(a new serial)
Nate rolled his Jeep to a halt under the shade of the palm trees in Dr. A’s yard. He checked his watch – he had rushed from the capital to Noonay Noo in a half hour. Dr. A’s door was open, and she had seen him arrive.
“Hi, Nate! What’s news today?”
“Good morning! Didn’t you hear? There’s a plague of moths on the island.”
“A plague of moths? How’s your mom? Where’s Jerome?”
Nate loved to visit Dr. A. She was like a grandmother to him. But her habit of double- or triple-scooping on questions drove him a little crazy. He answered her questions one by one as he walked into her kitchen. “Yes, a plague of moths. My mom’s fine, thanks, says to tell you hello. I don’t know where Jerome is, why?”
“Well I haven’t seen him, have I? But he would certainly eat some of those moths.”
“Dr. A, one praying mantis against an army of moths? I don’t think…”
She stopped whisking her pancake batter and sighed loud enough to interrupt the young man. “Do remember that Jerome is a Catholic mantis.”
“OK. I’ll remember.”
She turned to face him across the kitchen counter. “Why are you dressed? Why would you come here with your clothes on? And why are you here, anyway – you already mowed and weeded this week. Did you bring more mealworms?”
Nate shoved his hands in his pockets. “You know I don’t like wearing clothes any more than you do. But I didn’t stop to take them off because I’m in a rush. I’ve just arrived from Port Trésor. We need your help.”
Dr. A. vigorously recommenced her whisking of the pancake batter. “I’m very fond of you Nate, but really! I have to guess so much of what you mean, and you just don’t explain things, and then there you are standing around not properly undressed….”
“When I say we need your help, I mean everybody. The people of St. Ethel need your help to stop these moths. They’re eating people’s clothes!”
Dr. A sighed dreamily. “I think that’s absolutely wonderful.”
“Right, of course – nobody on our corner of the island would really care, right? I mean, that’s why we all moved here, so we can go about our lives without clothing. But the other end of the island, where the hotels are in Port Trésor… the problem is the tourists.”
“Be. More. Precise!” Dr. A punctuated her words with the slicing of an apple. “You mean the textile tourists. Frankly, Nate, we could use more naturist tourists, don’t you think? If this moth epidemic sends more folks our way, why that would…”
She stopped slicing.
“What’s the matter?” asked Nate.
She turned to look at Nate again. ‘Why… that would be completely unfair. People shouldn’t have to go nude if they don’t want to – it has to be a choice.”
“You don’t think we’d get more naturists from forced nudity?”
“Maybe a few converts, but that strikes me as very unethical. Very unethical. Oh, there’s Jerome! Tomorrow is his patron saint day, you know.”
Nate spotted the mantis on the window.. “Dr. A, you’re the only entomologist around, and…”
“Retired. Retired entomologist,” she said, thrusting the knife in the air in Nate’s direction.
“…OK, retired entomologist, and these moths…”
She spun around again, an apple slice between her fingers. “Although, can one really ever retire from being an entomologist?”
“Not very likely.”
“Well, that may be your opinion, but I refuse to entertain this question any further until you are properly undressed. And why do you smell funny?” She sniffed the air with an offended look. “I don’t mean to be rude, Nate, but it’s your clothes. Leave those smelly rags on the porch.”
As Nate stepped out of the room, the apple slice disappeared in Dr. A’s mouth, followed by simultaneous humming and chewing and the slicing of more apples. A minute later, Nate had returned in his natural state.
“So, as I was saying…”
“Yes, yes, of course you can have some pancakes, just give me a moment to…”
“Ah, c’mon, Dr. A.! This is important!”
She calmly put down her knife and turned to stare intently at Nate.
“I mean, thanks for the pancakes.” Nate smiled.
Dr. A. did not smile back.
“Look, these moths… something’s wrong. They’re eating not just wool and silk but also synthetics: rayon, polyester, Lycra, anything. No one’s seen anything like it. And they’re invading people’s homes, tourists’ closets and suitcases. People have been walking down the street only to have their clothes crumble right off their bodies.”
Dr. A. cracked a smile at that. Then she giggled.
Nate smiled goofily. “I know, right?”
