I’m afraid I’m too tired and jet-lagged to muster a blog post today. So, here’s an excerpt from the beginning of A Glint of Exoskeleton for today’s Saturday Stories.
The Girl Who Talked to Insects
Crick peered into her dollhouse, though she didn’t much like dolls. She was looking for something.
“Oh, there you are!” she exclaimed in her sing-song, four-year-old voice. “You don’t have to hide. I won’t hurt you.”
The object of her attention crept cautiously out from under the loose carpet in what Crick called the yellow bedroom. Its antennae waved busily in Crick’s direction. Crick cocked her head to one side and furrowed her brow.
“Are you some sort of beetle?”
“Not a beetle. I’m a cockroach. An American cockroach.” The animal had a raspy voice like an old transistor radio with bad reception, but the scratchy sound was cheerful and friendly.
“Hi Mister Cockroach! My name’s Crick. That’s short for Cricket, and that’s short for Christina Marie Stolzfus, which is my real name. But you can call me Crick. What’s your name?”
“Pleased to meet you, Crick. I’m Periplaneta americana. I suppose you could call that a nickname, too.”
“What’s your real name?”
“It’s hard to say. Cockroach names are actually smells.”
“Smells?” Crick laughed. “That’s weird!”
“Not for us. We have very sensitive noses, and not so good ears. Smell is easier for us.”
“Oh! Well, I think I’ll call you Peri.”
Peri chuckled. “That would be fine.”
“Do you like my dollhouse?” Crick asked. “I saw you in it yesterday.”
“Yes, it’s quite nice, particularly this loose yellow carpet.”
Crick frowned. “I don’t really like it. I’d rather have a hamster, but mom says I’m not allowed. She says they stink and remind her of rats. Gramma gave it to me for my birthday. That’s when I turned four!” she continued proudly. “How old are you?”
“Well, I’m a lot older than four!” chuckled Peri. “I’ve been alive since 1943. That makes me…let’s see…fifty-three years old.”
“Whoa! That’s old,” replied Crick gravely. Then her brow furrowed. “I didn’t know insects lived that long.”
“Most of us don’t, but I’m…special.”
“I’m a leader for my species—something called an über. It’s a bit like a…like a president.”
“Are presidents really old, too?”
“Compared to most insects they are. But insect leaders don’t get old like other insects. We just keep on living.”
“You won’t ever die?”
“I can be killed—I’m not invincible. But I won’t die of old age.”
Just then, Crick’s bedroom door opened and her mother poked her head in.
“Who are you talking to, dear?” she asked. “Oh! You’re playing with your dollhouse! That’s nice.”
“Well, not really. I was talking to my new friend, Peri. He’s going to live forever,” she said brightly, “unless he’s killed. He lives in the dollhouse. He likes the yellow room ‘specially.”
“That’s nice,” responded her mother, a little uncertainly. “Which one of your dolls is Peri?”
“Oh, he’s not a doll. He’s a cockroach.”
Within minutes, Crick’s mother had hauled the dollhouse out onto the lawn and sprayed it with fly spray. Crick kicked up such as fuss about it, screaming and crying, that her mother had to lock her in her room until the deed was done. Crick was screaming and pounding on her door so loudly, it was several minutes before she heard Peri’s voice.
“Crick! Crick! Don’t worry. No harm done. I’m over here.”
“B…b…but you were in the dollhouse,” she sniffed, tears streaking her face.
“I scuttled out as soon as you mentioned I was a cockroach.”
“I’ve been around long enough to know that when most people hear the word cockroach, they don’t react well.”
The dollhouse was returned to Crick’s bedroom a few days later, but Peri didn’t return to the yellow room. Crick made a house for him from an empty cereal box and hid it under her bed. Peri declared it to be the nicest house a cockroach could want.