Charleston · Writing

Part 5. Short Story: All the Crawling Beetles


Who likes catharsis? Raise your hand if you like catharsis.

Part 1:

Part 2:

 Part 3:

Part 4:  

Here ya go. Part 5. Our story ends tomorrow. Mwah! (Kissing noise.)


All the Crawling Beetles, Part 5

            When it rains in South Carolina, it’s not like the rain used to be in Ohio. In Ohio, when it rained, it rained for days. It would start as this slow descent into gray. One morning, strips of heavy stratus clouds would slide on the scene and take over. Then, those same strips would merge to form one, huge circus tent above our heads. It wouldn’t actually rain for another three days, and then, the rain would be this lasting, dreary drizzle. It never took breaks, but there were never exciting downpours, either. The rain would last and last and last, and just when you started thinking about moving to Tahiti (not a bad idea), the rain would finally stop. The skies would clear, and you’d see business people kicking off their shoes, throwing their hands in the air, and dancing down soaked sidewalks.  

            In South Carolina, however, rain caught you. It could be clear and sunny one moment, dark and disturbing the next. Was it something about the humidity? Or was it being by the sea? Hell if I knew; I practically failed the meteorology course I forced myself to take one summer in college. Plus, I didn’t need science to tell me when I was about to get soaked. I’d been trapped in Charleston downpours before, so I knew what they looked like—fat, heavy, black clouds that grew like the mysterious mole you never got checked out. Those storm clouds would give you the bum rush, then, bang, you’re stuck in the middle of a storm that would’ve stunned even Spidey Sense.

            And I’m at the top of a magnolia tree. The pads of my bare feet are balanced above a thin tree limb. My movements have already brushed some dry bark away, and it’s smooth where I stand. My back is against the thick tree trunk, and my left hand is clutching to a bunch of dark green leaves. There’s the thick, sweet smell of magnolia blossoms, but there’s also the smell of wet pavement from somewhere down the block, where the rain has already hit.

            A storm is coming, I’m at the top of a tree, and now, I’m crying—wrenching, terrible sobs that force me to bend over below my ribcage. I’m holding onto my stomach with the hand not holding onto the tree, because I think this will keep me from throwing up. I’m trying not to fall out of the tree, and I’m wondering what I’m crying about. It’s been two weeks without Aidan, and the only time I cried about that was the night after and on and off through the next day. I haven’t cried since then, so why I am crying now?

            Why had I cried in the first place?

            I knew it wouldn’t work. I knew Aidan and I wouldn’t have made it. Friends told me his age didn’t matter. They told me the way I felt about him mattered. That’s all well and good, but there were still moments when we would look at each other—Aidan and me—and know we were different, and that it would eventually be the end of us. It wasn’t the small stuff that bothered me. I didn’t care that Aidan hated to dance. I didn’t care that he kept his hair shaggy to hide the receding hairline. He didn’t seem to care when I asked dumb questions about world geography before he left on photography trips. He didn’t seem to care when I took him to clubs with my friends, and he would make fun of the music. It was more than that.

            It was the way I loved; it was the way he didn’t. He was a loner—had been his whole life. His parents were dead, and he didn’t have any brothers or sisters. He didn’t have close relationships with people, and yet, I still held close relationships with people I’d known in kindergarten. Different.

             In the end, it wasn’t about his relationships with other people. It was about his relationship with me. It was about how he didn’t love me and probably never could have. That had been the end, and I’d been waiting for it all along.

            Thunder shakes the tree, and my eyes shoot up to the sky. Damn it, the storm is here.  The wind is picking up around me, and an early-evening dimness has replaced what should be late-morning sun. I have to get out of the magnolia tree, because I know I’ll be the first thing struck. I force myself to take a slow, deep breath to try subduing the sobs. I move my hand away from my stomach and reach out to take hold of another tree limb at hip-level. As I reach for it, there’s motion. The leather leaves shimmy, and beady black eyes look up at me.  

            I look at the mangy squirrel, and the poor bastard just stares at me. He’s still in action pose, with his right front paw extended forward and parallel to the tree limb at his feet. His little eyeballs are sweeping left to right, and back again. His baby mouth full of tiny teeth is open, and I start screaming. Why am I screaming? Well, why was I crying? Why was I in a magnolia tree?

            The squirrel starts making these freaky “chirp” noises, as if saying, “What-the-fuck-are-you-doing-in-my-tree-you-crazy-human-bitch-ahhhhhh!”

            The cacophony was enough to get the old lady back in the front yard. I hear her screen door slam, and now, she’s at the foot of the tree. I glance down at her long enough to see she’s holding a phone in her hand. “You see?” she says, waving the black cordless 1980s monstrosity in the air. “You see? I’m calling the police!”

            No, she isn’t, and the sane side of my brain knows it. If she was going to call them, she would have done it already.

            The squirrel is long gone. He’s in his squirrel tree apartment, packing his luggage, and calling his landlord. He’ll never climb this magnolia tree again. I decide to start crying again. What else am I going to do, alone at the top of a tree?

            “You see! I’m calling,” she says, and she’s practically singing the words. She’s right below me now—straight down about twenty feet. Her open palm smacks against the tree bark, and she hums as she pretends to dial. “Calling. The. Police,” she says, and I look up at the clouds, waiting for the lightning. “So you better come down now before I—”

            She’s silent, and I wonder if the pissed off squirrel got her.

            I glance down at the ground, and the old woman is staring up at me. No longer is she the angry, white-haired woman who called me names. Instead, she’s shape-shifted, and she reminds me of my five-foot-two, apple-shaped Italian grandma. She makes a noise like an extended “O.” I blink, and a tear falls off the edge of my chin. The drop of saltwater seems frozen between us as it falls the height of the tree. I swear it hits her in the forehead, but I imagine that’s creative license.

            “Are you—” she starts. “Are you…crying?”



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