. I had prepared myself for a flavor of iron, like when I’d lick the hairline scrapes on my arms from the playground. But there was no bloodiness to this spider. If anything, it faintly matched the earthiness of wet dirt or an overgrown lawn. Against the very feeling of it in my mouth — the crunch of its legs, the chew of its insides — I did not dwell on its taste. I started chewing with an urgency, wanting the creature gone but incapable of spitting it out. I swallowed hard and felt the body drop into my stomach.

Heat built at the nape of my neck and spread fast across my face and body. I looked in the mirror. Beads of sweat were dotted across my forehead. My cheeks were flushed. Desperate for water, I ran into the bathroom. To the spiders still hiding in the shower, my red face might have appeared as the tell-tale sickness from eating something vile. I looked like any other child battling a sudden bout of nausea as I stood willing the acids in my stomach to settle. The spider I ate was not dangerous, though. In fact, my body absorbed the arachnid as if it were a bite of boiled corn from that day’s cafeteria lunch. My sweaty palms and lightheadedness did not come from illness.

Rather, guilt, tight and inexpressible, had taken hold of my body.

I thought of the little spider I mangled with my teeth once settled in a brilliant, complex web dappled in dew and glistening iridescent in the light. I thought of it clutching its own egg sack, thrilled with the new life pulsing beneath it. I thought of the spider living its inch-long life and dying peacefully like a grandmother in its old age, only for me to come along and turn it into a paste in my mouth.

I sat still for a very long time. My sweat dried. My neck cooled. Leaving the bathroom, I grabbed the nicest hand towel from the closet. With steady hands, I placed the dead insects from my bedroom onto the white cloth. I folded it once, then twice, and walked outside on the porch. Not quite understanding the ceremony I was leading, but knowing it was only right, I released their broken bodies amongst the dandelion stems, and hoped for their forgiveness.

Meera Baldwin is an Indianapolis native and recent graduate from Hillsdale College. She served as Editor-in-Chief of the college’s creative writing magazine while studying literature. Meera reads, writes, roller skates, and does not yet have her driver’s license.

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