BY ELLYN BACHE
Copyright is held by the author.
I LEFT my husband, Richie, and moved to Miami, where I lived alone in a furnished duplex with a kumquat tree in the yard. I was lulled by the balmy weather and the tropical surroundings, the drab northern sky erased by colours so intense they might have been sprayed on with layers of shiny paint. Brightness for the eyes, air a soft caress on the skin. And so much life! A place where citrus fruits and mangroves grew, and chameleons scampered up the screen.
One day a scorpion inched its way down the sidewalk toward me as I made my way to my car. A shiver of fear skittered through me, though the temperature was above 90. I had heard stories of people living in hot countries where scorpions crept into their shoes at night and stung them as they dressed in the morning.
I was not new to unpleasant surprises.
With Richie, there had been months of tenderness, not just at the beginning. Whispered endearments. Tickets to shows we couldn’t afford. Lacy underwear so garish it made both of us laugh. Sunday brunches of eggs and biscuits his grandmother had taught him to make when he was a child. He was a very good cook.
Then: an incident, always inconsequential. No mustard for his sandwich, a shirt wrinkled because it hadn’t been folded the moment it came out of the dryer. A package I was supposed to pick up. He would begin slowly, his voice rising. Can’t you do anything? What’s wrong with you?
I tucked myself into the big recliner and stayed quiet. If I tried to defend myself, he grew angrier.
For an hour. More. Until he was spent. Once it went on a whole afternoon.
He never hit.
The scorpion moved slowly, crossing the pavement, edging toward the lawn. Would it soon break into a run? Could it? No. Yards away, it was no threat to me, going about its business. I noticed how graceful it was, holding its stinger aloft in its delicate, prissy manner. I noticed the dance-like quality of its gait.
Richie, too, had a graceful quality. Long, agile limbs. High cheekbones. Thick-lashed eyes. His skin tanned golden and stayed cool even after a day in the sun, even in our bed as we held each other under the sheets.
Sometimes I dreamed of his embrace.
I looked away for a moment and when I turned back the scorpion had left the sidewalk and lost itself in the grass. Drawn to it, mesmerized, I searched for some sign of the path it had taken, but it had hidden itself well. Be vigilant, I thought. In close proximity to such a unique and elegant creature, from that safe and distant vantage point, it is easy to lose sight of the peril, to see it only as a source of pleasure — which it is, of course — poisonous as it may be.
Ellyn Bache is a fiction writer with two collections of short stories in print, one of which won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize, and 10 novels, including Safe Passage, which was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon. She has a new novella coming out next month — Sightless Among Miracles: The (Possibly True) story of Samson and Delilah — with a contemporary setting and a female Sam. She lives in South Carolina, not near the coast as everyone thinks but only a stone’s throw from the mountains.