WASHINGTON — “Walter, dear, are you ready. Hmmm?”
Lois tried to hide the irritation in her voice. She wasn’t surprised by Walter’s tardiness but it grated nonetheless. Lois often joked that Walter would be late to his own funeral.
As she filled her tiny dress purse with the items she’d need for the party, Lois ticked off her husband’s attributes: Walter was dependable, if a little boring. A good provider, but occasionally forgetful. He was not conventionally handsome — and, to be honest, he’d let himself go a bit — but he had incredibly expressive eyes. Those eyes!
All in all, Lois was happy, or, if not happy, content.
But what was keeping him? There was a crashing sound from the other room, as if something had been knocked off a shelf. Oh Walter, Lois said to herself with a laugh, do you really have to be so Walterish?
She nonchalantly applied a bit of color to her mandibles, then sucked in her ovipositor and looked at herself in the mirror. She would have to ask Walter if this carapace made her butt look big.
“Walter, honey, we don’t want to be late,” Lois said, trying to keep the wheedling tone out of her voice. “The Petersons have already left. And the Finklesteins. Walter, if we don’t leave soon all the good places will be gone.”
“I’m coming. I’m coming. Just looking for my shirt studs.”
Shafts of sunlight were beginning to appear from overhead, piercing the inky darkness. The ground was warm, pleasantly so. It stirred in Lois dim memories of when she and Walter were young and carefree, 17 years earlier.
They were going to change the world. Walter was going to be an architect. She was going to do theater and had even sketched out an idea for an all-female production of “Equus” called “She-Quus.” They were going to live in the city.
But those dreams had faded like so many scattered rose petals. After a brief flurry of activity, Lois and Walter had settled into a predictable routine, the same thing day after day: nestle in the dirt, suck on an occasional root, exchange small talk with the neighbors. The world that had once seemed so big had shrunk into something very tiny and suburban.
Children might have made things better — they both wanted them desperately — but fortune had not seen fit to bless them in that way.
Lois couldn’t help thinking they had been given a second chance, a chance to change all that: the big party, the culmination of so much waiting. And it started today!
Walter shuffled in. Lois eyed him with a smile, then brushed some dirt off his metathorax and straightened his mesothorax.
“I don’t know why you’re bothering,” Walter said, not unkindly. “I’m just going to be shedding this anyway.”
“Well, darling, I happen to think you clean up quite nicely. And it’s important to make a good first impression. How are your tymbals?”
“Sore,” Walter said, gingerly flexing the two sound-producing organs on either side of his abdomen.
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” Lois said, taking another look at her face, then snapping her compact shut. “Well, shall we?”
“Lois,” Walter said in a strained voice, “there’s something we should talk about first.”
“Lois, when we get . . . up there, things will be different. It won’t be like it is down here: cozy, predictable. It will be a bit of a madhouse, frankly. All the chirping, the flying. There will be . . . temptations.”
“Pressure to . . . you know. ‘The birds and the bees’ and all that.”
“Walter, dear, don’t be silly,” Lois said with a laugh. “I only have compound eyes for you.”
“And you’ll never know how touched I am by that, Lois my sweet, but we must be realistic. I’ve given this a lot of thought and I think that we should start seeing other. . . . “
“Oh Walter!” Lois cried. “How could you?”
She stared at him, her eyes hot and wet. Walter’s eyes had an unfamiliar look, possessed of an animal lust that both entranced and repulsed Lois. The dirt was suddenly suffocating, pushing in from all sides. I must get out of here, Lois said to herself.
Up, up she climbed, clawing ever higher. She would greet the dawning day and make the future her own.