By Katie Cervenec
Instructions: Insert first pin, Stainless #00, at center of thorax perpendicular to body of insect. Drive down into spreading board. Using forceps, angle bottom of wing 100 degrees from body, add second pin. Apply parchment to hold down specimen.
* * *
Kevin had a five-minute window.
And he wanted it done right. For Sonya. Sonya with her reading glasses frequently lost on top of her head, her black heels, sensible, he believed they were called. Still, they accentuated her calf muscles.
“Hiya, Sonya. Got this Junonia coenia pinned, labeled and cataloged. GPS-ed it down by the creek, near where Putsem said he saw that giant moth.”
Sonya barely looked up from her phone.
“Putsem’s a liar,” Kevin continued, clicking his teeth together. He hadn’t meant to say that.
Putsem said he saw a male Cecropia Linnaeus the size of a car. What a sham. Moths were getting bigger, it was true. A byproduct of gases rising from the GMO crops male moths flew over while sniffing out female pheromones. Kevin didn’t mind the butterflies, prim and dainty. But he hated moths, even the small ones, but one that big?
It could fight back.
Somewhere beyond their basement walls, a jackhammer started up its rhythm. The Ag department was getting a new building next door. Figured.
Sonya motioned him to place the newest specimens in the catalog-file, then waved him away.
* * *
That Friday evening, Kevin leaned into the trunk of his bug-splatted Prius. He pulled out the child’s butterfly net, dollar bin — Walgreens, and the wintergreen-flavored mouthwash.
* * *
Lepidopterology—moths and butterflies—fills his weekdays. Most days in the lab, earbuds in, nodding to his playlist, he imagines himself, one hand wrapped around a sweating glass, the other at Sonya’s waist, hips forward, moving, moving, Put it on my life baby in a bar somewhere in SoCal.
He measures the wing-span of the male Hübner, common Buckeye, types 58 millimeters into the ancient desktop. One last ¡Dale! from Pitbull, then Alan Jackson gets all soulful.
Kevin moves on to the next specimen, a Polygonia Interrogationis looking like it sucked a sunset through a straw, before it got itself pinned down in the basement level of Ides Research Building 24. Alan Jackson twangs, and Kevin pretends he’s boots on a log, somewhere in Tennessee, watching the campfire flicker over Sonya’s face.
* * *
Kevin slammed the Prius trunk closed. The sound bounced off the oaks. The air ate it, and he was alone again. Usually, his days were full of numbers, data collected and poised for future study. He made a buck or two, flung it at Little Caesar’s down the block and PacMan at the arcade around the corner.
But tonight, he couldn’t eat. Pizza just sat there, getting cold.
Kevin snapped the butterfly net to his belt loop with a carabiner and shoved a sewing kit and the mouthwash in his pack.
His tennis shoe caught on an Osage orange root.
Early twilight was the best time to find them, but it was solid night now. He’d been late getting out here, waiting on hunger that never came. And last weekend, a moth had flown off with his good net, so he had to make the Walgreens pit stop.
* * *
The forest opened onto a moonlit field. It should’ve been lovely, but Kevin found little use for it. As the last bruised hints of sun faded in the west, bats dipped around the trees. He angled his eyes lower.
His prey hung closer to the ground.
The net bounced against his leg as he jogged into the field.
Cicadas abraded the soft wind with their electric sorrow. And beneath that, to an ear that spent hours attuned to it (when Pitbull wasn’t thumping): the dusty huff of wings.
A smile twitched on his lips.
The first few attempts were fruitless. There wasn’t much in his favor, a nonathletic human in the realm of night’s creatures. But he had patience and a thirst for the endgame. Success came, in the end.
Damn, this one was big as a dinner-plate. The largest Cecropia he’d seen. Still, car-sized? Putsem was full of it.
Between his thumb and forefinger, the moth flexed strong forewings, the costas pushing on his hand. It took intent to hold it still. Its feathered antenna combed his knuckles. Six legs clawed for purchase like Jimmy Page whaling on a guitar solo.
There was no mouth.
Cecropia moths don’t eat. They emerge from the silk cocoon, fly, mate, die. No time for anything else.
Kevin didn’t see anything wrong with that.
He knelt into the grass. Mud leeched up through his jeans.
Awkwardly, with one hand, Kevin unsnapped the sewing kit’s cover and drew out a needle.
