By Lindsay Gallant
Lymantria dispar. I used to call them gypsy moths. Fucking pests is what Dave calls them as he hands me a roll of duct tape. “Go and tape the trees,” he says.
I roll the tape around the bottom of an oak tree, sticky side out, and watch the caterpillars crawl upwards. Their bodies undulate, the blue and red dots on their backs rolling. Dave shouts from the other end of the yard and kicks the corner of the woodpile. Mad about something. It’s always something.
I would have run to him once, eager to console, but now I count the spots on the backs of the caterpillars. Twenty-two total: five pairs of blue and six pairs of red. Dave’s kick has disturbed the foundation of the stack, and the entire right side goes down. The logs clatter together, and I grit my teeth.
“Fucking hell.” He storms off to another corner of the yard.
The caterpillars cling to the tape, locked in a dance with the adhesive. They never saw it coming. They don’t know, even now, what’s happening, why they can’t move.
“Why are you just standing there?” Dave says. He’s right behind me. “What’s the matter? You never seen a caterpillar before?”
“We’ve started too late. They’re already eating the tree.” I gesture toward the leaves, dotted with tiny holes that have gone brown around the edges. “Those ones are survivors.” I point at three stray caterpillars. “They made it past your tape.”
He mashes them with the sole of his boot.
Toward the top of the tree, where the branches fan out beyond Dave’s reach, some caterpillars have moved to the pupal stage. Their bodies have hardened to a brown shell and cling to the bark. Within two weeks, the change will be complete, and a moth will emerge. I imagine them fluttering and escaping into the open sky.
Dave puts his hand behind my head, under my hair. His calloused fingers search the skin of my neck and squeeze. His hand is so cold. My stomach is a cage of moths. Their wings beat frantically, slicing at the air inside of me.
Dave leans in. I can feel his breath in my ear. “Did you know the females can’t fly?”
I move to another tree and start taping all over again.