Dr. A laughed out loud.
Soon they were both doubled over, leaking tears from the hilarity of the plight of these poor textile-dependent people.
Dr. A. stopped suddenly. “Oh my… but that is strange. The larvae of moths in the family Tineidae eat protein fiber in natural fabrics like wool. Cotton, not so much. Definitely not synthetics. That’s why they normally wouldn’t be much of a problem here in the middle of the Caribbean… Goodness! This is ecologically reprehensible.”
Nate nodded enthusiastically at her sustained feedback. “It’s a whole lot of reprehensible, definitely.”
She went to the window to collect her mantis and put him on her shoulder. “Tell me the news, Jerome.”
Nate blew a raspberry. “I can’t believe you! You don’t get the paper, you don’t watch TV, do you? Do you even have wifi out here?”
“Nate, you’re a strapping young man and I’ve offered you pancakes, but no, I don’t have wifi nor had I ever heard anyone use that for the plural of waffle.”
Nate lowered his head and ran his hands through his hair. “Dr. A… the first thing they did was try mothballs. The hotel managers… There’ve been extra flights and extra ships bringing more clothes to the island, and also mothballs. The mothballs seem to have no effect.”
Dr. A’s eyes widened. “That’s what it was! It was the naphthalene on your clothes! I knew you smelled odd. I could have told you mothballs won’t work! Or cedar chips. Just not strong enough.”
“Is it a case for using DDT or something like that, then?”
“Heavens no! That poison has been banned, and for good reason!”
“So tell me, what can be done, Dr. A?”
She began pacing the kitchen floor, and then she abandoned the room altogether. Nate turned off the stove and followed her through the plastic flaps into the sun room that she had converted into a butterfly garden.
“Nate? Nate!” She was calling him. “Oh, there you are. We need to clean these feeding sponges.”
“Dr. A, what about the moths?”
“Well I don’t have any in here, do I?”
Nate rose onto his toes and stretched his hands above his head, blowing air slowly out his mouth. It was a response he had cultivated for Dr. A’s stymies and non sequiturs. “Dr. A.,” he began again patiently. “A moment ago, in the kitchen, I told you about the moth plague.”
“I have moths in the kitchen? No, I don’t. I was just in there starting pancakes and… oh no, the stove!”
“Relax, I turned off the stove. The moth plague is here on the island, remember? What can we do about it?”
Her eyes narrowed. “Ah yes. Moths. Of course we haven’t seen any yet here at Noonay Noo, Nate, because we’re all naked. What did I tell you? Very few clothes for moths to eat around here.”
Dr. A continued. “Maybe someone has modified these moths genetically – that’s what it sounds like, if you say they can eat any clothing. Look Nate, I should tell you there’s a…”
She hesitated, and turned around to face her young friend. “There’s a…lovely postman on your head.”
“Oh, don’t move, let her enjoy your new shampoo or whatever it was that drew her to your hair. The postman butterflies are some of the most striking in the Americas.”
Nate smiled, holding still. “Is that what you were going to tell me? You were starting to say, there’s a…”
“Oh yes. No, that’s not what I was going to tell you, although it’s such a lovely thing to tell you. I wish… What shampoo did you use, anyway? I’ve tried so many times to get them to land on …”
“Hey! I thought maybe you’d have some advice about the moths. I told my boss at the hotel that I knew someone who could help. But I guess not. I’ll see you later, Dr. A.”
He turned to leave. Dr. A grabbed the garden hose, fidgeted with the faucet, and quickly sprayed his backside. The butterfly flitted away into the spray.
“You listen here, young man! You came here for my help and I’m going to give it to you! Show a little patience. Show a little respect. And you haven’t even eaten your pancakes yet! Whose fault is that?”
Dripping wet, Nate turned around. “OK, you’ve got my attention. What can you tell me about the moths?”
She immediately sprayed his front, and said, “There, that was a courtesy. If someone sprayed me, after all, I wouldn’t want just one side.”
“Thanks,” said Nate, as dryly as possible for being so wet.
Dr. A scooped her mantis from where it was crawling across her breast. “Here, hold Jerome a minute, and listen. This is what you need to know…”