Friday, November 27, 2009

Chalcosoma Atlas

…for Zoe

Willfully oblique, said the man at the counter. “But what’s willful about it?” She asked him. He placed the tiny absurd looking beetle between them on top of the display case and they both stared down at it. Behind him the wall was lined with butterflies in glass cases, each one framed in a pale colored wood against a white background. The beetle looked horrendous in comparison. “The species is willful,” he said. “It resists entomological uniformity. In fact, its entire evolutionary process is willful.” “Huh,” she said.

Willfully oblique, she repeated softly to herself in the back of the cab. In her palm was a small glass case mounted on a dark piece of polished walnut. The light came through the rear window over her shoulder and formed a prism in the corner of the little glass box which bent the light just so and dappled a multihued pattern onto her skirt.

The Lamellicom beetle vibrated on its pin as the cab went over seams in the asphalt and it almost appeared as if it were still alive, swimming on its pin in the vacuum of the glass box. It had a metallic green back that seemed to change color as she titled her head or viewed it from different sides. Three shinny black horns came out of its head like long mandibles, all facing forward, two on the outermost edges and the last one right in the center of its face, like an upward turned hummingbird beak.

Nothing about the beetle made any sense to her and so she liked it very much. She had chosen it over the butterflies and felt that with this choice alone she had acted in faith that the more obscure things in the world are here for a reason. Willfully so. There was a tiny brass plaque on one side of the walnut base that read Chalcosoma atlas.

“Atlas,” she said. “You were born at right angles to the world, and so was I.”

After a few minutes she asked the cab driver to stop at a pharmacy. (HA) She brought Atlas inside with her and placed him on her knee while she waited in a small vinyl chair for her prescription to be filled.

“What is that?” A little girl asked, dropping down beside her so suddenly that she had to reach out to keep the glass case from sliding off her knee. She repositioned it and they both looked at it.

“This is Atlas. He, is, a, beetle.”

“It’s ugly,” the little girl said promptly, lowering her head and leveling her eyes to the case.

“It’s not ugly,” she said. “It’s oblique.”

“What is a bleet?”

“Oblique. It means something is, well, it means it has a different approach to things.”

The little girl peered hard into the case again. “Do you have other bleets?”

“No,” she said, “This is my first one.”


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