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The study of moths is mothing; the student is a mother, though it’s pronounced differently from the word that means the female parent of a child. Most moth information seems to be on killing or deterring them. Protecting clothes, unless the moths are making silk. Though once I heard them called enchanted: the one who attracts and sings. A large, brown moth had been flying around my kitchen at the beach.
After my surgery, after I didn’t die, Terry had said, Imagine your ideal life. Then try to get as close to it as you can. All I could see was the ocean. A room with lots of windows. I quit work at the shelter, moved to the coast. Rented the top floor of a house right on the ocean. A hundred years old, paint peeling. My front door fell off its hinges. The roof was held together by swarms of carpenter ants. Wind brought the ocean inside – salt coated everything; my mirrors looked like they’d been out in the rain. My dad called it the Wreck of the Hesperus. All day and night, I heard the waves. The wall facing the ocean was all windows. I keep them open, and the moon came right in, woke me up, wanting to play. It shone a path from outer space, across the ocean, to my futon in the living room. As if I could go downstairs and walk that path out into the ocean. I couldn’t stand to sleep in the windowless bedroom, to be that far away. The moth had come in through a window.
It had been days since I’d seen the moth when he/she showed up in my shower, water splashing. I’d reached for my shampoo, and the moth flew from behind, clung to my shower head. It wouldn’t budge, though I said, This is no good, you’ll drown. I scootched the moth out with a blue bottle of conditioner. Brown wings kept winging toward my see-through shower curtain. I was worried the moth would fly overhead, between the rings, and soaked, sink like paper in the rain. Crumple at my feet. So I banged the plastic outward to warn him/her off. Later, I worried, what did the moth have to eat? It seemed moth food would be outside, after all, that’s where moths live. So I waved a piece of toilet paper – I know moths like something fine to cling to – and scooped him/her inside a plastic jar. Gently shook the moth onto the porch, by the doormat, in the dark. The moth didn’t move. It was cold, and very windy. I took the trash out. The slightly-darker-than-night winglike shape still hadn’t moved. I shone a flashlight on the moth – nothing. I saw tiny, dark eyes, as if a pencil tip could be an eye, a pepper grain.
But not even a shudder. I missed the wings beating so fast in my bath that I couldn’t even see wings, just the blur of a creature flying in place. That’s when I worried that I’d wounded the moth with all my go here/go there, my bulky plastic. I drove to the grocery store, forgot what I needed, so went down every aisle. Came home much later loaded down with bags, leaned against the door to find my keys, and the slightly darker shadow was still there, unmoving. I went upstairs, got my flashlight again. Shone it on the moth and still, no flicker. I’d brought another piece of toilet paper with me, a ladder under the moth’s feet, and he/she climbed on immediately.
I carried the moth inside while he/she climbed the folds in the paper. When I was certain the moth wouldn’t suffocate in that bedding like a baby with too many covers, when I saw the moth’s head rising above the tissue, I left him/her for the night. But then I worried about the dark, how the moth loved (I thought) the light bulbs in my bathroom, how the moth had been drawn earlier to my windows. The turtle watch people had warned me that my lights had been too bright, so maybe this was all my fault: the moth mistook me for the moon. He/she had just been trying to navigate, and saw my house as the horizon. With the moth settled on the tissue downstairs, I’d turned my reading light down the staircase to comfort him/her near the bottom. But then I read that moths are nocturnal – they like the dark, and so I turned the lights off, so the moth could relax and get some rest from me.
Kelle Groom is the author of How to Live: A Memoir-in-Essays (Tupelo Press, October 2023) and I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), a B&N Discover Great New Writers selection and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice, and four poetry collections, most recently Spill (Anhinga Press). A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Mass Cultural Council Fellow, and two-time Florida Book Award winner, Groom’s work appears in Best American Poetry, The New Yorker, New York Times, Ploughshares, and Poetry. New work appears in New England Review, American Poetry Review, and Provincetown Arts Magazine. She is a nonfiction editor at AGNI Magazine. Groom lives in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she is director of communications and foundation relations for Atlantic Center for the Arts, an international artists-in-residence program.