18 – Emergence

Continued from Field Day.

“I hope this means you’re feeling better,” Sara said as she stumbled still slightly sleepy into the work area not long after five a.m.

Grissom paused from where he was busy packing one of the camp’s equipment cases and gave her a brief, but obviously amused grin. “Good morning to you too, dear,” he replied and quickly returned his attention to a handwritten list in front of him. With his usual businesslike brusqueness, he proceeded to check off several items.

Taking in the assortment of neatly laid out chemicals, empty glass collecting bottles and phials, she sighed, “Do I even want to know what you’re doing?”

His only reply was to ask, “You up for an all-nighter?”

She let out an uneasy sort of laugh. “You must really be feeling better.”

He peered up over his reading glasses.  “Just answer the question, Sara.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’re plotting an experiment?”

He shrugged. “The morphos yesterday gave me an idea. Don’t worry. It’ll be just like old times.”

“Without the dead bodies,” Sara intoned.

“Without dead human bodies, yeah.”

The way he had added the word human to bodies didn’t sound exactly promising.

“This doesn’t involve a dead pig again does it?”

“No dead mammals of any kind,” he assured her. When Sara still seemed hesitant, Grissom added, “It will be fun, I promise. I already cleared it with Ana.”

Considering the fact that the rest of camp was still fast asleep and Grissom had spent most of the previous night with her, this assertion baffled Sara slightly. “When did you manage to do that?” she wondered out loud.

“Last night when I was helping her clear the dinner table,” he replied simply.

That didn’t make the whole thing any less strange, but Sara shook her head, knowing all too well from experience that once Grissom got his mind fixated on a particular idea it was just better to go with it.

“Okay,” she finally replied, although there was the slight hint of a tremor in the last syllable.

“Is that a yes?”

She nodded. “I may live to regret it, but yeah, that’s a yes.”

He grinned at her. “Good. Luis will take us out later this afternoon.”

Normally, Sara wasn’t prone to paranoia but it was starting to feel like everyone in camp had known about the excursion but her. She was about to bring up the possibility when something unexpected on the table caught her eye. She took up a black light bulb the better to examine it.

“Be careful with that,” Grissom hurriedly cautioned.

“Where did you get this?”

“All Luis would tell Ana is that he borrowed it.”

“Borrowed?” she echoed.

“Ana said she didn’t want to know the answer so she didn’t ask.”

“I don’t blame her,” Sara replied. While she knew that Bernie and Luis had a knack for locating and appropriating things that could sometimes be difficult to find, she knew too it was better not to ask.  Having plausible deniability was sometimes a very good thing.

“Wait a minute,” she said as it all started to click. “Black light bulbs –” she began. Then her eyes passed over the large plastic sandwich boxes, paper towels and the neatly folded white bed sheet on the table. “We’re going bug hunting aren’t we?” she asked.

Grissom nodded eagerly. “More like bug luring, but yeah.”

*******

It was late that afternoon when Luis accompanied Grissom and Sara as they hiked out to the location Ana had recommended for that night’s collection activities. As there were just too many chances for getting into mischief or downright danger in the dark unless one stuck to the most developed of paths, they had left while there were still several hours of daylight remaining. That way there was a greater chance of avoiding things like roots to trip over, branches to hit your head on, rocks to stumble upon, and all the bushes and brambles guarded by any number of things that bit and stung.

It had been a rather uphill slog towards the end. Even with a few days of rest, Sara knew Grissom was struggling to keep up with Luis’s longer and younger legs. Hell, even she was having problems doing the same. But true to form, Grissom refused to complain or suggest they slow down.

The climb had been worth it. Sara was literally dumbstruck as she stood on the crest of the hill and peered out into the valley below. In all the weeks she’d been in the forest, she had yet to glimpse the canopy from above. The undulating treetops stretched like a seemingly endless verdant ocean before them, swathed here and there with misty grey bands of clouds.

“Is this good?” asked Luis.

