You had explained it so many times, but I didn’t want to pretend again to understand how those cockroaches birthed live babies. I was thinking about the bugs that hit our windshield, the ones whose innards were glued to the glass. You used to say that these bugs proved Newton’s third law: the bug hit the windshield and the windshield hit back; both forces the same, equal and opposite. There is no such thing as equal, I realized then, not when we can go on breathing fake cold air in our great steel box, its wheels spinning faster than anything on legs can move or anything with wings can flit, and it is exhaling toxins that kill fish and birds and insects, and we can reach our destination where you can eat your hunk of meat and I can move corn across my plate and back.
You turned your head to look at me and said something about your favorite cockroaches, the ones that can carry and build whole not-yet cockroaches in them, but I kept my eyes on the white and yellow guts unbound on the windshield.
I knew that you’d say that bugs can’t fear and bugs can’t mourn, but I wanted to know if there came a second when they saw themselves in the glass, the way when I stretch my foot out on the dashboard I know without needing to say to myself That foot is attached to my ankle and my shin and the parts of me that make ear wax and bile. I wanted to know if they looked in their own eyes, if they could say There I am, at last; or Is this how I’m seen, or is it the opposite of this?
We got to the place with the picnic tables and I said hello to your sister's dog and your sister, who talked about her book and made a case for its importance. My corn arrived, a gleaming ear on a plate. I wanted to ask Why is it an ear of corn? Why not a leg, or just a stump? I held it up and scraped a knife down the length, watching the kernels curl off, holding fast to each other as they hit styrofoam. Again and again I ran the blade from top to bottom. When the cob was bare I used the tines of my fork to bring the yellow gems close, huddled together as if trying to stay warm, and then I gave air to each kernel. I let each breathe. I pushed them all to one side, and back to the other. It is nice to have the chance to see and feel things, to reorient yourself, to be able to say you’ve done something, to have been alone and to come back to those who know you.
Claire you said, your voice low and firm, when your sister had turned to speak to her dog. Don't play with your food.
I blinked and held the fork tight and your meat came and it let off such steam. I swallowed a tineful of wet kernels. Your sister told us that corn is picked when the endosperm is in the milk stage. I asked what endosperm and the milk stage were and while she talked I grabbed fistfuls of cold corn and felt the dog spread its tongue over my palm, take what he could.
At night I went barefoot to the garage and used my thumbnail to scrape off the splattered remains of one white bug, the tiny systems of eyes and tubes all blended together, all one part, spread thin. I licked up the flakes from my palm, tongue pushing on palm and palm pushing on tongue, and swallowed until each bug bit was safe and contained.
We stood there, waiting for what we had asked for, me and the two kids in karate uniforms. I had requested a paper cup filled with equal parts coffee and milk. I wondered how good these kids were, if they were among the better of their orange belted peers or if they were still working. Still working is how I described my job search, even though here I was, not working but seeking answers.
I woke up wanting to know what happened to two things that were perfectly combined, inseparable, and then frozen, made solid: things like coffee and milk. When they thawed, were they able to reclaim their original identities, weary but separate? Or were they just mucky watery blends of each other?
And so I came home and turned on the radio and poured the stuff into a glass jar and I put it on top of the slim cardboard box of your favorite pizza in the freezer. While the freezer was huffing I saw in a Ziploc the beef stew you had frozen and I used my thumb and forefinger to rip a cube from its peers. And the man on the radio was talking about a new species of carnivorous plant discovered in Brazil. This man spoke not like he was lecturing me but like he was telling me a secret, and I do believe that the voice of this man, carried as it was on radio waves, was able to reach through the flimsy sack of my skin and rattle my organs and rub the little hairs that line my intestinal tract, shake the little bug guts I had swallowed.
The man whose voice was invading me was talking about the plant’s tentacles and I repeated the word out loud, feeling each syllable against my teeth. He said that the tentacles are covered in a sticky goo that traps insects: dragonflies and butterflies and bees. I nodded, understanding why it’d want that. Why it’d want to keep the company, how it couldn’t let go.
While you were at work I let milky coffee freeze and I watched a cube of frozen meat thaw in my palm. And the radio show changed subjects, and I wished I could have the man’s voice beam out into the kitchen again, and I said tentacles again and again, like he did, curiously, tenderly. I wondered if my voice could reach inside this block of iced beef, if there were bits deep in the beef that’d never know sound or light or air. I squeezed the chunk between my palms, felt my hands and the beef trade heat, trade energy. The harder you squeeze beef, the less it stays the way it was, the way that first made you want it. It drips its beefness down your wrists.
That summer I had decided to answer questions only with It’s hard to say. And that is how I resolved my questions about the combination and separation of things, and about if you can be known without being seen, without being touched.