To Cradle a Moth by Abi Andrews

(an extract from a work in progress)




Dad says it’s because I sleep with the light on and if I didn’t then I wouldn’t have to worry about the bugs so much, but really I’d rather the bugs than the dark.


I like the moths because they aren’t like other bugs, in the same way as butterflies. They are like birds almost, the wings but also their bodies are shaped in a way more animal than bug, fluffy if you look closely. I think if they were bigger they wouldn’t be thought of as bugs, but another order – a sort of bird-mammal. We did an exercise at school where we had to draw a new animal. Then the teacher showed us that we had all drawn animals that were mixtures of others that we already knew, because all animals are related to each other like family. That when we talk about them we pick them out on a spectrum, we talk about them like dog, yes, cat, yes, fish, yes and this striped pig horse, this strange spiked rat, mouse with a starfish mouth.


Prehistoric reptiles had fur and feathers. Like before lizards were lizards they were birds, the quills of their feathers became scales. Maybe moths and butterflies were really small and furry like mice but they grew wings to be beautiful so that people would feel badly that they need to protect them. On the rainbow of moths it’s hard to tell where they change but there are individuals that you can pin out as particular colours, and some of them are very ‘bug’, others very ‘moth’, and the big important ones are the ones running at the front or back of evolution becoming more bug or more animal. These are the ones I leave my light on for.


They are heavy in the way they fly and they make me think about their insides. They look like they could be cut open and have parts like a human or a dog, where the others look like they don’t have organs, like I think worms and ants don’t have organs, just maybe mush. They do have organs, I think, but they are too small so we don’t see them and so we don’t feel like them. I feel more like the big moths. If I saw a bat eat one I would be sad, but if I saw a bat eat the leafy kind I would be happy that I saw a bat.


The big ones have large round heads and you can see their eyes. Maybe I feel more like them because I can see their eyes. Sometimes I feel bad that I invite them in just so I can look at them. It is like the savannah on the television, where all the animals of all different sizes come to the waterhole to drink, my lamp a waterhole, and I wonder what they think when they look at each other. Like when I look at my dog I wonder what she thinks of me, if she understands that I think about what she’s thinking about. If the gazelle looks at the elephant and recognises something, or just thinks, what a weird creature, without wondering what the elephant might have inside its head as it looks at it in the eyes. What do the big moths think of the tiny green aphids that run around them in circles? What do they think of me? Are they looking or don’t they see me?




It is a short stretch; we go indirectly, stutter-feeling our way, like groping blind hands. Below us the road and a car bursts onto it, I feel its shudder. A few are lost to it, distracted; they flutter towards and are taken by the dragging cyclone, in a whirl. I stay steady, dogged to the beacon. And we are across the road. And we are amongst the houses now. I stay dedicated; looking ahead not really looking anywhere, until I know it is there. Her window. Then I let myself be taken over by it, give myself up to it like a riptide.


A few small ones follow me in; they always do, as though I swirl up the current that takes them there, pioneering through the vacuum. Like leaves caught up together in a flurry, we are.


I go in through the open place because I must, I go in towards the light because there is no stopping its gravity. Without control of my body, I can think on what the elm said to me.


The elm had said, ask her ask her, and instil the answer in her. Use your position of power. Don’t think you can leave us behind, don’t fill your niche and keep it. You will miss us when we are gone; we hide the owls that eat the bats that eat you. We need each other. We have to conspire on this; it is for the good of all. Land and animal need a share of the reverence you have been granted; don’t be complacent. Before she stops listening.


I tell the others, the smaller ones, and they chatter it away to each other going show her show her! Settling on the bright cone surface and scuttling in frenzy, running in and out of each other, disturbing the aphids telling them, come on come on! They have no grace, no majesty, because that is not their purpose.


This work is mine. I land heavily amongst them, a plume sent up by me, a ricocheting command and they stagger for it. We run around each other, preparing, mapping the terrain and catching each other. The light is warm beneath us. We know not to seek more from it, but we are caught in the interplay, the meshing, the net trap, caught between want and need and fear. I concentrate hard on not noticing it. Around me they set the ecstatic backdrop.


