Rites of Summer
fiction by Virginia Eggerton
Rites of Summer
She takes you to the greenhouse and you understand this is a privilege, a gift. She opens the door to the squat glass shed and you enter together. The August sun is streaming through the windows, shining on brightly-colored blooms all crowded together, nestled in pots or arranged in rows like schoolchildren. The hot, thick air bakes you from the inside out and you’re overwhelmed by the heady, sweet scent of orchids and tiger lilies and gardenias. Above your head insects buzz back and forth with purpose. She reaches a hand up and one of them lands on her index finger. She brings it down to you to show you.
“Come closer,” she says, beckoning you with a wave of her hand.
You think about the creepy crawlies of your childhood: the shiny black carapaces, the slow, marionette movement of their segmented legs, their alien antennae, their many eyes. You’re wincing.
“What are you afraid of?” she asks. She is smiling and in this garden of splendor she is a dark-skinned and lanky-limbed Persephone. Haloed by frizz, she cocks her head at you, waiting. You can tell she thinks your hesitation is silly. Take a step forward and lean in close.
In her hand is a beetle, iridescent and shining like a polished opal. It’s green but it flashes with gold, fiery orange and cobalt blue as it moves. It crawls back and forth a bit, inspecting her knuckles, feeling its way through the world carefully, a monk making its first pilgrimage. You watch the way it pauses, hesitates, shakes a leg or two, keeps moving. The rhythm of an uncertain creature.
Then—before you can stop her—she’s grabbing your hand and touching it with hers, creating a bridge with her forefinger that the beetle feels its way across apprehensively. You swallow the urge to pull back and then you can feel the prickle of its meticulous movements, its tiny legs, on your skin. Chrysochroa fulminans, the Indonesian jewel beetle in all its splendor, she tells you. Its elytra open for just a moment and reveal the gossamer wings hidden beneath. Elytra. You don’t know this word yet, but you will. It’s a side effect of falling in love: learning a whole new language. See it move delicately along your love line, across your fate line. The beetle pays you no mind, at least not in the way you expect it to. You have become the landscape: your skin the soft earth, the hills and valleys of your palm the countryside. It stops when it reaches your fingertip and spreads its wings wide, waiting, readying itself for flight. Then it’s gone, and she’s smiling.