The bed creaks. I feel the mattress rise a bit beneath me. Seth stands up, and the mattress falls. His warmth disappears.
I pretend to be asleep. I don’t want to get up. I don’t want to make waffles. I don’t want to deal with the bugs on my kitchen counter.
I follow his footsteps across the floor. He’s at the dresser now.
I don’t want to do laundry either.
He changes and goes downstairs. I hear the refrigerator open and shut. He must be having the leftover waffles from yesterday for breakfast.
I hope he likes them.
I hear plates rattling, cabinet doors closing. I hear the whine of the dishwasher.
I hear a crash, followed by soft swearing.
Then there is silence. He hasn’t left. I haven’t heard the front door.
I force myself to get up when my back starts hurting and turning over doesn’t help.
I stumble into the bathroom and turn the water on. I watch as it falls, as the tub fills. I listen to the sounds change as the water gets deeper.
Maybe he’ll say we can go out today. Maybe there won’t be an experiment to tend. Maybe the plants in the garden will be able to survive on their own for a few hours.
Maybe I will just drown myself in the bathtub.
I don’t, of course. I get out when my fingers are wrinkly and the water has gone cold, my back still hurting, and I dress and I go downstairs.
Seth is standing in front of the door. He raises his head at the sound of my feet on the stairs.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
My brain feels like boiled noodles. I think someone is trying to eat my noodle brain by sticking their fork through my eyeballs. I want to tell the person to stop and go eat someone else’s brain, maybe a brain made out of pizza bagels. I want to close my eyes so that forks can’t get into them. I want to go back to bed. But if Seth has been waiting because he wants to go out, because he wants to go to the stadium or the movie theater or even to the park next door, then it doesn’t matter.
I reach out to touch the back of his shoulder, but something is wrong. His shoulders are hunched, his muscles tight. I let my hand drop.
He turns to face me.
I look in his eyes, and I realize that we are not going out today.
“Where are the rhinoceros beetles, Sarah? Where are they?”
No please I don’t want him to be mad at me, he was nice yesterday, no don’t let the shadow come back. I have to make him understand. I have to make him not mad.
“I put them in the kitchen last night! I told the man at the register what you said, and he brought it all to me in a bag, and I brought the bag home and I put it on the counter, and then I went to bed. You were already asleep. I thought it’d be okay. I thought you’d come down here and find it, and you’d know what to do with it. I didn’t know what else to do!”
“Sarah, see, here’s the thing. I would have known what to do with it if you had brought me rhinoceros beetles. But you didn’t, and now I have a specimen going to waste, and I have to start over.”
His eyes glitter with green ice. I’m surprised that my breath doesn’t show on the air.
I have to stop this. I have to make him not mad.
“I did! I got rhinoceros beetles! I promise!”
I remember the yellow and red store, the dusty books that smelled of mildew, the freezer bunnies in the jar. I remember the unhealthy tattooed man, and the wands behind him. I remember telling him what I needed. I said rhinoceros beetles. I know I did. Didn’t I?
“If I didn’t, I’m sorry! I can go back and get them now! And then maybe when I get back you could take me to your lab? Maybe if I knew more about what you do in there I’d get it right on the first try, you know? Which I’m really really sorry, and I promise I’ll get it right from now on!”
Not the way I’d planned to get into his lab, but this Seth, with his icy eyes and razor thin words, would not respond well to demands.
He’s calm now. Calm and quiet and dark with shadow.
“There are light beetles crawling all over the kitchen counters. You might want to go take care of that.”
I remember the crash and the swearing I heard earlier.
He turns and walks towards the door. Without even turning his head to look at me, he says, “And you are to never come in my lab.”
The door bangs shut behind him.
The house is silent.
I see Athena, our jellyfish, swimming in her bowl on the table by the door. She’s alone. She’s hungry. She hasn’t eaten all day.
I find her food.
I look at her world. So small. And she’s alone, all the time. Swimming around and around, as the light disappears and the shadow grows.
I shake her food down into her little glass bowl. She seems to appreciate it. It’s nice that someone around here appreciates the food that I provide.
In my kitchen there are beetles crawling on the counters. Perhaps they are on the stove. Maybe there’s a line of them going up the refrigerator, humming along with it.
I hope Seth left the fluorescent light over the sink on for them.
The house is silent but I hear the front door slam, over and over and over.
“And you are to never come in my lab.”
The shadow oozes from the walls and pools around my feet.
If the shadow is back, if it is going to try to claim my Seth again, then I know my job.
I have to make light.
I should go and do something about the beetles. And the broken glass. He probably didn’t clean it up after he broke the jar.
But then, I don’t know. It feels right somehow, sitting here looking at the fire and picturing my kitchen covered with broken glass and beetles moving in time with the ticking of the clock, the refrigerator humming its song to them.
The fire crackles and spits.
If Seth were here, it would melt the ice in his eyes. He would sit on the floor with me in front of it. He would run his fingers over my arms, and he would whisper stories of haunted valleys and cursed waterfalls into my ear, his lips brushing against my skin.
But he’s not here.
I need to talk to Marigold.
I leave Athena and the beetles and the clock and the refrigerator and the fire and the fluorescent light above the sink to sort themselves out.
I don’t slam the door though.
The wind rustles through the trees. The mountains are large and dark on the horizon, and I am afraid. I haven’t been out this way in years. There are no streetlights here, no warmly lit houses.
I don’t like the dark.
I park the car on the side of the road. Marigold did not want a parking lot. She said it would destroy the aura.
It occurs to me that Seth might be upset if he comes back home and I’m not there. But honestly I think he would be upset either way, if I am at home or not at home, cleaning my kitchen or lying on the kitchen floor bleeding to death, trying to be his light and bring him out of the shadow or screwing someone else.
I know I asked for rhinoceros beetles.
I take a deep breath. I tilt my head back a bit, trying to keep the water welling up in my eyes from falling.
Marigold and I used to work at the diner together. Before Seth. Before she started seeing the future. Before she told me to leave Seth and stopped talking to me when I didn’t.
I hope she doesn’t get mad at me when I knock on her door.