Above

(A development of Martha Hayward’s short story, The Entomologist)

Yesterday, I took the step I had been avoiding for so long. I stepped into the elevator, pulled the lever, and rose to the surface.

The sky was disgusting – a filthy great rag stretched out above me – and the grey light ripped into my eyes like a mantis’ claws into a cricket – but I was finally in the world above. My nose twitched in the smog that strangled me, and my flesh trembled at the sight of teams of people bustling along the cobbled streets. Then I saw him.

The hooded figure crept down the street, limping every so often. I occasionally caught a glimpse of a crooked smile beneath the hood, and I noticed the bag that was slung over his shoulder was blacker than it had ever been. Once he was near enough to me, he tapped a manhole three times. I looked at him directly, trying my best to hide the revulsion I felt towards his rotten, pasty face.

“Have you got them?” I asked.

“Only the very best.”

“Let me have a quick look.”

“Not here. Come with me; we’ll go somewhere hidden.”

We slithered into a secluded alleyway. The desperate, ugly breaths he took with each step were irritating enough, but then he began to speak to me again. If the specimens he brought had not been what they were, I’m not sure what would have happened to him that day. I might have invited him down a secret manhole, brought him into the blackest meditation room I could find, and allowed my most poisonous child to bite his finger. He would be plunged into blackness, and his corpse would make good food for the maggots.

“Do you ever miss Victoria?” the dealer asked, “Or the asylum?” he added, with a nasty wink.

“No. She’s been dead for too long. I’m not sure I ever loved her – I’ve realized that I don’t like people. And I don’t know what you mean by ‘the asylum’. I’ve never been to an asylum, and I never will go to one.”

The dealer laughed. I hated his laughter.

“Well, take a peak then. Go on.”

It was a tarantula, a beautiful female Mexican Redknee Tarantula. I didn’t need to scramble down to look at the other cages; I was happy enough with this creature. He could have packed yet more stick insects for all I cared – my male now had a mate, and I wouldn’t have to put up with his constant visions of female spiders.

“Thank you.” I said. “I will look at the others later. You must come down with for a visit some time soon.”

“Oh, I certainly will. I certainly will…”

I didn’t like the way he said it. It was as if he regarded me as a fool.

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