When he arrived home from work, his wife had spun herself in a cocoon. The left half of their mid-century style bedroom hid in thick, felt webbing. He shed his coat, then shoes, moving in the meticulous manner forged from years of working with heavy machinery. No rush. No panic. He was an engineer, not an entomologist. Insects and machines had their similarities—whirling cries and internal hydraulics among others—still he felt unqualified to understand, yet alone solve, her acute metamorphosis. Had there been signs? Omens of change? And if there were, could he have prevented the outcome? In the previous weeks there were rare instances of her eating more than usual during dinner, days she slept through morning, neglecting breakfast and sending him to work empty-stomached. The evidence was sparse and inconclusive. This was the natural progression of her shifting moods. A matter of aging hormones. Nothing more.
As a child, she lacked the fear of flying things: gnats, bees, butterflies. Wasps, with their stingers aimed at her exposed legs as she ran wildly through back fields bordering her family's farm. They could all be tamed. In her mind, domestication was a matter of will. Though on whose part, she couldn't say.
His wife revealed how silk was made after he surprised her with a new set of sheets on their seventh wedding anniversary. In ancient China, fourteen year old empress Leizu rested in her garden, beneath a mulberry tree, leaves withered golden in autumn. Speckled between the leaves were fluffs of moth cocoons, hung like molded fruit. She plucked one from the tree and rolled it in her palm, weighed it against the familiar. She collected a few in her pockets. Later, perhaps inspired by boredom, or the kind of casual cruelty only known to teenage girls, she dropped them one by one into her boiling tea. The cocoons unspooled, spreading through the liquid like heavy cream. She dipped her finger in the scalding liquid, twirled the silk around, and unwound it into a lovely thread.
His wife slipped while making tea not long after their wedding, scalding the top half of her right palm. The crease which crisscrossed her hand was pinked smooth. Her heart line, vanished. Rather than mourning this new physical flaw, the tenderness of wound fascinated her. He caught her in the bathtub, peeling the new flesh away to peek at what was hidden underneath, as if she were revealing something about herself unknown. Each time her skin began to heal, she would break it open once more. He supposed if she was able, she would boil away the rest of her flesh, husk layer after layer. When he asked what she was looking for, she cryptically replied something pure.
The dishes piled higher in the sink. The clean laundry dwindled down to mismatched socks abandoned underneath the dresser. On the television, reruns of gameshows flickered through the darkness, canned laughter seeping between the drywalls. He avoided the bedroom when he could, reminded of the reason behind his wife's absence. Of the possibility she might never hatch. Reality became a sequence of still-life studies. Here, abandoned work shoes thrown haphazardly by the front door. There, a man sleeping another night on the couch, arm numb under his head, a microwave dinner cold on the coffee table. Two weeks passed and winter was cracking through stale fall. Against the dry desert landscape, as if my miracle, it began to snow. Heavy flakes like a million white moths shivered in the air, falling one by one. He watched them melt through the window's frost.
When the Empress Leizu married, she asked her husband only for a grove of mulberry trees.
It was a strange feeling to feel your heart in your palms, your stomach in your brain, your fingers where your knees should be. It was like puberty, but less shameful. She closed her eyes, located somewhere where her left elbow once was, and reveled in the delicious feeling of transformation. She felt a tickle as her enzymes digested her old body. She laughed inaudibly in the soup of herself.
A month carved itself silently away, and her husband became impatient. He paced the bedroom, demanding his wife to emerge. She didn't. He considered leaving, having the affair mindlessly dreamt of while filing spreadsheets at work. But then, he must explain away the giant organic structure which had overtaken his bedroom. How could he have sex with someone while his wife was a few feet away, consuming herself in a coffin?
His wife saved a cockroach from beneath his boot the morning before she cocooned. He was leaving for work when he caught it scurrying from the kitchen sink, beneath the door, and into the foyer where it paused as if saying its final goodbyes. He raised his foot above the small brown body. His wife snatched his arm.
ENTOMOLOGY OF THE PIN-UP GIRL
Grasshopper (Dissosteira longipennis): The first time she sees a woman nude, she thinks grasshopper—finds similarities in skinny stretched legs, the sleek curve from head to foot. She touches her own soft body and searches for its hardness. Her stomach rolls doughy like caterpillars across cracked branches. Her breasts are tick bites. When she can't seek herself further, she captures crawling things and tries to find herself within.