“It’s perfect,” Grissom replied in Spanish, his voice full and thick of the same almost breathless awe as Sara was feeling.

Although he couldn’t be overcome to the point of distraction by the view for when she inched her way closer towards the ledge to get a better look, his tone turned concerned and cautionary.

“Be careful.”

Sara shook her head in amusement, “This from the man who fell off a ladder.”

“Humor me.”

This she readily did, easily comprehending the source of his anxiety and seeing no need to exacerbate it.

Besides, this wasn’t really the time for purely leisurely sightseeing. The sun would be setting soon and they still had work to do. So they each set to task.

As they would be spending the night out in the field, Sara set about locating a space fairly clear and free of underbrush to serve as a temporary campsite, while Grissom and Luis worked on setting up the lights and sheets for the collection work. To her surprise once he and Grissom had finished, Luis dusted off his hands, rose and telling them he would be back in the morning, wished them both a good night.

Sara asked, “You aren’t staying?”

Luis only shook his head with a grin and hurried back the way they’d come, intent on returning back to camp before the sun went down. Sara, still slightly dumbfounded, watched him go for a moment before turning her attention to Grissom who was unpacking and arranging the assorted killing jars and collecting boxes with his usual unstudied nonchalance.

As she spread a large tarp on the ground before covering it with a layer of blankets, she sighed, “I’m starting to think that you and Luis are getting awfully chummy.”

Grissom didn’t deign to reply to this, but she could see the ghost of his own grin tugging at his lips.

Once he had everything neatly arranged and ready to go, he went to help her drape the mosquito netting over the makeshift campsite. They would certainly need it after sunset. Mosquitoes weren’t part of their collection plan, but that wouldn’t keep the bugs from trying to collect them. Usually the liberal dosing of homemade insect repellent would keep most of the pests away, but since he and Sara were out here to collect bugs and not repel them, using the stuff would have defeated the purpose.

As they worked, Sara inquired after Grissom’s plans for the night.

“Moonset isn’t until almost nine,” he began. “Even with the moon at just a quarter full, there’s no point starting until after then.  Too much light interference.”

Sara glanced down at her watch. “That’s nearly four hours from now,” she said.

“What do you have planned for us to do between now and then?”

“Dinner for one,” he replied. He motioned for her to join him under the mosquito netting. “I had to improvise a little,” he said as he sat and began to extract a thermos and several foil wrapped packets from a cooler bag.

Starting to get the sneaky suspicion that Grissom had something other than just bug collecting on his mind for the night, Sara said, “You arranged this whole thing on purpose, didn’t you?”

“I had some help, but yeah.”

Even with help, it was hard to imagine how Grissom had had the time to prep a collection excursion and what was rapidly appearing to be a date on such short notice.

“How did you…?”

“Sometimes being confined to camp for the day isn’t always a bad thing. And no, before you ask, I haven’t been shirking my work. Besides,” Grissom smiled, “we’ve always worked New Year’s Eve together.”

That was true enough. But typically those evenings involved dead bodies. Dead human bodies. DUIs. Aggravated Assault. Date Rape. None of which were ever the least romantic.

Now that she thought about it, bug collecting was far more innocent and innocuous an enterprise, comparatively speaking. She wasn’t quite as sure that it was really all that much more romantic though.

She let out another long heavy sigh and said, “Bug collecting is some romantic date, Gilbert.”

Intentionally ignoring her not so latent sarcasm, Grissom replied, “Glad you approve.”

*******

Once night had crashed, as it was always wont to do, they huddled under the shelter of the mosquito netting and as they watched the stars begin to wink and blink their way into existence, enthusiastically picnicked on the contents of Grissom’s mystery tinfoil packets. They turned out to contain whole black beans, corn kernels, seasoned rice, slivers of grilled peppers and onions and the salty white cheese native to Costa Rica. They didn’t bother to stand on ceremony and used their fingers to make and eat hand rolled tacos. Bernie had provided several thermoses filled with his atomic grade coffee, so there was no chance that either Grissom or Sara would be falling asleep any time soon. There had even been dessert — arroz con leche, a simple dish made from leftover rice that had been soaked in a solution of warm milk, sugar and cinnamon.

