Cricket Picture

“A Perfect Replica of Itself” by Kaylen Mallard

19 February 2016 on Nonfiction   Tags:

I don’t think about the eggs breaking until our third stop where we order kombucha on tap. JG is not concerned about the eggs. He shifts the oversized, grey tote closer to his body, keeps it from slinging into chairs as he navigates the narrow aisle. JG is seven years older, but like me, he knows the heat of West Tennessee. Like me, he’s run from it. “Are you sure you don’t want to take those home?” I ask. He grins and cradles the eight dozen raw eggs against him.

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Later, in Nebraska, I catch a grasshopper in a kombucha bottle. I know to glide up to him, crouch alongside and place my bottle in front of him, an offer of false hope. When he leaps, his legs skid on the glass rim a moment, but he falls in, not out, and I screw the cap on and carry him to the freezer. I read that this is the most humane way to kill the bug, but as I hear the groan of the freezer door closing, I stop and stand still.

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That night in New York, we talk about doom, although we do not use the word. JG and I talk about the warm laziness of our Tennessee hometown and the Christian faith that spread over us, heavy and nearly rancid. “The men’s prayer breakfasts,” JG says. “The men’s prayer breakfasts that we held to reach the unsaved husbands. I’ve started going back to church. But only to meet women.” We sit on a bench in Central Park, August weeds wild around us. JG points to a pair of sneakers. “Those are Jordan IVs, patent red. Retail $295.”

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I try to go back to church in Nebraska, but miss the service. My morning long as my night—a karaoke excursion to the Don’t Care Bar. The men there wear hats like the hats of the men in my past, rims fraying, bills bent to a near-V. They wear them low over their eyes. When one of the men sings “Behind Blue Eyes,” I want to take him into my arms the way you might scoop dirt from your mother’s stoop, the dusty earth breaking through your fingertips, covering your hands in a fine mist.

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I think about taking JG in my arms in the same way, but know he is more solid than the dust we both come from. He is multi-dimensional and shoots tall in the wind blowing across his Lower East Side rooftop where we stand, familial almost. “I want to get caught up,” he tells me. And I understand instantly what he means. That whirlwind of aching and agony when you are in bed with someone and in bed over someone, intimacy invading your tissues like an abscess, the fogginess of mind and the clarity of feeling.  

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The sound of the wind in my bottle as I walk through the field momentarily covers the sound of the grasshoppers thrashing in the weeds. The beer I sip washes over me and I taste something of my old way of life in the swallow. The sureness of faith and the safety of cul-de-sacs. Ease and depth—a sweet overtone that eclipses any bitterness, begs me to go soft with it. Give into it.

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JG’s clipped his dark hair into a bowl cut—an old way of life, boyish look, a brooding halo. I noticed it first thing, before the eggs, before he bent to kiss my cheek, before the flutter of his hand on the small of my back, an insect wing’s brush against the field’s winter wheat.

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The grasshopper I catch is a differential grasshopper. They like clover, but also beets and alfalfa. I like clover and beets too, and the sound of alfalfa, the way it is both nonsensical and sure, the l’s and f’s falling hard and certain. Differential grasshoppers have a black chevron pattern over the green-gold of their legs. They have onion-skin wings, the color of wheat chaff caught in lingering light.

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I move closer to JG on the rooftop. Or he moves closer to me. Either way, we sidle into one another angling our bodies into a chevron’s zigzag. There’s no heat here. This is simply touch. The meeting of the bank and the river, the scree and the boulder. We share an origin story, though not the blood and viscera. Below us are millions of others scurrying hither and yon, but they do not know of the bricked steeple we do. They have not been encased.

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Like many insects, grasshoppers molt. To grow, they must shed their current encasement. When it’s time for a new exoskeleton, grasshoppers stop. They do not eat. They gulp air to build up internal pressure and tear their old cuticles. There is a pause. Stillness before the splitting.

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I check the eight dozen eggs in their cartons before putting them into JG’s refrigerator. Not one has split. They are whole. “Leave them out,” JG says, just as soon as I’ve slipped the last one onto a glass shelf.

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Instead of stepping outside to watch a grasshopper molt, I watch videos online inside my room in an almost-whole farmhouse named Victoria, cocooned in a polyester blanket of Celtic knots. In one, the grasshopper slips out of its former skin with quick grace, as though he’d just completed part of his daily routine. In another, the grasshopper writhes and flicks. He runs away from his exoskeleton, the old shell still clinging to its body. One article about a grasshopper molting is subtitled: “The incredible moment insect sheds a perfect replica of itself.”

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The term “grasshopper” can refer to a person who has the habit of jumping from one romantic partner to another. JG talks about painting the severed heads of his ex-girlfriends. A self-portrait of sorts. We both know we are gracious and terrible partners. We both know we kiss as children raised to believe they should only have one love. (Exception: death.) That’s a lot to carry with you to a middle school dance, that this boy or this girl who clasps your waist could be the one with you forever and ever. Could be the most important decision you will make.

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The article “Asymmetrical Integration of Sensory Information during Mating Decisions in Grasshoppers” concludes that female grasshoppers are cost-adverse and that first impressions matter. These girls weigh what they hear. They get no benefit from mating (death comes soon after), so they pay attention to what is not attractive in the potential partner’s song, especially if he starts off poorly. “Attractive” is “of the same species” and “unattractive” is “of another species.”

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I do not pay attention to first impressions. I pay attention to the wind. It is what anchors in Nebraska. I start a walk through a field and a grasshopper lands on my thumb, then flees. On my walks, I move slowly, and I listen to hymns. “Hide Thou Me.” I do not know why I listen to these songs here. Maybe it is because people talk about football the way my people talk about football. Maybe it is because there are no rocks to cling to.

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There are 10,000 species of grasshoppers and their threats include parasites, birds, ants, spiders, beetles, lizards, frogs, snakes, and centipedes. Grasshoppers that are soft and slow-moving may waste away because of a fungus, a Tachinidae fly may be eating its way into the grasshopper, or a horsehair worm may be burrowing through the wall of the grasshopper’s stomach.

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JG and I use these descriptors to summarize the past ten years of our lives: wasting away, melting, loved and lucky, bug in my shirt, talented, Chicken Little, imaginative, object of desire. We do not talk of ourselves as fully grown. We do not use the word home.

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Grasshoppers molt five times in their life. When they shed themselves for the last time, their wings open, fully grown.

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From the sound of his voice and the feel of his hand, I know JG and I are the same: no bursting, just a slow slither, the old encasement still clinging to the body. It is reluctant to shed. Or, we do not know how to let it go.

 

 

Kaylen Mallard is originally from Tennessee, and has a MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Montana. She’s been a resident at Art Farm, Madroño Ranch: Center for Writing, Art, and the Environment, and Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts, and her work has appeared in Hippocampus and Gulf Stream among other publications. Currently, Kaylen is the Director of Development for the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis, Indiana. 

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