And now the sun is pummelling the land flat with light and everything that lives is hiding in the shadows that exist below and between things. Drunk on the life new-squeezed into their stocky bodies, recently-hatched jewel-black chafer beetles stagger around in the thick air on their short wings around the yard, bumping into walls, chairs, the hot flanks of the mules. Each other. Anna’s forehead. They fall to the ground on their backs, enchanted with heat, and right themselves with much leg waving and rocking, and then launch themselves up and out, weaving around like drunks after closing time trying to find their way home.
Thee chafers are floating belly-down in the cold coffee in Anna’s mug, the back of their carapaces just visible, like dark ice cubes. Anna pokes at them with the tip of her folding knife. They bob and swirl slowly, tiny overturned coracles, rudderless.
She wonders what they taste like.
She frowns, sits up straight.
She wonders why she was wondering what they taste like.
Her eyes widen. She drops the knife into her lap. It rolls off her jeans and lands on the ground.
She doesn’t pick it up.
She has remembered what they taste like.
She looks back at the bodies of the beetles in her mug. Pushes it away.
What is wrong with me?
Bitterness swims around the back of her tongue. The tooth-crunch of fragile insect shell. The tickle of feather-light legs in her throat.
She coughs and spits onto the porch, expects to see black parts.
Nothing but her clear spittle making a dark pool in the dust.
Her throat feels scratched, raw. She puts a hand up to her jaw, strokes there and further down, over where the slight bulge helps her swallow. She strokes again and again, trying to soothe the ache.
And she remembers:
A muddied puddle, shaded by juniper bushes. Heat like this one rising from the scorched slopes of the hill to meet the heat lowering from the sky. Caught in the heat. The shining beetles dog-paddling desperately in the water, going round and round. Never getting closer to the edge. The air thick. Motionless. Crouching there, knees up by her face, heels in the hot dust, backside hovering above the tired earth. The sweat coming on her forehead and rolling down her face, down her back, from the folds behind her knees, coming and drying quickly but not cooling and coming again. Then putting her palms to the ground, the pebbles insistent for attention against the balls of her hands, the pads of her fingers, and bending, bowing to the earth and to the water, putting her face to the pool and drinking deep. The water thick and crunchy with silt, warm down the gullet. Her fingers gripping the dried edges of the earth.
Drinking deep. Listening. Watching the ledges.
Yes, that’s it. She is watching and listening for danger, for she cannot smell it like her family do, though she tries. Oh how she tires.
Lapping at the water , the sun burning her naked buttocks and shoulders. The ends of her hair drifting in the water of the pool like weed.
She is watching for danger. She is listening for danger.
For the sounds of sticks breaking and heavy footfalls. For the burbling of deep voices that make sounds she does not understand though they mean hurt and fear, oh yes, that she knows. For the tinkling click and breath-stopped hush that precedes the sky-splitting bang when everything runs or flies in terror but some don’t. Some can’t.
She is listening for the danger that walks tall and hides itself in scraps.
She is listening for the men.
But it is quiet save for the hum of the sunlight and the bumbling of the beetles and the whispering and ticking and squealing of all the things that live and fear her.
So, thirsty no more she dips her fingers into the pool and paddles them there, coaxing the dead beetles closer. They rock on the ripples, tiny boats on a tiny ocean over which tiny waves roll and slide. She plucks a dead insect from the pool, brings it to her mouth and pops it inside. Crunches and crunches and swallows. Then the next. The Bitterness. The tickling. The coughing. More water to cool the throat.
She is hungry still. She needs more than insects and water. She will return to her mother and they will find the meat they need.
They will hunt together and she will use her hands and her teeth and she will have blood.
She can’t possibly remember this because it never happened to her. But still. She remembers.