scholars and rogues

The Return of the Queen

by Terry Hargrove
Our pet praying mantis, Queen Death, had been bugnapped by the Big Galoot, a savage, hulking brute almost ten years our senior. Glenn spent an hour pondering the note and wondering what he was going to do about it. I suggested he do nothing, since that was the safe play and besides, how much of a bond could you forge with an insect? I mean, I know Glenn was my mortal enemy, but I didn’t want him… let me think about it… no, no, I didn’t want him dead, and the Galoot could kill Glenn just by sitting on him. Queen Death was going to die with the first frost anyway, right?

But Glenn was stubborn and sentimental, attributes that have well served many a writer of country music songs, but were useless on the playground.

“She needs us to save her,” he said. “What’s that Big Galoot gonna do to her if we don’t save her?”

“He’ll forget about her in a day or two,” I said. “Then we can go and get her back.”

“But she might die if she don’t get fed,” Glenn said, and his voice shook. “This is all my fault. I kept her so she could fight one of those spiders the Galoot keeps in his pockets, but she ain’t at fighting weight anymore. We spoiled her by giving her so much, but what could I do? I couldn’t look at her multi-faceted eyes and say no. I just couldn’t.”

Glenn could never say no to the ladies. It runs in our family, which is why the Hargrove boys made great dates, but lousy husbands.

“That sorry Big Galoot,” mumbled Glenn. “I ain’t afraida him. I’m just gonna walk right over there and tell him to give her back.”

“I think you should,” I said.

“I’ve seen it on TV a thousand times. All you’ve got to do to a bully is stand up to him and he’ll back down.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” I said.

“I’m in the right, and God would never let a kid who’s in the right lose to a big, nasty, smelly bully.”

“Just like David and Goliath,” I said. “Just like the picture in the Bible.”

“I like that picture,” said Glenn. “Course, what I like about the picture is Goliath, but that don’t matter. Let’s go get her back. Just like on TV.”

“Lets… what? What do you need me for?” I asked.

“The Galoot feels sorry for you,” said Glenn. “I told him you were adopted and had an affliction and only had six months to live.”

“But that’s not true, right? Is it?”

“Course it ain’t true,” said Glenn. “You weren’t adopted. I told you a million times daddy won you in a poker game. Come on, let’s go.”

I didn’t really want to, but I was pulled in his wake, drawn by the gravity of the older brother.

“The thing to remember,” hissed Glenn, “is to not be afraid. I saw it on TV once. Guys like the Galoot can smell fear, so don’t be afraid.”

“But I am afraid,” I said.

“Well, here then. Rub some dirt on yourself so you smell like dirt,” Glenn replied.

“Look. There he is.”

There was a storage shed with no front door behind the Galoot’s house, and there he sat in the mottled light, a creature of shadow and shade. The mason jar was between his feet, and we could see Queen Death clawing frantically at the inside glass. Glenn stopped ten feet in front of the Galoot, debated his next action, then stepped gingerly forward. I was behind him. Way behind.

“You stole her and I want her back,” he said.

“What, this old devil horse?” laughed the Galoot. Even though he was 16, he tried to talk with an artificially deep voice, and that made his speech gurgled and wet, like a mumbling cave. “I didn’t steal her. I just borrowed her.”

“I want her back,” demanded Glenn, and his voice shook. But in spite of his fear, he advanced until he was almost in the shed himself.

“Sure, I’ll give her back,” said the Galoot. “But first things first. I think a devil horse couldn’t win a stand-up fight with a decent spider. So I’ll let her go, but first, she’s got to fight my pet. You call this thing Queen Death? Well let me show you something really dangerous. This here is Monarch!”

He reached into his shirt pocket (yes, his shirt pocket) and pulled out the largest yellow and black garden spider I had ever seen. It’s body was the size of a half dollar. He plopped it into the mason jar, and the eight legs began to furiously scratch at the glass.

“Monarch? Why’d you name her monarch?” I asked.

“Because a monarch butterfly is yellow and black,” said the Galoot. “I couldn’t

think of anything else that was yellow and black except School Bus, and that sounded retarded. Sorry to hear about your affliction. You look OK today.”

“I have good days and bad days,” I said. All right, I’ll admit it. I wanted to see the insects fight, so I shouldered my way between Glenn and the Galoot and pressed my face close to the glass. This was going to be a show!

But, alas, it wasn’t a show at all. It seemed that all the two combatants wanted to do was get away from each other. Garden spiders aren’t all that ferocious without their webs and they must be an acquired taste since Queen Death wanted nothing to do with Monarch. After 10 minutes of this, Glenn reached in and grabbed the mantis. The spider latched onto his wrist, and when Glenn felt those eight alien legs scrambling up the length of his arm, he knocked it off, then stepped on it. She popped under his shoe like a pimple. The Big Galoot was stunned.

“What did you do that for?” he bellowed.

“Sorry. Reflex,” said Glenn.

The Galoot glowered at us, then went to the back of the storage shed. He stooped and retrieved a large cardboard box that had once held a half gallon of Purity milk. He shook the box and we could hear something rattling in it, but we weren’t prepared for what he did next. The box was full of garden spiders the Galoot had collected. He reached in and scooped up a handful of them and threw them at us.

Those television shows would surely be the end of us. There is a time to stand up to the bully and there is a time to run like hell away, and that’s what we did. It was a bad dream made real, with a loathsome giant running behind us, shaking the ground, as

spiders bounced off our backs and arms and heads. Somewhere in the Galoot’s front yard, Glenn released Queen Death and she fluttered away. We didn’t stop screaming until we were inside our house and had locked ourselves in the bathroom.

But there was a lesson in the battle that didn’t happen between the mantis and the garden spider. If we had been paying closer attention instead of running for our lives, we might have learned something that day. Even though garden spiders aren’t poisonous in the classical sense, let a few dozen of them bite your right hand 20 or 30 times and see what happens. The Galoot’s arm was swollen to the size of a small tree as the ambulance carried him away. Mom asked us if we wanted to go see him in the hospital, but we begged off. For the next three days, we carried a mason jar all over the neighborhood, looking for the insect that taught us to avoid unnecessary conflicts and the wisdom of occasional flight.


Categories: scholars and rogues

Tagged as: , ,

1 reply »

  1. I couldn’t look at her multi-faceted eyes and say no.

    Great line.

    I guess the female praying mantis saves her hostility for the male of the species.