Moths died in daylight, nocturnal no longer. That summer. It was always one hundred and two degrees. The moths and their noon wing death. That summer. It was hard for anyone to make sense of anything. Hard to consider without adding metaphor. The distraction of their dying. Incessant flutter of shadow. All those soft bodies strewn on hot, thick pavement. Stuck to panes of glass. A murmur at the screen door. A lack of relief. “Let us in, let us out.” Always a begging that was not to be noticed. Moth wax smeared on all four walls. Moth wreaths strung from ceiling to fan. Ramming their heads. Tangled in hair and damp bed sheets. Crumpled upon every windshield for miles. Overfoot, underfoot. Clumsy, crepuscular. To even say the word moth. To even think it. A kind of plunge into insect paranoia. If the light had been good, it could have helped. It could have been so good that summer. Instead of its shifting. A charade. A candle aflame. Green glow of thick storms. A burst and a collapse. The light did nothing to help. They clustered and died.
Despite being notorious for eating through clothing, most moth adults do not feed at all. Many large moths do not have mouth parts. Though amongst those adult moths which must eat, nectar is the only option, and thus a proboscis sprouts forth. It’s good to keep such preferences in mind.
Notable first impressions.
“I’m going to love you,” Midge said to her. “I just know it.”
Marie stood dripping, ketchup smeared all over her mouth. A hot dog in hand, a puddle of pool water at her feet.
Midge nodded her head. “I’m going to love you, and you’re going to move in with me.”
Marie smiling, charmed or afraid.
“Because of the hot dog?”
The eyes before her, the chatter of her molars.
“Because of the eating,” said Midge.
As Marie recalls.
Atlas moth. White witch moth. Death’s-head hawkmoth. Luna moth. Bogong moth. Gypsy moth. Ornate moth. Grease moth. Peppered moth. Etc.
One month and Marie was moved in. It was no more curious than anything else in this world. That is, it was a surprise, but not unnerving at the time. Midge teased her about it for all of July: “All my things have multiplied!” Marie, trying to joke back, would say, “Multiplicity is my middle name.” It felt clever to say it that way.
Meals became daylong activities. Naked, they sliced grapefruits and naked, they fed one another. It became a motherly gesture that worked adjacent to their fucking. Audibly chewing the antenna. Smacking the lips. The way birds feed the diamond mouths of their young.
“A moth means faithlessness,” said Midge once through a mouthful of bright pink. “It means a tendency towards flight.”
Marie paused. How were they already talking about faithlessness? Had she looked too long at the woman who walked the greyhound past their front porch in the evenings?
“But I hate a metaphor,” said Midge. “Give me science.”
“I’ll give you any science you want,” said Marie, grateful, and popped pulp on her tongue.
Moths have been called lunar creatures, which sounds dignified, but it’s general practice to crush them when they enter your home. Though moths are older than butterflies by far, and exist in fossils more than 190 million years old.
The windows of their house wore thick cotton curtains, no matter the breeze, no matter the heat. On the first night Marie asked about the curtains while she rolled around on the wooden floor. Her seashells already set in front of Midge’s books. Their underwear already mixed in the drawer.
“I just like the dark,” Midge replied, busy with the hanging. “I like when no one can see in.”
Marie crawled over to Midge and lapped at the sweat on the backs of her knees. Midge laughed and cupped her head. A moth slipped on the windowsill, fell onto its back.
Notable sounds include the following.
Marie sat up in their bed and looked out at the maple. Really looked. Tipped her head. There were holes chewed through the fibrous leaf fabric. And a static sound, white noise, the night rent with pattering. Marie bent to the dark ear and nuzzled the fuzz where it joined to facial musculature.
“What’s that sound,” Marie hummed into Midge’s ear.
Midge lifted her head, then let it fall back down to the pillow. “Shit,” she said.
“No. Caterpillar shit,” she said, “hitting the leaves. That’s all it is. Go back to sleep, Marie.”
All it was. The clamor of pellets pouring out of tiny assholes through holes in the maple leaves. All it was. Ablutions. A marvel.
