“Praying Mantis,” he said then and his voice was rich and sticky like something you would have to chew for a long time before it melted on your tongue.
She looked to where he was pointing. A tiny brown stick swayed back and forth on a branch. It had seemed like just another stick in a nest of them, but she could now make out it’s outline, and further along the branch another, slightly larger mantis.
“I thought it was just the stick insects in here, but it seems they got a couple of these guys trapped along with all the others.”
“You don’t see them? There are hundreds of them.”
He pointed randomly at different branches. She felt her brow furrow. Relaxed her forehead. She didn’t want him to notice that she needed glasses but refused to wear them. She wanted him to see her without her flaws, dressed in her finest cotton frock, stockings, the exciting tug of her suspenders humming like a harpstring under the breezy skirt.
“You just need to see the leaves in a different way. They are not leaves at all. They are wings. Can you see them?”
Then suddenly she could. It was so obvious in fact that she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t seen it before. So many of the leaves were not leaves. So many of the sticks were not sticks. She noticed the tiny eyes, the hairlike feelers, the stiff legs stretched out at odd angles. She took in a breath of air and the new information coursed through her like oxygen. Nothing was what it seemed to be. She looked up at the man through a tangle of insects and wondered what secrets the calm mask of his chiselled face might be hiding.
“I think the mantis is about to mate.” He said, nodding slightly, staring intently at the drama which was about to unfold before them.
“Don’t the girls eat the boys after mating? I think I heard that somewhere.”
“Yes, sure. But it is more sinister than that. Sometimes the girl will bite off his head at the beginning of the mating. The body of the boy will continue to mate as if it is alive. A zombie Mantis you could call it, and even more surprising, if the amorous couple are disturbed, the headless male will sometimes play dead, falling to the ground and lying perfectly still until the threatening creature has wandered safely away, only to leap up and continue to fuck as if it were alive and well when really it is a dead thing, playing dead, then playing life again, and making new life in the process.”
“That’s awful. How do you know stuff like that?”
“I’m an entymologist.” He stepped around the glass tube, held out his hand.
“Dr Ellsworth. I work at the university.”