Towards the end of the meal Grissom dug a single orange from the depths of his bag. Sara’s grin only grew as she began to peel the fruit so that she was practically beaming when she handed him his half. He returned the smile, his own soft and warm and intimate, although his eyes were even more so.

Before long the night reigned in earnest. The dark shadows of the treetops were tinged silver with the moonlight. The sky again alive with stars. As the moon began to sink further and further into the horizon, the wide swath, that ribbon of faint cloudiness that made up the Milky Way, resolved to wend its way like a winding river across the sky.

It was as if the two of them had stepped out of time and space into a far different place, a place where they were the only people alive in all the world. It was unusual feeling, for in Vegas, even with all its mad rush and press and garish glare, with all its hordes of strangers, one could only ever feel alone, although never be it. But here, there was something about the quiet, the stillness and that sheer solitary sensation that heralded something far different than loneliness.

They sat there for a while, enjoying the moment, silent. But it wasn’t an uneasy or uncomfortable sort of silence, rather one of the companionable sort that had developed between them over the years. Tonight, the wordlessness seemed to hold all the things long said and unsaid, as well as all the things that didn’t need to be said, but only felt and cherished and treasured.

Grissom had spent much of his life in silence, grown up with it, felt at home and at ease in the quiet of solitude and thought, of words on paper and most of the time, in the presence of the absolute silence of death.

But silences with Sara, they were unlike any other he had ever known.

So many things had passed between them in those moments. When they fought or retreated to their own corners to lick the wounds they had too often inflicted upon each other, those silences were hard fast walls, firm in their division.

However more often, the silences were sweet. They were not the sort to be filled or feared, but savored for all they bespoke – of time (both lost and found), of long knowing and ever new discovering, of both passion and stillness, with that which was well known and yet so seldom said.

Like love. Grissom knew he loved Sara. Had loved her for far longer than he had ever been willing to admit even — and perhaps especially — to himself. Of course love seemed to have long been a word he knew, but never quite fully understood, never fully possessed or even desired possessing until he’d met her.

Love. It was such a small word for such a great thing, he mused.

Four letters spoken in a single breath. No wonder it so often felt inadequate, too inadequate, to convey what was in his heart or mind or soul.

Four letters in a breath to impart how still after all these years Sara managed to take his breath away. How wonderfully alive he felt with her. How her laughter and smiles, her touch and the taste of her when they kissed made the whole mad world stop and he could, if just but for that moment be.

And yet in some ways, in the present having and giving and being, love seemed all the more inexplicable now than it had ever been before.

Of course there were just some things that not even science could explain or reason measure. They just were. It had taken him a long time to accept the truth of that simple assertion. That science and reason and rationality were certainly no better at mapping the human being than all the words poets possessed. For science didn’t even possess those four letters spoken in a breath to speak for them.

Sometimes, he wondered why there were so many words, so many ways to speak of anger and hate and fear, while at the same time, so few for laughter and smiles and love and hope and joy.

There were times, too, when he thought back to all the science fiction he’d read growing up and thought how handy telepathy could really be. For so often he’d wish that if only for a moment, Sara could see herself through his eyes, think his thoughts, dream his dreams, feel as he felt and know his heart. That way there would be no need for words then.

And sitting there with Sara, entranced by the stars and her presence, he recalled another of Neruda’s love sonnets. This night, the words seemed to be even better bearers of truth. For he felt – no, knew – that even just this single moment here and now with her was worth all the days and weeks and months of waiting, wanting, hoping and dreaming.

Without realizing it, he found himself quietly intoning:

“‘I love the handful of earth that you are.

Because of its meadows, vast as a planet,

I have no other star. You are my replica

of the multiplying universe.

