At Redwood Insect Station Number 1 (from White Ash)

For a Mother—Not Mine


True metamorphosis doesn’t come with flowcharts.

—David Mitchell, The Bone Clocks, 2014

My mother died a minute before I was born.  This fate befalls millions.  Less commonly, our dead mothers visit, as mine did one August night, 1991.  Her companion charged me to tell this story until someone believed me.  It took 11 times.  I was a larval biologist, working a three-day shift alone at the station we called Little Bug.  Legend told of anomalies entomological—but never any walking dead.

Little Bug was an old logger’s lodge with a tin roof, makeshift kitchen, and cot atop a loft.  Since a bear had chomped a promising intern, protocols dictated no one sweep the nets until daybreak.  Bolted doors.  One of us worked at night because our research director was stalking some fearsome and nocturnal thing that we could capture on CCTV, should it curdle by one of our motion sensors on its perverse crusade.

No one could drive into Little Bug since a storm had cut the logging road.  And no one would think of walking the road by foot at night.  So the knock catapulted my balls up under my pancreas.

I had never seen a naked woman.  She was old.  I was told by the naked man who accompanied her that they were old because you still got old, until it reversed when you passed some point, and then you cycled again.  They had delicate, filigreed wings, tripartite, folded efficiently between buttocks and clavicles.  They had filthy feet.  Their voices and eyes were dead grey.  “I’m here to tell you,” she said, “that you will meet a girl.  You have to let her in your life.”

I stared at my charts all showing “no visit” by the beast that was my boss’s Moby Ick.  What would I write had come that night?  Ghost Mother?

I had to tell her I was gay.  I hated to.

“That’s of no account,” said the naked man.  “This girl is your future.  She will be different.  We can’t discern her details, but you must …  Your mother doesn’t wish you to join her yet.”

“Who’s he?”  I asked.

“My lover.”  You got a lover.  “Don’t tell your dad.”

She touched my jaw.  It discombobulated my synapses, ached my spine.  Who was I supposed to be?   Should I dump my boyfriend?  Study labial anatomy?

They found me unconscious.

My professor never discovered his fantastic bug.  He shot himself at the station.

Now I know.  It wasn’t until you believed me that I figured out you were the “different” girl.   You, the motherless little boy I found in a Dumpster behind the Ag-School dorms where I did dump my boyfriend after he hit me.  A boy named Dorian, you remember, wearing a plastic tiara you’d earlier used to scrape dog shit from between your toes.  At first, I tried to teach you boy things.  But I couldn’t hear your heart until it tweeted like a happy beetle when I called you by that name you loved—“Ladybug.”  I hope your mother will come for you, too.