Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout May I have dedicated to guest writers. I first met Jason when he was 16-years-old. Josh and I had no way of knowing that a courtesy welcome of the newly arrived missionary family would result in meaningful relationships for us that have spanned almost a decade. Jason’s talent makes me angry, because it seems so effortless (case in point, he sketched the illustration below in about five minutes). I am honored to have him sharing here today!
“It can’t do it, Peter.”
“Yes he can, Thomas.”
The two boys squatted low, dirty fingers snugly pressed between skinny legs and adventure-stained t-shirts. Peter was short and oddly proportioned, the horizontal red and white stripes of his shirt accentuating the curvature of his belly. Thomas was taller and older, and wore a black baseball cap to cover his dirty hair. They cast purple shadows across an overturned beetle as it wriggled its legs toward the sky, bronze dirt etching marks of frustration into its shell.
“You shouldn’t have turned him upside down,” said Peter.
“You watched me do it.”
Peter scratched a sunburned knee.
“Even now,” said Thomas, “you could flip it over if you wanted. You never do anything.”
“Yes I do,” said Peter. He felt indignation, though he hadn’t learned how to spell it yet. “I do things.”
Thomas pinched a few fingers‘ worth of sand and dusted it onto the beetle. It kicked violently and wished it was better at rolling. “Coloring is for kids,” said Thomas.
“I am a kid,” said Peter.
Thomas sniffed through the dust in his nose.
Peter looked at the beetle’s diminutive limbs waving and circling and twitching, and he frowned. “Come on, you can do it. You can do it.”
Thomas looked up at Peter through eyebrows dotted with salt and sweat. “You talk like you care.”
Peter looked at Thomas. “I do.”
“Then help it,” said Thomas.
“I am,” said Peter.
Thomas looked sideways at Peter and squinted, though his eyes were already shaded from his black baseball cap. “No you’re not. You’re just watching it.”
“No, I’m giving him shade,” said Peter. “And I’m making sure no birds get him.”
“It wants you to turn it over,” said Thomas.
“He can do it,” said Peter.
“You’re not helping it.”
“Yes I am.”
“But it can’t tell.” Thomas sprinkled more sand onto the beetle, which was losing fervor by the second.
“You can do it,” said Peter.
Thomas took a larger volume of dirt and dropped it onto the beetle. Only the ends of its legs protruded from under the pile.
Peter moved his hand to cover his eyes, but placed it on his forehead instead. A dozen beads of idle sweat turned dirt to mud over his knuckles. “Come on.”
Thomas grabbed a handful of dirt and flung it onto the pile. No movement could be seen anymore. “It’s probably dead. Suffocated.”
“You can’t suffocate beetles,” said Peter. “They’re made to climb around in the dirt. The more dirt you put on it, the more it has to hold on to.”
Thomas looked at Peter from under his black cap and waited. He licked his lips, pinching them between his teeth. Peter ignored him, watching the pile of dirt.
“You see?” said Peter. The mound of dirt began to shift here and there, individual grains of summer sand rolling off each other toward the ground.
Thomas watched incredulously, taking another handful of sand at his side.
“No more sand,” said Peter.
Thomas glared at Peter. “What are you gonna do about it?”
More sand slid off the heap, and a second-hand impression of subsurface travel ensued, like a baby crawling under thick covers. Peter’s eyes were locked on the beetle. “No more sand.”
Then it happened. The beetle broke the surface. Its head popped out of the hill of dirt before scrambling the rest of its body down the slope. It was free.
Thomas rose quickly, raising his arm in the air. Sand drifted through his fingers under the hot July sun. Peter planted his feet into the earth and pushed with all his might into Thomas’ ribs. Thomas flew backward and landed harshly, his black baseball cap twisting on his head. Peter huffed and puffed over Thomas, his little hands in tight fists, as the beetle scurried toward a patch of grass in the distance.
“You know, Peter, I never noticed how small you are before,” said Thomas, taking off his cap and dusting his palms on his shirt. “Your legs are skinny and your fingers are fat, and you’re shorter than my little sister.” He licked the sand from his lips and spat.
Peter swallowed through his fear and unclenched his fists. “I’m looking down at you, aren’t I?”
Somewhere in the cool shadow of Peter’s enormous figure, the beetle rested against a blade of verdant grass.
Jason is a self-taught photographer, musician, artist and writer. A well-traveled vagabond, he has lived in the Ukraine, England, Australia, Switzerland, California, Hawaii, Florida, Georgia, Washington, and the list goes on. He highlights his latest endeavors on his blog, and shares randomness on Twitter (@JasonMSlavin).