Girl (Homo sapiens): At age six, she stepped barefoot into a fire ant bed—a careless mistake. She was playing with her favorite barbie, a headless pin-up blonde with right leg snapped backwards in plié. The doll was seeking her head. The real tragedy was how close the plastic-girl was to finding her skull skewered neatly on a twig when the real-girl's foot sank ankle deep into the mound of ant-dirt. The ants trickled out in stream, then river, before they burst forth in red tsunami. All she could do was watch. Each sting puckered in blister. The burning lit her from the inside, electrifying nerves. Beyond the pain, she imagined what she might taste like to the ants. She took the red insects between her fingers and tried them on her tongue. They filled her mouth with bitter citrus sting. She took a bite from herself—disappointed at the taste of empty.
Ant (Dasymutilla klugii): When ant stings weren't enough, she opened herself up to let them inside. Her mouth was a door. She peeled back her skin like cheap motel bed sheets. The ants found comfort in her hollows. They rested beneath the blanket of her tongue.
Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus): Here is the beginning of the end: fast fashion models are wrapped in Palos Verdes blue. Plastic wings dangle from their ears and silicone breasts—which can't be buried by the American Burying Beetle or dissolved by waxworm—clog the dirt. She's stained with Scarlet Lily Beetle lipstick. Her cheeks are blushed pink with Lyme. A Bubonic diet helps her slide easily into size-two bikinis. Her favorite dress: a red mini dotted with lady-bird spots.
EATERS OF MEN
The creatures in the woods turn woman under full moon. We know them by the soft sway of their hips, the hungry lick of their teeth when they see something, or someone, they like. They are neither boar nor bear, but some marriage of the two—birch-bleached antlers tangled around their skulls; pink mouths brimmed with tusks. Once a month, the creatures venture into our village. They streak through our streets, fur transformed into sheer white frocks and antlers softened into halos of hair framing tuskless faces, struck silver by moonlight. We know these women from our own if only by the ethereal beauty, the languid scent of honey-suckle and smoke that gathers in their wake. They walk in packs, elbow to elbow, gazes flickering across streetlights and halogen signs blinking in bar windows. One looks to another as if to say happy hunting before they scatter and scurry into open doors. The lack of locks—an invitation.
The first time I lay with a man, I try to take control. I pinch my arms bruised in preparation, channeling the pain I know to come. He is a farm boy recently passed boyhood, the stubble freshly prickled on his cheeks, yet he already knows his power. Power is as natural to him as fear is to me. I feel shame as I undress. I am too young, my body still reimagining itself through puberty. My soft breasts implicate me as harmless. He kisses them anyway. I hesitate as he flips me on my stomach and catch a sharp slap with my cheek. The sting reminds me of my position, the teeth and claws I lack. I hide my tears and wish him dead but can't find the will to resist.
We gather to watch from our windows as the beast's forms unfold, their steps becoming light and unburdened by hooves. They smile, wind fingers through their sisters' hair, spin on bare heels like moths caught in breeze. I try and visualize my own metamorphosis. My flesh ripping, regrowing. Skull fracturing and expanding to accommodate antlers and tusks. I focus on the surface of my skin and imagine the pain of it all. Perhaps the pain justifies their hunger, their violence. I struggle to conceive an unfamiliar form. I crawl on my hands and knees to find a new perspective, knuckles bruised blue from the effort. I chew with my mouth open, legs wide. When someone asks my name, I let my tongue loose and scream.
The farm boy is dead two years later. We all know why, but don't dare say it. To speak is to manifest—to permit the lie that some victims choose themselves. Instead, we blame wild coyotes. A rabid wolf. The obituary writes him as a kind boy with a bright future. A man's potential snuffed too soon. I tear the pages from the paper and eat them whole. The pulp concretes itself in my stomach—hardens something within me.
I follow the creatures back into the forest, attempting to glimpse the moment they change. The moment they use jaws for grinding bark and bones, not wide lipped smiles. The moment they release their hair and let it bristle loose against their backs. The moment they stumble full and satisfied into their dens for another moon, snoring softly against their sisters' ballooned pink bellies.
Notes on "Silk": One morning, I wondered "what if I could avoid getting out of bed by cocooning myself in the sheets?" However, the problem with forming a chrysalis is that a change must occur within—a metamorphosis. I wrote this piece to confront the process of change, its catalysts, and all the forms metamorphosis may take.
Notes on "Eaters of Men": I've always loved the idea of werewolves. Transforming into animal beneath the full moon feels like the perfect excuse for release. It feels very liberating. It feels inherently feminine. I wanted to explore the ways in which gender binds, transforms, and frees us by complicating the idea of werewolves and how we define 'monster' as both animal and woman.
Notes on "Entomology of the Pin-Up Girl": "Entomology of the Pin-Up Girl" was written after an André Bazin essay of the same name. After reading it, I was disappointed by the lack of insects within. Was it a mistake? Did he mean "Etymology" rather than "Entomology"? Was it a complicated metaphor I failed to grasp? These questions still haunt me. I wrote this story for my own peace of mind.