Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Chapter Seven: In Which Compass Remembers Why Her Mother is Such a Pain in the Ass

(For this photo, I thank lejun, a remarkable and prolific photographer. His work can be found at http://www.pbase.com/lejun/profile)
Compass sat back amid the shards of her mother’s most intimate secrets and reflected on a conversation she’d once had with her high school English teacher, Mrs. E. Compass had been in college then, and had recently changed her major from political science to English literature, a fact which she related rather proudly as though she’d managed some great evolutionary leap all alone and in plain sight. The horror on her former teacher’s face wiped the smug from her own.

“You’re not planning on becoming a . . . . teacher, are you?” the woman asked.

“No, why?”

“You won’t like it,” Mrs. E told her. “No one ever does.”

Back then, Compass had fat, fabulous dreams of being a writer in a turret of her own, surviving, somehow, on not very much money, glamorously gaunt, windswept and interesting. Being an English teacher was a career path she never once considered. She had novels within: great, sweeping dramas with lots of words juxtaposed in new and eye-opening ways. She would invent worlds and inhabit them with creatures both fantastic and amusingly mundane. Micro-goddess of her own little cosmos, she would wreak a sort of benign havoc on her creations, and all the dogs would be happy.

Now, at 39, her dreams were tempered. Ill-tempered. She had crabby, restless dreams of beating the skins from Republicans and shoving mufflers up the nethers of unmuffled-motorcycle riders. She still wanted to write those books, still felt they were latent and lingered, but in reality she was just the host to a colony of lampreys: she spent her nights grading papers in a sort of stupor, all creativity sucked from her as she circled misspelled words and replaced “to” with “too.” Her life felt hopeless in its littleness, an exercise in futility, and even her cats were cranky.

“English teachers can’t possibly be interesting.” It was a theory she’d bumped up against a thousand times. No one ever actually said it out loud, but it was implied in the glaze of the eyes at parties, the slight tilt of the head to see if there were someone more interesting behind her or perhaps perched on her shoulder. Dead Poets Society be damned, no one thought English teachers would ever yawp, no matter how called-for a hearty yawp might be. English teachers were the quiet, mousy ones, a step sideways from librarians, who held slim books of poetry tight to flat, unyearned-after breasts and recited lengthy monologues and lived life at one, thick-lensed remove. Compass was beginning to agree: English teachers were dull. They could spell “juxtapose” and argued fervently for the retention of the subjunctive, but they were dull. She was dull.

And yet, here was something interesting.

The box was full of dragonflies.

Fortunately, the dragonflies had been individually encased in clear, heavy plastic that even Compass’ hammering couldn’t damage. There were seven of them, all beautiful with translucent wings and narrow, waspish bodies. Compass held them gingerly, on her fingertips, as if waiting for the plastic to melt away so the dragons could fly again. Their flying days were, clearly, over, but the mounting had been done with such care that Compass almost forgot about the lucite caskets that stilled their wings. That and the fact that they were dead, of course.

Compass held one specimen up to the light. It had wings that were brown close to the body, then white at the ends, tipped at the extreme front ends with a black line. The brown part formed a dark, four-leafed clover, and its body was dusty white. Another had huge green lips, like some sort of Martian dragonfly minstrel. The third one she pulled from what was left of the box had vivid brown and yellow stripes on its wings. The fourth had a head like a hammerhead shark, and the fifth was a vivid, fluorescent blue with lacy black wings. The sixth was a sort of sunset gold – a reddish, yellowish, brownish color with bright red lines at the front tips of its wings. The seventh was perhaps Compass’ favorite: it had a gray, uninteresting body, but its wings were nearly translucent – except for the black lace veins running through them and a black line along the front of each wing that turned into a deep, dark curve at the extreme ends. Wings dipped in twilight.

Compass sighed. This was interesting. Finally, she was living in interesting times. She had lost a father and a mother, and she had a box of bugs to show for it. Her mother had left her a mystery. Compass was crap at mysteries. She was, at best, a lazy researcher, and if the answers weren’t to be found on the web – and no more than, say, four mouse clicks away – Compass wouldn’t find them. She was interested in the world, but not interested enough to look it up. However, in this case she was fortunate. She had a friend who knew bugs. She had an entomologist in her intimate circle, and she wasn’t afraid to use him.


DK said...

Yeah for the return of Compass! Dragonflies? That exactly what I predicted.

NuclearToast said...

Awesome new chapter. Love it! Now, more more MORE!

Ash said...

Yes, keep posting more!