Marie closed her eyes.
Other notable sounds occurred. The deep, intestinal gurgle of Midge’s coffee machine. Toenails clipped in the tub. Wings being ground between teeth. Midge’s car navigating to and from the curtained house. Scratch of pubic stubble on the lean dark thigh. Furred heads crushing into every solid object. The arousal caused by the moments of impact, for everyone involved. “Fuck,” Marie said, pressing down, Midge’s mouth a moving O below her. A bright eruption of residue. Powdered. Made for flying.
The feel of that. When all was said and done. It was still worth it. When all was said.
The grease moth is known to have fed on the rendered fat of humans. In addition to lard and stove grease. Greedy.
“I love you, my little bug.” Is a thing that was uttered in June. Also: “Yes.” “Perfect.” “Give me.” “Come.”
Sometimes they played a game. Midge touched Marie and pretended to keep a log of her sonic discoveries. Feeling inspired by the bounty around them, Midge once set a moth upon her. The sighs Marie made, Midge wrote out phonetically with her finger in the air.
“Shhhhhhhahhhhhh eughhhhhhh eughhhhhh haaaaaaaahhhh,” wrote Midge, “with a slight convulsion of the inner thigh muscle. Very good, Patient Number 9. Now let’s try this.”
The sonic variations were endless. Helpless. Adored.
Pantry moths live on carbohydrates and crawlspaces. They spin their cocoons in the sugar bag, they sleep in sacks of rice. Pantries are a pleasure. They emerge in heat. They’re hard to purge; even a sifter is only so useful.
What was family, even? What were friends? Their names, so close together? Moths battered the windowpanes. They clung to each other. They smelled of each other. They wore each other’s shirts, each other’s hair bands, each other’s earrings. It was all mixed up, mishmashed. It was what they wanted, and how they liked it. The light shifted and changed.
Marie wonders now if Midge is still rubbing lovers with her antennae legs. Feeding them grapefruit and other meals. Mothering. It’s Greek, it’s grotesque. Don’t think on it too long, Marie.
“More than a thousand acres defoliated.”
July. Midge said this over instant coffee, crackling a newspaper while Marie played footsie with her beneath the breakfast table. “Those moths have been busy.”
The other foot would not respond. Marie’s felt desperate.
“What’s making them die?” said Marie, for fun, for conversation.
Midge shrugged. “Maybe they’re just exhausted from ruining all this farmland.”
Nearby birds screamed about their wealth.
Marie wanted to say something smart. She said, “Moths are invasive.”
But Midge sighed. “Invasive.”
“What?” said Marie.
“What?” said Midge.
“Why did you say it like that?” said Marie.
“I was kidding,” said Midge.
Marie looked down. She felt like an idiot. Her cereal was soggy. The problem was the milk. She’d overdone it.
When she looked up, Midge was watching her.
Marie bent her head, submerged her mouth, and smeared hot, cheap liquid with her lips onto Midge’s bare arm skin.
“Enough,” said Midge.
Marie felt worse.
Marie felt her back curve away from the bed. To come felt impossible. To give that to anyone. She stopped herself now. Right at the edge she now stopped herself.
“Yes,” she lied.
“Are you finished?” said Midge, muffled.
“Yes,” said Marie, tugging on the hair below her. “Come here.”
And kept herself tucked away in the attic of herself. Slept soundly there.
Pests are insidious, ceaseless. There might, even now, be a moth behind her, or beneath her hand, waiting for her to turn it palm up once more. There might be another Midge who draws her forth from the crowd. Turning her. There were women before. There will be women after her. Who turn her like a moon. It’s not a point of pride, but it is unavoidable.
The death’s-head hawkmoth attacks beehives in search of honey. They can move about, undetected by the hive, by mimicking the scent of the bees.
“You,” said Marie, threading fingers through fanned hair.
“What,” said Midge.
Marie lapped. Marie sucked. Marie washed her Midge in Marie spit.
“I smell like your spit now,” said Midge, making a face.
“Spit digests,” said Marie, “so that means I’m slowly eating you.”
Midge sighed, said, “Let me return the favor.”
