The Slow-Cooked Sentence

Insult and injury

Rachael Conlin Levy

She asked for my bag to search it for stolen library books, and she wanted me to come back inside too. I refused. As if I would willingly walk back into the library with a toddler throwing a tantrum. Stupid woman.

“Feel free to take it,” I spat out, struggling to hold on to my angry son.

She blinked at me from behind her glasses, than picked up the bag and marched back in.

“Are we in trouble, Mom?” my older son asked, shrinking himself into the shadows of the building.

I shook my head, silently willing the small, stiff child in my arms to calm down. Instead, he arched his back into the curve of a scorpion’s tail and wailed.

I’d hunted scorpions as a kid. Armed with an empty mayonnaise jar, I’d wander out into the vast stretch of sandy desert that was my backyard and start kicking over cow patties. Scorpions burrow small holes under the dung, flat as a Frisbee, and hide out during the hottest part of the day.

Sometimes, my brother and I would capture five or six at a time. From pincer to tail some of them were longer than my dad’s thumb. Others were small enough to fit on a dime. Of the hundreds of scorpions we captured, grew bored with and released, I remember two: The one found under plywood, whose body alone measured three inches and whose tail was thick as jute, and the mother with a million babies on her back. She got away.

That’s what I wanted to do now, just crawl into a hole as people gave my toddler and his meltdown lots of space. A bitter, angry brew boiled in my belly. I’d been taking my children to this library long enough for a few of the librarians to know us by name, but I didn’t know this one, nor had I paid attention to her face when she stamped our books. Instead, I studied her hands, studded with rings that squeezed her flesh and forced it to ooze around them. Those pale, sticky hands usually busy with musty books and cups of sugared tea were poking through my things, pulling out water bottle, bike helmet, knitting.

“She’s taking out your wallet, Mom,” my older son reported from his hiding spot near a window. “She dropped it.”

I’d given the wallet to my toddler earlier in the day to amuse him, and when it no longer held his attention I’d shoved it into the bag without snapping it shut, so when the librarian picked it up it fell open, spilling coins. Quarters and dimes bounced across the table, tangled in yarn, rolled under the bike helmet. I shot an angry glance through the window, and my jaw tightened, my head throbbed, my arms ached.

Hiding under the helmet, a dime turned from silver to pale yellow and unfurled. A set of tiny pincers snapped and a tail tucked into the belly of armor curved upward to expose a venomous dagger at its tip. On eight small legs it skittered across the table unseen, grabbed hold of the librarian’s dress and climbed. When it reached her neck, it slipped under the fold of her collar, clinging to the fabric as she walked outside.

Outside, my toddler lay limp in my arms, exhausted from his tantrum. My son eased himself out of his hiding spot, and my anger drained away.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tell them.

Doors opened. The librarian set down the bag, and silently marched back inside, carrying my revenge. Pincers clicked, dagger poised, it waited.

4 responses to “Insult and injury”

  1. Dylan says:

    i like this–even more perspective on that day at the library. I remember hunting for scorpions, flipping boards and scooping them up with mason jars. It was fun.

  2. Rachael Levy says:

    Thanks Dylan. I miss you!

  3. kyndale says:

    Rachael, I always knew you had magical powers.

  4. shannon says:

    wow! unbelievable! I always knew your patience was strong and unfrayed but this is one of those times where it would have been perfectly acceptable to unleash your grace of vocabulary.

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