Your wide eyes are the only light I know

from extinguished constellations;

your skin throbs like the streak

of a meteor through rain.’”

Sara smiled at this, covered his hand with hers, threaded her fingers through his, thinking that it actually was a pretty romantic date, being together like this, waiting for the night to stir itself into life.

She shivered slightly as the temperature had dropped twenty degrees over the course of the afternoon and evening. Earlier Grissom had helped her into a light windbreaker before donning his own. Considering how he always seemed to run cold, Sara reasoned that if she was starting to feel the chill, so was he. So she pulled the thick blanket she had earlier lain at the foot of the improvised bed and proceeded to drape it over his shoulders in a way they both found hauntingly reminiscent of the time the two of them had kept vigil over that dead pig all those years ago. Except tonight, Sara nudged his knees together so she could better snuggle up beside him. Grissom slid an arm around her shoulder. And this time, they shared the blanket.

*******

After a while, the moon waned to the point that lamplight became necessary, but tonight, the usually brilliant white glow was tempered to a more smoldering red, the lighting color more of a practical adjustment. When Grissom had explained that while the red light wouldn’t deter mosquitoes, it would, however, not attract other insects the way the unfiltered LEDs would, Sara had nodded in comprehension and said in a knowing sort of way,  “So no more attraction under false pretenses,” while in reality she had been more preoccupied remembering the way Grissom’s eyes had lit up when he’d spotted Bridget peeling the red cellophane from a Christmas package nearly a week before.

And for the most part, the trick appeared to be working. In fact, it was working so well that Sara was starting to think that perhaps they should use the red lights all the time. For she had to admit that no matter how low they kept the lantern in their tent, the bugs would still be drawn inside. Even with the flaps closed, they made their way through the cracks and edges and frequently pummeled the mosquito netting in attempts to reach the light. Even if she and Grissom turned it completely off, the insects spent the rest of the hours until the moon rose trying to flee and escape back into the brighter night.

Then suddenly, a horde of pyrophorus beetles flitted past. At more than three inches in length, the insects were oversized cousins to the more conventional fireflies. But it was the inch and half long green glowing beams bright as pen lights that their illuminating chambers produced that made them most awe inspiring.

Perhaps bugs were romantic, too, in their own way, Sara mused. Or perhaps it was just Grissom that made them so.

The more she thought about it, for Grissom, bugs probably were romantic.

When she said as much to him, he gave her a puzzled look.

“No, it makes sense,” she said. “The entomology textbook. That cocoon. The bees. The puzzle box. Tonight.”

Although perhaps romantic wasn’t quite the right word. Each was perhaps more intimate than anything, an invitation of sorts to become a greater part of his world and life.

Apart from the cocoon. Sara had never quite worked out what he had been trying to tell her with that one, particularly as he hadn’t included a note in the package. And there hadn’t seemed to be the time or occasion to ask about it before.

So she took advantage of the moment and before Grissom could make a response to any of her previous assertions, she asked, “Why exactly did you send it?”

“The cocoon?”

She nodded.

“It made me think…” he began.

“Of me?”

“No. Of me.”

At her puzzled expression he said, “You know how a moth becomes a moth, right?”

Ignoring the seeming strange non sequitur of his question, Sara counted out the four stages on her fingers. “Egg, larva, cocoon, adult.”

“Sounds simple right?”

“But it isn’t, is it?”

“From a scientific standpoint, it is.”

“But the cocoon wasn’t meant to be a science lesson,” Sara said.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Good,” she laughed. “Because you forgot to enclose care instructions when you sent it.”

“You seemed to handle it just fine,” Grissom replied with a smile.

“Gil, you do realize that there is no online database for identifying cocoons, right?”

He nodded. “Still, you didn’t seem all that surprised after it hatched.”

“Not half as surprised as Hodges was from what I could hear from your end of that phone call. What was he doing in your office in the first place? Feeding your pets?”

“Actually yes.”