The enthusiasm was not mutual, but they ate anyway. They pretended they loved it.
Marie had done the math. They needed a dog. A dog can mend most issues. Marie put on one of their pairs of jeans, and plucked one of their key rings from the key dish by the door.
“I’m going out,” said Marie to where Midge sat in the wingback in the curtained darkness.
Midge wiped the sweat from her chin. Marie felt the need to please.
“There’s a possibility I might be dog-hunting,” she continued.
“What about a bird?” said Midge. “A parakeet or something.”
“Parakeets are loud,” said Marie. “And they’d eat all the moths.”
“Exactly,” said Midge.
Marie felt light dim.
“I can’t read your mind,” said Marie.
“I hate all these moths,” said Midge.
“Who hates moths?” said Marie.
She tried to imagine a person who truly hated moths. She looked around her. Upon every surface was a dusting of bug. The late sun sharpened, spilled all over the floor. It felt like it could be romantic in here.
“Lots of people hate moths,” said Midge. “Lots of people hate swarms of intrusive pests. That’s a very normal thing to hate, Marie.”
“But they’re our love language,” said Marie. She was met with silence.
Marie hugged herself. She felt cold.
It was quiet in the hallway. The light died out on the baseboards.
She faked it, she clenched and she made it look right. The light could have been so good. It was one hundred and two degrees. She relaxed, relieved, ready to flip over and nap.
“Marie.” Midge glared at a wing and crushed it in her fist. “What was that.”
Marie made sure to look only at the moths buzzing near the ceiling fan. “I can’t give you that anymore,” she said.
“You can’t have all of me.”
“I can’t? And why can’t I?”
Marie didn’t know how to answer that.
“But you can take everything from me?” Midge persisted. “My clothing? My house? You’re everywhere, but you can’t give me this one real thing?”
Midge crushed another bug. “Fuck are you unbearable,” she declared.
“Midge you’re yelling,” said Marie.
“Yes,” said Midge, “and now I’m grabbing.”
Marie twisted and turned, but Midge’s grasp was firm.
“You’re suffocating me,” said Midge.
“No,” said Marie.
“Yes,” said Midge.
“No,” said Marie.
They pulled apart.
“Goddammit,” said Midge.
She got out of the bed. She brushed moths off the desk. When she looked back, it was clear she was about to cry.
“Would you like a sandwich.” It could have been a question, but that wasn’t how she said it.
“I’ll be making one for myself.”
“Yes please,” Marie sniffled, “with honey.”
“Thank you for telling me what you want,” said Midge, and left for the kitchen.
Moth larvae can be killed by freezing whatever they infest for several days at a temperature below 18 degrees Fahrenheit. To purge them is difficult, but not impossible.
Marie closed her eyes. August arrived. A whisper upon her. A tweak at her breasts.
The light flattened out. It became too bright to see.
“Moths are farmed for silk,” said Marie.
Midge paused mid-kiss.
“Is that what I’m doing?” said Midge. “Farming you for silk?”
Marie shifted, uncomfortable. She felt Midge relax.
“Very well,” said Midge.
She bent down her head and tongued Marie’s belly button.
“We are farming for silk,” she said into the dip. “We are farming until we spin each other dry.”
It was the truest pact they had made so far.
The grease moth cannot be blamed. The grease moth is only being advantageous. The grease moth is talented at survival. The grease moth is hungry.
She opened her eyes. Midge was gone, and in her place were moths. A winged girdle upon Marie’s bare flesh. Tiny feet, feather flicker. Her loins a lantern. A spiraling flight path led through the lips of the curtains, beyond the open window, past the maple: miles of moths, celestially navigating to the star of her center, desirous. The sun went out. A moan of the wind. Moths at the sickle sweet feeder. The rain could not deter. They clustered and fed, Marie the mother, feeding her lovers, ancient grotesque, and she felt now the door of her open, and out burst a breath of hot light, so hot it burned, so hot she was blinded, shadows thrown in relief on the wall, and the moths spun a circle towards the hot gold point.
“Here I am,” said Marie. Her whole body seized.
