Scarab 1618 1080 Mary-Jane Holmes

Eva shooed a pair of nesting magpies from one of the skeps. A dead rose chafer beetle was trapped between the hive’s bindings. It shimmered in the burn of the sun like the eye of the peacock feather Mamie kept pinned to the vanity mirror in her bedroom, the one Papie had found when he was replacing flagstones in the city. Mamie had thirty skeps swinging in the pollarded ash trees now, their bait combs withered, useless for attracting anything except wasps and vermin, but there was no sign of her ceasing the coil, coil, coil of cane and willow, except when Mr. Sylvain came for the rent each moon.

Mamie had left the wrapping iron and bodkin aside and showed him into the house, removing her apron and her leather finger-thimbles. Eva knew the loom was kept in the old scullery, and yet when he was there, she was certain she heard the even tap of its under-oiled treadle coming from upstairs.

Eva picked out the scarab, tracing the contours of its metallic thorax. From the direction of the house came the guttural pull of a car exhaust that set the magpies cawing out of the trees and Eva, hard-rounding the yard, was just in time to see the back of Mr. Sylvain’s car, chromed like the beetle she had pocketed, bounce out of the gate. She ran inside the house and up the stairs, calling for her mother, who smiled at her from the vanity, pinning her hair with fresh grips, her skin a strange sheen like that of the frog she was keeping in her bedroom, which seemed content enough to squat beneath the damp eaves that buzzed with bluebottles most days.

In her attic room, Eva took the rose chafer from her jacket and set it on the bed. From beneath the mattress springs she pulled a battered caddy in which she kept her other treasures: a photo of her mother, hair curled like a film star and the lucky rabbit’s foot her father gave her just before he died repairing the peeling lead around the church’s weather vane. There was Mamie calling again. Eva, Eva.

She ran down the ladder to find her mother crumpled over the vanity, clothes strewn around her, the hairbrush, thimbles, and peacock feather scattered across the floorboards.

“Is Mr. Sylvain going to evict us?” Eva asked, returning the nib of the feather to its notch on the mirror’s hinge. Her mother shook her head. “So there’s nothing to cry about, silly,” she said, stroking the tufts of her mother’s hair that had worked themselves loose from their grips.

“I found something beautiful today,” Eva said, longing to see her mother happy again. She bolted back up the ladder only to find the beetle gone and the frog sat plump on its perch.

Header photograph © William C. Crawford.

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