A sawfly larvae fairytale
I awoke on the underside of a leaf. Sunlight filtering through the sheath of my egg roused me. All was blurred. I could barely move. I shifted. As I moved my body, it suddenly screamed its message: HUNGER!
I writhed in panic as need exploded in every section of me. The egg gave way, and I burst into the terrible daylight, my jaw seeking something – anything – to devour. My home, the leaf, was my first meal.
Other instars from my brood surrounded me, and we feasted together, marching upwards from leaf to leaf as we left nothing but bare stems behind. Our greed was unchecked; this was our birthright, to eat the rosebush, to skeletonize her branches. We were on a mission. We needed to fatten up, shed our skins, emerge larger, fatten up again, emerge again; on and on until we could pupate in the welcoming soil at the foot of our beloved rose.
You see we loved her. She was the source of our sustenance, and no other leaves nearby had the right chemical scent. We knew we couldn’t eat them. We could only feast on our sweet rose. What choice did we have? Starve to preserve her? Or flourish and see her defoliated, trusting she would leaf out next spring? There was no choice, really. We ate and ate.
One dull day when I hung languid and full on the edge of a decimated leaf ready to reach my next instar, shadows passed over me and the rose shook. I don’t mean she swayed in the breeze or sagged from a heavy rain; I mean she shook like an earthquake vibrating from her very core. I reared up with my brothers in a defensive S posture. We stood together, leaf by leaf (or what was left of them), ready to defend our rose.
I heard voices.
“Oh gross. Look at all of them!”
We held our position, still as ninja. We were many; they were only two. Our forces outnumbered them exponentially.
“Eww, don’t touch them! Can’t you just knock them off with a stick?”
A heavy pinkish thing swooped in from the air above, plucking and pinching my brother on the edge of the leaf. He clung bravely with his prolegs, resisting attack. He held on valiantly, even as I saw his soft body sag in the monster’s clasping tentacles. He wiggled in a last fit of bold resistance. The monster gave one sharp tug and unceremoniously threw him onto the ground. My brother lay curled in a tight circle, expiring. I trembled.
“Well, that’s no good. They’ll just crawl back up there.”
“Why don’t you get me a glass of water, with a little soap in it? That’ll kill them.”
“Don’t you want gloves? You don’t want to touch them, do you?”
“Just get the water please.”
“Okay, hold on.”
Once a brief respite ended, the full onslaught began. How can I describe the horror as one by one we were mercilessly torn from our rose and plunged to our deaths, drowned like so many tiny Ophelia with no rosemary for remembrance, no prince to grieve our passing? We were drowned after watching our brothers be drowned, a torture almost worse than the end itself. With no wings to fly, no stingers to poison, and no voices to scream, we watched our own massacre, helpless and silent.
Drowning feels like breathing glass. You are not gently lulled like a lobster in a pot. You do not fall asleep. Every millimeter of your insides is shredded by shards of pain as oxygen is replaced by a thousand pins and cuts. You want to black out; you should be dead by now. You have certainly stopped breathing.
“Well, I guess we should throw them in the compost.”
“Yeah, they won’t be able to get back here.”
“Do you think they’re dead?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh well. Doesn’t matter.”
Overwhelmed by nausea, swirling and sloshing in sticky liquid, and consumed by the black, hot pain of agonizingly slow death, we were cast into a dark pit.
The smell of the rose had always been so sweet. We had known her chemical signature from before our birth, and her fragrance had always been the center of our world. Now we writhed in a steaming hole full of molding banana peels, rotting wood, pungent citrus remains and spent coffee grounds. We choked on the smell of ammonia. We cringed at the sight of unnameable clumps of what may have been vegetation or something else entirely. We saw nothing we could eat, and the temperature seemed to be rising with remorseless fury. All we could smell now was filth.
Thankfully, this hell ended swiftly for most of us, soft-bodied as we were. Innumerable predators from every direction checked the taste of our tender bodies, and found it to their liking. Those of us who lasted longer, wounded, succumbed to bacterial and fungal assault before starvation. In all cases, death was quick.
Now that I am dead, I am bemused by my own continuing existence. I don’t know what I am, but I know I am still in the hell-pit by the aromas and the heat. My self feels less like a self every day; sometimes I feel dispersed throughout the pit, large like an over-inflated balloon and small like the invisible grain of sand within that will suddenly pop it. I feel none of the pain of my colony’s massacre or my own suffering and death. I feel a different pain I am at odds with myself to comprehend. I feel my heart will break, because the world around me is so vast. I feel I will cry forever, because this world has made me part of it. I feel lost, yet ubiquitous. I feel-
The pit is moving again, one of the many routine upheavals that break my train of thought, tossing my barely-grasped ideas into thin air and scattering all meaning to the wind. So be it. With every upheaval, the fragrance subtly changes and improves. Today, this place smells wholesome and familiar. It seems to smell like home.
I am somewhere else now, in the sun. I remember a sort of journey, feeling spread on the ground like a grave and then brought back to life through osmosis. I feel I have gone inside of time to travel through it. I decide to relax a little more, to open.
“Oh look, honey!”
‘Well I’ll be damned. It’s going to make it.”
I have always been the rose. These monsters with their blunt tentacles now caress me, bring their faces close in wonder, and praise my bloom. They treat me as an honored guest when once upon a time they treated me as their sworn adversary. Those who once attacked me now cherish and protect me.
We are still in the same garden. We are still the same creatures. We still worship the same fragrance, as we always have. In this moment before the next breeze billows my musings away like dust, I ask myself: what, and in which of us – if anything – has changed?