We’ve been here before.
“Now you have everything,” said Marie to Midge. Still buzzing.
Midge pushed her away.
“You’re relentless,” said Midge. It looked as if she’d realized something.
“Midge,” said Marie. “Stop that hurts.”
“You’re relentless,” said Midge again. “Just get the fuck away from me.”
“Where is this coming from?” said Marie.
Midge sucked at the air as if the world were her cigarette. Marie felt the need for distance.
“You and I are a confusion of species,” she tried.
“Aren’t you clever,” said Midge, her smoke rings almost real, and she left the bed for the couch.
Marie does not like to be purged.
Does Marie need Midge, Marie? Have you arrived at the moment where Midge-and-Marie are a misnomer? What do you think, Marie? What point have we reached? Marie has an answer; an answer always presents itself. She pushes wide the curtains, opens all the windows, and plucks out all the screens. The moths have been waiting for this. They move in ribbons into the cool, dark house. They cover the bed, they cover the desk, they cover the table and the chairs and the shelves and the books and the pots and the pans and the walls and the floors and the islands of clothes with their beating, throbbing wings. Midge must be somewhere; Midge is always somewhere; there is always a Midge. Marie closes her eyes. Shadows flicker through her red eyelids. There is always a Midge. There is always this moment. Small feet land on her skin, proboscises at the ready. She can picture Midge disappearing beneath the same moth skin. She can picture the moths eating Midge up – industrious feeders – and shitting her out again. The roar of wings. The small wind they make. When this Midge is gone she will find another Midge. There is always another Midge. Enjoy this, Marie. Make sure you enjoy this. Her whole body seizes. Enjoy this, Marie.
Marie made to wave a moth from her mouth, but her fingers came together, and it died by the touch of her hand alone.
“Midge,” she said. No one was there.
Moths hunger. As we all do. At all points. Throughout a day.
There was one thing left to do. Marie considered the possibility of making moth variations to all her favorite recipes. A light green Swedish prinsesstårta with a layer of moth filling could feel poetic, and ease with digestion. But in the end, she simply sat on the floor and fed them to herself in fistfuls. She had to chew them to make them more palatable. They were stickier than she liked, and bits of them jammed between her teeth. Moth paste formed on the roof of her mouth. They had a taste like grass and sugar; she did her best not to gag. After the first few, it was an aftertaste she could handle. She clutched wildly around her. Whole heaps of moth. She ate a circle around herself. She ate as if the house were made of gingerbread. She ate until her body was seized with cramps and she ran, doubled-over, to the toilet. She barely unbuttoned her jeans in time. Her stomach distended. Her asshole a hot point. She brought a hand to herself. Black spools of moth meal slid from her into the toilet bowl. She rubbed and she shat. It was good, to have done that. To have eaten like that. It was so good to truly eat. Marie would have to scoop up the rest of the moths. There were too many to eat now. She could freeze them, she thought to herself, rubbing and shitting. In little ice cube trays. As if they were intentional, like decorations for a theme party. A theme party would be nice. She could invite her new neighbors. She rubbed and she shat. She’d take care of the rest in the morning.
Notable things to consider.
A confusion of skins results. An upset of order. Which is bee? Which is moth? Which is blanket, what of wing? The asshole? The cunt? Self? Other? Yes? No?
The pull-apart becomes so brutal this way, Marie.
Light will always be a problem. Light is always a trick. But by maintaining a constant angular relationship to a celestial light, such as the moon, anyone can fly in a straight line.
These are lessons for you, white witch.
And you, death’s-head hawkmoth.
Scale and wing.
To know you by name.
Bridget Brewer is a writer, illustrator, and performer living in Mexico City. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ink Brick, Animal Comics: Graphic Agents in Multispecies Storyworlds (ed. David Herman, Bloomsbury Academics), Real Poetik, No Tokens, Paragraphiti, Awst, and Caketrain. She holds an MFA in Literary Arts from Brown University, where she taught undergraduate fiction workshops. Currently she is at work on stuff you can read about on her website, www.bridget-brewer06.com.