Slaughter, Sorrow The laced leaves turn Stella’s thoughts to genocide. She pulls her gray hair into a ponytail and beats the grape vines with her long black broom. The beetles drop like a broken strand of costume pearls. She hears the tick, tick, tick as they fall. Some land belly down on the flagstone. Instant death, she thinks. Some fall into the tubs of hot water and soap, the deadly potion seeping through the holes of their bodies. Those that fall on their backs, legs still scrambling, she crushes with her heel. One lands in her hair. She plucks it out with thumb and index finger. She feels the creature squirm, but grits her teeth, and crushes it into a mess of exoskeleton, eyes, wings, stomach. Bravery gone, Stella rushes to one of the tubs, plunges in her murderous thumb and index finger. The bodies of drowned beetles click against her skin. She jerks her hand out, sits down on the hard red floor, and cries.
Starvation Her priest tells her she is only feeding the grief.
“Volunteer,” he says. “It is the surest cure for loneliness.”
It must be something he tells every widow. Stella sees the habit in the purse of his lips, the practiced ritual in the fold of his hands. How she wishes she could go home and tell Robert about it.
So she volunteers. Friday night, she is here, serving dinner to homeless women. She hates how they line up. She taps her metal spoon against the side of her metal pot and it echoes through the church hall, but no one looks her way. There is a fat one with a cane and a carapace of greasy white hair. She tries to get more than her fair share. Stella sees some hope in this.
When Stella’s duties are done, she fills her own plate and sits across from the fat woman. She looks at the pictures above the fat woman’s head, the church’s many saintly and sainted.
Stella blurts, “I have always wanted to travel to India, see Mother Teresa’s charity in Calcutta.”
The fat woman looks up. Her eyes widen. She says, “And I have always wanted to travel to Paris, see Jesus.” The fat woman bows her head then, pulls her food close.
Maggots, Blowflies Stella dreams of beetles. They are walking across Robert’s closed eyes. He turns in the bed, decaying body and all, reaches for her. A beetle whirs from his hand to her cheek. She screams.
When it is morning, she calls a realtor and knows she is rambling.
“Wait a minute,” the realtor says, “you want to sell your house because of a little bug?”
Stella backtracks, tells the realtor of Robert’s death, how he took care of things, how she can’t, won’t, doesn’t want to any more. She and the realtor make a pact, a contract.
What God Wants Stella goes back to the priest. She tells him about the fat woman. The man tents his fingers and listens. Robert would laugh, say, “Let’s go to Paris. Leave behind the fat woman and Jesus.”
But the priest says, “Maybe you do need to learn about charity.” He hands her two pamphlets, one about agape, the other on the saint of Calcutta.
“And, of course, going back to the soup kitchen will help,” he says. She stands to leave.
The next Friday, she is late to her volunteer job. She comes down the stairs to the hall and sees the women lined up, backs curved into fragile shells, an infestation of age and helplessness. Stella wants to run, but walks to her place. She is serving soup that someone has labeled “vegetable”. She can’t even see potatoes.
The fat woman is there suddenly, bowl in hand.
“You make this, India?” she says.
Stella shakes her head.
“Looks pretty bland,” she continues.
“Yep,” Stella adds. “What I couldn’t do with a little more meat, some pasta, a few decent carrots.”
She fills the fat woman’s bowl, and the fat woman grins.
“Next week,” the fat woman says, “Minestrone for many.”
Before Dawn Stella wants to dream of Robert, of his body without blemish. She wants to feel his weight shift in the bed as if he is getting up to make the morning coffee. But she finds she can no longer dream, can’t even hold onto the pretense of dreaming.
She calls the realtor, says she must meet the couple buying the house. She wants to tell them to have children, lots and lots of children, and friends, a life outside of each other.
The realtor says, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
The Tiger Moving exhausts Stella. The priest’s pamphlets get packed in a box she can no longer find, along with her and Robert’s expired passports, a doctor’s bulletin about shots you might need when travelling to India, and a library book about leprosy. She thinks of the fat woman, her carapace of hair. She imagines sores wandering up the woman’s hand, like feasting beetles. She wonders who might wipe that hand clean.
She gives up the search for the priest’s pamphlets, looks at the boxes on the floor. Some still yawn open, corrugated edges brown and pocked like earthen pupation chambers. They wait for Stella to fill them.
Nan Wigington has held a variety of jobs. The shortest was as a stripper for an AKC dog magazine. She has also been an unclaimed property clerk, a property accounting analyst, and an ensemble actress. She currently works as a literacy paraprofessional in a K-2 autism classroom and lives in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood with her husband and dog.