Still more awkwardly, he unscrewed the safety-top lid on the mouthwash. The wintergreen scent hit his nostrils.
There were several ways to kill the moths: the ethyl acetate jar, a trusty freezer, a hearty pinch. Then at the lab, they were relaxed from rigor mortis and pinned into the accepted splay, wings spread 100 degrees. All for science.
But this was about the night, about the kill, something less than and more than. It was about a glance from Sonya.
Kevin dipped the needle into the mouthwash and plunged it into the moth’s body. It wasn’t instant, but that was fine. Over the years Kevin had been doing this, he found the wintergreen oils relaxed the wings even more. Made for an easier pinning job later. Made him look better for Sonya.
In the car, Kevin turned on classic rock and whined along with Zeppelin, the short miles to his apartment melting under the street-lit highway.
* * *
Monday morning, he left the moth, pinned perfectly, on Sonya’s desk. It looked respectable there, almost as big as her laptop with the blue motorcycle sticker on it. So hot.
It got an eye-brow raise from her, then she went back to typing with one thumb.
Kevin shook his head.
The next one had to be even bigger. So big she’d have to pay attention.
“Where’d you see it, Putsem?”
At the far lab bench, Putsem wiped his nose and squinted, indents from a microscope framing his eyes like a drunk raccoon.
“Not telling you.”
That night, the cicadas were silent. The only sound was the running creek, black as apathy in the cloudy night. Kevin whistled to keep his spirits up and used his phone to zero-in on the coordinates he’d stolen from a Post-It at Putsem’s desk when he wasn’t looking.
He spun in a lazy circle, net held by his side. But there was nothing. Just silence.
Silence, and then a breath of wind.
Scraggly hairs on top of his head fluttered. Kevin clapped a hand to his head, trying to smooth everything down up there. A stronger whooosh messed it up again. Sweat on the back of his neck dried instantly.
Kevin turned around, raised his net, then dropped it.
A giant of a moth, wings stirring up a gale force, blocked his path. Red-orange legs, covered in two-inch hairs, clicked over stones. Wing scales as large as Kevin’s palm dropped to the ground as it flapped. The moth’s antennae were the size of skeletal palm fronds. Crescent wing markings grinned. If he could bag this one, Sonya would have to love him.
Kevin fished out his sewing needle and ignored his shaky hands as he untwisted the cap on the mouthwash.
The moth tilted its head, raised one red leg and flicked his chest.
So that was how the bugger was going to play. Well, he’d best it, the dumb insect.
As it drew closer, he chuckled. Guess Putsem wasn’t lying.
* * *
Tuesday morning, Sonya stopped for a latte before work. Trying to get one last play in Words with Friends, she hurried to the lab doors.
There was a pop. Something punctured the coffee’s cardboard sleeve. Hot liquid ran over her fingers, and she backed up, dropping her coffee and phone.
Rebar, from the construction site next door. Long as a bloodied sword, driven perpendicular into the center of the body and into the lab doors beyond. Two more rods, sharpened enough to glint the rising sun from their tips pinned the arms at an angle.
Kevin’s head hung forward; he was covered in moth wing scales. The wind brought a whiff of wintergreen to Sonya’s nose as he raised his head.
“Sony…” he whispered.
Sonya pursed her lips, considering him. A minor annoyance plagued her, but she couldn’t put a finger on it.
Instead, she wrapped her hands around the rebar puncturing Kevin’s chest. She’d almost broke a nail. She pushed, leaning on it, driving her weight into the ground through her low heels. It budged another inch or two. Kevin slumped and stilled.
That was done. She’d get Putsum to bring the body in, pin it up, nice and neat in a display case. Perfect formation, angles at 100 degrees of perfection. For science.
She tapped her finger on her teeth. So close, so close to remembering….
Sonya bent to her fallen phone. Words with Friends was still active. She hadn’t accidentally skipped her turn when she dropped it.
She only needed an E in play… yes, there it was.
She keyed in her word for the winning play, W landing on the triple letter square.
* * *
She nodded at the body, Kevin, or was it Kyle maybe, and walked across the dew-wet grass to the side door of the lab.
Katie lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband and 13-year-old triplets and, recently, two impulse-buy Covid-times cats. A decision she daily regrets and applauds at once. She is a commercial interior designer by day and an ear-buds-in writer in the evening. She’s an active member of the Mid-South SCBWI and a member of the Lexington Writers Room. You can find her on twitter @ReadKaCerv.