Ghiselle flew at him. “You are discussing some
stranger’s case history, yes?” Despite twenty-five
years in Massachusetts, she retained a French ac-
cent and French syntax, not to mention French
chic and French beauty.
Richard said: “It is
helpful to keep a physi-
Husband and wife
now exchanged a look
that the unmarried Al-
ice labeled enmity.
Then Richard placed
his fingers on Ghis-
elle’s chi=on arm, but it
was Alice he looked at. “Emily doesn’t want to
die,” he said.
“That is so?” sco=ed Ghiselle.
“She doesn’t want a needle fixed to her vein.
She doesn’t want an IV pole as a companion.”
“That is so?”
“She doesn’t want to drive us all crazy.”
“What does she want?” said Alice; and there was
a brief silence as if the heavy questions about Em-
ily’s condition and the condition of like su=erers
were about to be answered, here, now, in Godol-
“She wants to be very, very, very thin,” said
Richard. No shit, thought Alice. “Achhoopf,” snorted
Ghiselle, or something like that. She herself was
very thin, again in the way of Frenchwomen—
shoulders charmingly bony, neck slightly elongated. Her legs under her brief skirt—too brief
for fifty? not in this case — were to die for, Caldicott
students would unimaginatively have said.
“She wants to become a bug, and live on air,”
Richard added, “and a drop or two of nectar. She
thinks — she sometimes thinks — she was meant
to be born an insect.”
Alice shuddered within her old-fashioned
dress. She wore shirtwaists, very long in order to
draw attention away from her Celtic hips and bot-
tom, and always blue: slate, cornflower, the sky be-
fore a storm. She wondered if this signature style
would become a source of mockery. She was forty-
three, and six weeks pregnant—in another few
months the shocked trustees would have to ask
her to resign. Perhaps it would be more honorable
SHE WANTS TO BECOME A
BUG, AND LIVE ON AIR AND A
DROP OR TWO OF NECTAR. SHE
THINKS SHE WAS MEANT
TO BE BORN AN INSECT.
“We can chain her to a bed and ram food down
her throat,” said Ghiselle, her accent lost in her
fury. Alice imagined herself locking the chain to
the headboard. Now Richard’s fingers slid down
the chi=on all the way to Ghiselle’s fingers. Five
fiery nails waved him o=. The two younger Knapp
daughters, their weight normal, were good students, though they lacked Emily’s brilliance and
her devotion to whatever interested her.
“Emily must find her own way to continue to
live,” said Richard, at last providing something useful
and true; but by now neither woman was listening.
THOUGH CALDICOTT was not a residential
school, Emily had been given a room to herself.
It was really a closet with a single window looking
out on the forbidden ravine. Mr. da Sola, jack-of-all-trades, had lined two of the walls with shelves.
Mr. da Sola was a defrocked science teacher from
the public schools who had seen fit to teach intelligent design along with evolution and had paid
for that sin.
“I don’t need another science teacher,” Alice
had said, wondering where he got the nerve to sit
on the corner of her desk. What dark brows he
had, and those topaz eyes . . .
“That’s good; I don’t want to be a science
teacher,” he told her. He didn’t tell her that no
other private school had agreed to interview him.
“I want to return to my first loves, carpentry and
gardening.” So she took him on.
On Mr. da Sola’s shelves Emily had placed her
specimen collection equipment; the specimens
themselves, collected from the ravine and its
banks; and some books, including the King James
Bible and an atlas of South America. There was
also a box of crackers, a box of prunes, and several
liters of bottled water.
Emily was permitted to take her meager lunch
here and also her study periods, for the study hall
nauseated her, redolent as it was of food recently
eaten and now being processed, and sometimes
of residual gases loosed accidentally or mischievously. So she dined among her dead insects,
admiring chitinous exoskeletons while she put
one of three carrot sticks into her mouth. Chitin
was not part of mammal physiology, though she