In the Blink of an Eye
A sharp shriek, followed by an exclamation of disgust and—usually—the clatter of something being dropped. After a few seconds, a curse: “Good God!”
That’s the sequence when Mommy encounters Something Disgusting. Between shriek and curse, Mommy gets the heebie-jeebies, shuddering all over as though her skin itself is crawling.
Various critters can trigger this reaction. Mice have always been high on the list. Spiders are new. Mommy never minded spiders much when we lived in Canada, but here they are as big as my hand.
“Is it a scorpion?” I struggle to keep the excitement out of my voice as I beeline for the living room.
We have been here for three weeks, and I am dying to see a scorpion. Brett found a shriveled husk of one, which was cool, but it’s not the same as seeing one for real.
Mommy reaches out protectively to bar me from advancing. Her other hand is feeling for the mop handle—that’s what dropped. Her eyes are riveted on the intruder in question, currently upside down on the wall behind the couch.
It’s yellow with brown spots; the underbelly is pinkish white. Two mesmerizing orb-eyes protrude on either side of its head. Each foot has five little toes spread out like stars.
I decide it’s a girl and name her Tippy, short for Tippy Toes. She is fabulous, even better than the scorpion husk.
Brett comes up behind me and exhales excitedly. “Is it poisonous?”
Mommy shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Mrs. Chastain and I saw one like it yesterday at her house, and she said not to worry.”
Tippy has not flown off the wall to attack us, so Mommy lowers her arm. Her eyes narrow as she assesses the situation. “Maybe I can smack it with the mop.”
“No! Mommy, you wouldn’t!”
Tippy blinks and swishes her tail in solidarity with my indignation.
“Well, we are not letting a snake with legs stay in the house, that’s for sure.”
I catch Tippy’s eye to reassure her that I will not let her fate be Death by Mop.
“I could try to grab it,” says Brett, “and put it outside.”
Mommy considers that option, and Brett gives me a hopeful look. After a pause, she frowns. “You’re too big to be climbing on this furniture.”
They both sag in momentary defeat.
Then Mommy turns to me. “But Karen could try.”
I light up. I get to save Tippy and climb on the furniture!
“Okay,” I say, but as I start to move, doubt seizes me. Is Tippy poisonous? Could she hurt me even if she didn’t mean to?
Tippy flicks her tongue and blinks again, waiting patiently. Her calm quells my doubt, so I resume climbing. If I hesitate, Mommy might change her mind.
When I step onto the back of the couch, my eyes are level with Tippy’s. Hers have vertical black slits down the centre, like openings into a secret world. Like galaxies. She is stardust, she tells me. She is golden.
It’s just Tippy and me, suspended in looking and knowing. Right side up meets upside down. All time passes; no time passes. I think-feel a blob of wonder and tenderness.
We both swallow and blink, a mutual promise to be friends forever.
A thrill shoots through me as I reach for her. Will she move? Is she slimy? Are her toes stuck to the wall? I wrap the fingers of my left hand around her midsection, pluck her gently from the wall, and place her onto my right arm, nestled against my body.
I realize I’ve been holding my breath. Maybe Tippy has been, too, because I can see her tummy going in and out now.
She’s not slimy at all. A little bumpy. Her legs come out from her body sideways, ready for action. Her star toes grip my skin. She fits my arm as though it were made for her.
I reverse slowly, concentrating so my arm doesn’t angle and upset Tippy. When my feet hit the floor, I look up, startled to see Brett and Mommy. Of course, they’d still be there, but I’d forgotten about them. Mommy has the mop positioned defensively in front of her.
I turn to the front door. Brett runs ahead to open it.
In Canada, we had a front yard of grass. But here in Ahwaz, we have a walled courtyard. We don’t have any grass because grass doesn’t grow in the desert. The door opens onto a concrete patio, protected for several feet by a second-storey overhang. Even with the shade, the concrete gets hot during the day.
The thing about deserts, though—and this was news to me before moving to Iran—is that it gets cold at night. The sun is sinking, and the temperature will drop quickly.
I kneel and lay my arm across my lap. Brett kneels beside me and cautiously touches Tippy’s back. She has wrapped her tail around my wrist and is resting her head near my shoulder.
“She likes me.”
Mommy nods. “It does. It also likes your body heat.”
Mommy’s right. I look nervously at Tippy. She seems relaxed, but maybe she’s cold. I try to concentrate my warmth into her, to fill her up with me. She tightens her tail a little in thanks.
My warmth is disappearing too, though, as evening sets in. As it dwindles, the knot of angst grows in my belly. Finally, I voice my fear: “What if she freezes overnight?”
“It belongs outside, sweetheart. It will be fine.”
Still, I can’t bring myself to let go. Tippy lifts her head to peer at me. Her gaze penetrates me, fills me: it’s okay, it’s okay. Then she makes the hard choice for me, springing from my arm into the side rock garden. All that’s left are little shooting star marks from her toes.
Brett looks at me wide eyed. “That was awesome!”
I am filled with Tippy and don’t say anything.
As we go in, Mommy turns on the bug zapper that hangs in the corner. It has a bright light that attracts the moths. Every morning, Daddy sweeps up the pile of bodies. We bought it because otherwise, the moths would beat against the windows, and I’d have nightmares. I understand Mommy’s heebie-jeebies because I get them for moths.
The next day, I wait on the patio for Tippy. The afternoon is hot and empty without her. I am hot and empty without her. I lean against the house and long for her. She felt the magic, right? With her, I was stardust. Without her, I am only dust.
Mommy pokes her head out. “Mrs. Chastain called to say that lizards are active at dusk.”
That news perks me up. I won’t have much longer to wait!
“I’ll turn on the zapper for you, so you’ll be able to see better.”
Maybe Tippy’s playing hide and seek, I think. “Tippy?” I call. I crawl along the edge of the patio, searching among the cacti in the rock garden. “Tippy?” So many rocks, so many places to hide.
Distracted, I stand. I am directly underneath the zapper.
Moths are everywhere. A flurry. A suffocation. I am surrounded. I cannot scream for help—what if one flies into my mouth? I squeeze my eyes shut as they close in. Feathery wings flap against my head, my face, my arms. My heart starts flapping with them. It’s not beating properly; it's going to lunge from my chest.
On the outside, I am frozen. On the inside, I am racing. A shiver runs down my spine. How long before Mommy checks on me? I hear moths being zapped. The sound of popping and fizzing is ghastly. Their corpses are falling on me, bouncing off me. Not enough air is getting through my nostrils, but I can’t unclamp my mouth. The panic starts to overtake me. Without air, my body will collapse, and my mouth will open, and moths will fly in. I can see it happen as if I am watching from above.
And then . . . it’s her. Tippy is somehow perched on my shoulder, her tail coiled along the back of my neck, and I know, I just know that she’s gobbling up those moths. She will not let my fate be Death by Moth.
I concentrate on Tippy. The surety of her toes and the swoop of her tail ground me. I remember that I can move away from the zapper. Dropping on all fours, I scrabble forward. I pause, breathless, listening for wings, waiting for a brush of awfulness along my cheek. All I hear are pops behind me. Eventually I open my eyes. Tippy fills my field of view. A bit of wing hangs from her mouth.
She lowers her head and gives me three slow blinks.
I beam back at her. “I love you too, Tippy.”
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