We are ready. I lift and go towards, the small pulses I mingle up with my wings on her eyelids should be enough to wake her. No recourse to pause and see, I turn back to the light surface and settle, turn full circle to look. Sure she flickers, and I begin.


I am both at once; I am majestic and contorted. I am pulling against forces; I am doing it beautifully. I d-d-dance for her. Light, light. Pulling away from; relax. Pulling apart; elasticity. Not either or, but all at once. D-d-dance. I am strong; and have the strength to let it take me over.


She is looking with big wide eyes like an owl, only I know that gaze has two meanings and this isn’t the bad one. Really show her. Make sure she gets the message. While she is still receptive.


I dance with my heavy mantle. I flick it like a fan, forcing the air away without lifting off. I keep my anchors still, flickering sails like a kite trapped in wind.


I flux between pulling and being pulled, like a bird trapped between desire to still and rest and need to go south.


Her mouth is open like she doesn’t know it. It shows me that she is caught in the knowing that I am dancing for her. She knows I know she knows I am dancing for her. We are showing each other this; communion. She leaves me be to do my dance but she watches every movement. She doesn’t try to touch, try to divert with her bodiness, try to exert her dominance. And I don’t fly at her or use my otherness to disturb her. I could I could, have seen when another flew at her face, the way it pierced right through her comfort, brought her rudely down to earth with us (we know you are watching). Instead, I let her know by being specific.


After this communion we will come together like ritual acknowledgement. Until then, respectful distance. A looking into worlds from worlds and a coming together of worlds; gentle collision. Stars imploding under mass inevitably.


This is what it means I show her, being and living and dying and thriving together. Observing each other with joy and thanks, being glad happy neighbours. Asserting with brilliance and exceptionality that the world stay complex and interesting. The interaction is gift giving it is generosity, thank you thank you. Gift giving and thank you thank you to and fro. To and froing like spider threads; subtle but strong; undulating, ephemeral. Kept for those looking closely.


The time is right, now; she is testing towards. Her finger comes tremoring lightly, she places it next to me on the light cone. I climb on unfaltering so that she knows. She is surprised, I feel the weight of her drop, then buoyantly rise, reassured, believing in it. She holds me up close so I feel the tremble of her breathing, reminding me softly that she too breathes and lives. I can feel the heat from her. She turns me around on a pedestal, enamoured by close intricacies, filamentary details. How we are shrunken giants, how we are giants of our realm, robust and mechanical endurance, parchment membrane skin, bodies too thin to touch. I feel her asking, how are we made from the same constituent parts? She listens to the sounds of my wings humming reciprocally, a drone.


I lift off in flight to assure her, by leaving and coming back. She watches in grateful fascination, how I run through terrain she can never touch. I allow her to transpose herself onto me, heavy and impossible, so she can dream of flying after.


I land on her outstretched finger like a called back hunting bird. It has been done well. I know because she could collect me and doesn’t. She could trade the experience for possession. I know she thinks about calling in her brother to see, but she doesn’t. She keeps this for herself not jealously, but out of respect for me. Besides, if she invited him in, he would trap me in a glass.


I won’t live to see it or see her again but I know there can be other moths and other girls stumbling into each other if we let them, if we leave them places, space for these small communions. If ongoingness is allowed. Perhaps it is the life work of every one of us, to help along the ongoingness in our own small way.


She takes me in her cupped hands, gently and I let her. Walls closing in. Air made taut. I try not to panic. Still, still. She opens her hands outside and the night air rushes in, I stay sat on her open palm as she turns me away from the light, pulling the heavy fabric down behind her back so that it interrupts it, cutting the thread. She turns me to face backwards as I came, the direction of the common, and I can see the light of the moon. I lift to go, to use its pull as a compass. In its light I know where the world is.




ABI ANDREWS is a writer from the Midlands. She studied at Goldsmiths University and her work has been published in Five Dials, The Dark Mountain Project, Tender and The Bohemyth, amongst others. Her debut novel The Word for Woman is Wilderness will be published by Serpent’s Tail on the 1st of February.


Illustrations by DESDEMONA MCCANNON, illustrator and Senior Lecturer at the Manchester School of Art. Desdemona’s artwork can be found here.

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