That had been during those couple of weeks just after Sara had gotten out of the hospital, when it had been both practical and prudent for Grissom to take some time off.

Sara queried in disbelief, “And with all the creatures you kept in that office, he was afraid of a little moth?”

“As Antheraea polyphemus tend to have a more than six inch wingspan, I wouldn’t exactly classify it as a little moth.”

“True.”

“Besides, I think his response was more based upon the fact that he had somehow managed to let it loose.” Grissom shook his head. “How, I still have no idea,”

“Hence the call and rescue mission at three in the morning.”

“Yeah.”

“Except I distinctly remember it being light by the time you got home. Did time get away from you or just the moth?”

“Mostly the moth,” he admitted. “Until I figured out it was a male. Then it was easy. All I had to do was light a candle.”

Remembering from the entomology textbook Grissom had given her for that Christmas several years back that by an odd coincidence, the light spectra a burning candle gave off mimicked the same infra-red frequencies present in the pheromones female moths produced, Sara smirked, “You mean you lured him under false pretenses.”

“It wasn’t nearly that sordid,” he countered.

Her “Uh huh” didn’t sound all that convinced. Then a thought struck Sara. “Wait a minute,” she said. “Wasn’t that about the same time Little Stevie went missing?”

Grissom nodded. In fact, that was exactly the same time one of his pet tarantulas appeared to have pulled a Houdini.

“Never did find him,” he admitted.

“And yet,” she grinned, “You didn’t seem all that upset to find out that Hodges has your pig.”

“She’s in a jar,” he replied. “There’s not really all that much mischief he can get into with her.”

Sara’s frankly disbelieving raise of the eyebrow caused him to pause and reconsider that assertion for a moment.

At the now worried look that had descended on his features she laughed and said, trying to change the subject, “You were talking about moths…”

He seemed to welcome the segue, for Grissom nodded and said, “Well, being a moth isn’t about being a moth. It’s about becoming a moth. It’s the whole purpose of its life from the moment it hatches from its egg.

“Of course when it does, a moth doesn’t emerge as a thing of beauty or even anything that would hint of what it will later become. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a many-footed, hairy sort of worm. Hence the name caterpillar. From the French for ‘hairy cat.’

“Although,” he said with a bemused shrug, “I’ve never quite understood what the connection is between moth and butterfly larva and felids.”

As Sara was giving him that patient sort of look that indicated he was starting to ramble off topic, he shook his head and quickly continued saying, “But that doesn’t really matter.

“That newly hatched larva has just one aim, one purpose to its existence. Well, two actually — to eat and eat and eat — and not get eaten. But even then, as it eats it’s growing and changing.

“People tend to think that metamorphosis merely occurs while the caterpillar is inside its cocoon, but the reality is a moth is constantly changing and becoming even when it is still for all outward appearances a lowly caterpillar.  For as it morphs from one instar to the next, it must shed that part of its old self and become made new again and again as it grows.

“Until it’s time. Not time for it to be beautiful and finished and complete, but time for it to spin its microscopic threads and wrap itself up tight in order to cocoon itself from the outside world. To ostensibly disappear, hide, so that it came continue its process of becoming in private, or at least in some semblance of safety.

“Once that’s done and the cocoon’s complete, for all its outward appearances the moth appears dormant, as if it is merely waiting and resting. But inside, inside it is all chaos and change and not just growing, but transforming.

“That little worm-like larva’s begun to sprout the legs and wings and antennae and all the other parts it will need to fulfill its destiny.

“It’s a long process, particularly in those species that overwinter. Often significantly longer than all the eating that came before and frequently longer than the life it will live once it finally emerges from its cocoon.

“Lepidopterans have long been symbols of rebirth and regeneration. There’s good reason why. For they are all born not just once, but twice. And that second birth is the hardest. Because a moth must then struggle to break free from the walls that have so long sheltered it. It must fight its way out of a cage of its own making and destroy the bonds it created for itself.

“Except when it does, it is only to arrive into the world damp and limp. And this is when the moth is at its most vulnerable, as it can barely move, let alone fly, until its wings at last begin to unfurl and dry and stiffen.

“Then it comes time for that first feeble flutter that proceeds actual flight. For ultimately the moth must fly or it will die.

“Truth is, it will die soon anyway. But not before it has completed that one task it has left – the whole purpose for everything that has come before.  For while most butterflies feed and pollinate flowers, Antheraea polyphemus, like many moths doesn’t – or even can’t eat.

“Instead, its sole purpose is to find a mate. To search out others of its kind to couple and create.

“It’s ironic that this last stage of life, when the moth has finally become its true self, is the briefest. Days, barely a week, sometimes a little more, is all it has before it uses up the last of its energy stores and dies.”

Grissom paused then, his head bowed and his voice having faded into soft sadness. Sara reached up, slipped her hand around his cheek. His eyes fluttered closed at her touch.

“I never told you,” he began again after a while. “In that letter you wrote about having spent your entire life with ghosts –”

Sara blanched slightly at this, but did not remove her hand and only waited for him to continue.

“And I understood, Sara. I understood because I was a ghost.”

She whispered, “That’s what the guys said you told them you were in high school.”

He shook his head at this. “Not just in high school. My whole life. Until I met you,” he said meeting her eyes once more, “I was a ghost.”

He turned his cheek to press a kiss into her palm.

“But I have been a moth, too,” he added.

“After my father died, I spent my childhood devouring every bit of knowledge I could, every fact, every story, every thing that could be known. That knowing was everything.

“Then the time came and I started to spin the threads to cocoon myself away from the rest of the world and somehow I knew to make it tight so I would be safe from prying eyes. Private. Private in my own awkwardness and fear in that pain of inevitable change.

“And to that rest of the world, it all probably looked still and calm and peaceful, but on the inside, I was struggling. Afraid. Uncertain of what I was to become and yet powerless to stop my becoming it.

“I spent a long time shut up in that cocoon. Nearly all of my adult life. Not daring to dream of possibilities. But eventually the time came to break free from all the confines I had created for myself.

“In nature that happens when the environmental conditions — the light and heat and time — are just right. For me, it was because I had finally begun to dream of those possibilities, of a life beyond the safe, cloistered existence I had known so long and well.

“It began when I began to dream of you.

“Of course it wasn’t that simple. Even after I was able to struggle my way out, to emerge from those walls, I honestly didn’t know what to do. I really didn’t, Sara.”

And he had told her as much that time in his office – I don’t know what to do about this. For a long time Sara had regarded his words as a rejection of sorts rather than an admission of confusion. It was an error that had led to a great deal of sorrow and hurt on both sides.

“Gil,” she began, but he motioned for her to let him finish.

“And I did come so close to it being too late by the time I really did figure it all out.

“But in the end, I had to take that chance and risk falling in order to have any hope of being able to fly.

“I suppose it is apt, too, that moths come to love and loving so relatively late in life, when youth and middle age is over – well youth, at least,” he hurriedly amended, knowing that Sara tended to scoff every time he talked about being or feeling old.

“Sara, I’ve loved you for so long, but I couldn’t let myself love or be loved, wings and air and all, until late. And sometimes I still feel the waste of all those years I stayed so safe and sheltered. But I know too that I would not trade the years I have had and will have with you for anything, whether they be many, or like the moth’s all too few.

“For think of it, while they have but that week to live after all those weeks and months of becoming, what a week that must be – to be alive like that, fully to all of life’s possibilities.

“That is what these last days have been like being here with you, just being with you again.

“So I guess what I was trying to tell you then with that cocoon was that you were the one, are the one person who gave me the reason to risk being.”

******

Continued in Epilogue: The Times They are A-Changin’.

Have a question or want to leave a comment or concern and don’t have a wordpress account? Please feel free to email me at kadhmercer@gmail.com

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