“Lalo! So good to see you! That smells delicious,” said Dr. A.
“Miranda, such a nice surprise. Would you like to try some? Oh! But where are my manners? Please, go ahead and remove your clothes. There’s a rack right behind you to hang whatever you want to hang.”
“Thank you,” said Dr. A, who was out of her sundress and sandals before Nate could even finish untying his shoes. Eventually Nate finished undressing, grabbed Jerome’s carry case, and caught up to the other two, already approaching the office.
“You mean, it’s not ant eggs I smell?”
“No, Miranda – these are Oaxacan grasshopper tacos. Also part of the ancient culinary tradition of my homeland.”
Dr. A took a bite. “Delicious! Here, Nate, try one!”
Nate hesitated but took a bite. He chewed and crunched his mouthful before offering a verdict: “Not bad.”
|Tacos de chapulín (grasshopper). Source.|
“But really you’ve got to try them with this salsa,” said Lalo. “This is homemade, with ingredients from my own garden.”
Lalo ladled the smooth, orange-colored sauce over the tacos. As Nate wondered if they had come just to eat Mexican cuisine, or if they were actually going to get some answers to their questions about the moths, he took another bite from his taco. Instantly he felt his tongue and throat start to burn. His eyes were watering. His face and all of his upper chest turned bright red.
Gasping, he turned to Dr. A, who was eating her taco without any noticeable effects. She saw him with his mouth open.
“Oh, my! Nate, you’re not used to habaneros, are you?”
“Beverly!” Lalo called out to the back of the office. “Can you bring some milk, please?”
Through his smarting eyes, Nate saw a young woman, nude, stand from her desk some ten meters away from them. “I’m coming!” she called back.
In a minute Nate was drinking milk, sitting on a rag draped over a metal folding chair, listening to Beverly tell him about cultivating habaneros and jalapeños. He couldn’t believe how powerful the effect of the chili was. He literally had to concentrate through the burning sensation and through the ringing in his ears, to listen to what Beverly was saying – something about capsaicin, and habaneros being really high on the Scoville scale. When his eyes and nose finally stopped watering, he realized that Dr. A and Lalo were nowhere in sight, and Beverly, who must have been a twenty-something like him, had the same eye color, hair color, and general body type as his ex-girlfriend. He was quickly and involuntarily attracted to her.
“That’s a nice mantis you’ve got there,” said Beverly, looking down at the carry case. “Is she yours?”
“Dr. A’s. But…she calls him Jerome, as in, like, he’s a he.”
“That’s odd. I mean, she is definitely a female mantis. You can tell by the size… Your friend Miranda…I mean, Dr. A – isn’t she Lalo’s former teacher?”
Nate nodded, feeling a little confused about matters of mantis gender and entomological authority,
“That makes her like my grandma-teacher or something,” said Beverly, “since Lalo is my teacher.”
Ah, thought Nate, assuming his best poker face. “What are you guys working on?”
“Well… silk. As you can see, right? Silkworms everywhere, nothing but silkworms all over this warehouse.”
Nate set down the empty milk glass, grabbed a tissue, and blew his nose loudly. “Are you guys the makers of Super Silk?”
Beverly coughed. “Suppliers. We’re the [another cough] suppliers.”
“So, uh… what’s the difference between makers and suppliers, in this case?”
Beverly stood up and started pacing. “Look, there are certain trade secrets that…I’m really not at liberty to discuss. I can tell you that my work involves testing specific silk fiber qualities. In fact that’s why we keep the lab clothesfree, so there’s no chance of any fiber contamination in the samples. Quality control, you know.” She smiled broadly. “That’s all.”
Nate stood too, stretching on his toes unconsciously the way he did when he felt frustrated by Dr. A’s piggyback questions and evasive answers. He looked Beverly in the eyes. “So was that easy for you to get used to? No clothes?”
“I mean, at first I was uncomfortable. It’s just… not normal, right? But then I really started to like it. And I got used to no one being around, just me and Lalo, and sometimes Sandra, another associate…although she always keeps her clothes on. Anyway, now, I love it, and it seems completely normal. I’m glad to get out of my clothes. I think it’s really awesome to get to work in the nude.”
“Interesting. Yeah, I wish I could work nude too, now that I think about it. But I can’t, so I go out to Noonay Noo. And that’s how I know Dr. A.”
“Oh, I’ve heard about that place. I want to go sometime!”
Nate smiled enthusiastically, then got serious. “So, if you don’t miss clothes, you don’t know anything about this moth invasion, do you?”
She smiled but looked away. “No clothes, no moths, right? I practically live here 24/7, naked, naked, naked all the time, no need for clothes when you’re naked all the time. Naked, naked, naked.”
Nate cleared his throat. “I guess I should say thanks for the milk and tissues. And, uh… also, thanks for showing me how you look when you’re telling the truth, and how you look when you’re lying.”
Beverly’s face flushed slightly. “What do you mean about how I look? I don’t have any body issues…are you trying to be cute?”
“Not at all. What I mean is, I believe you that habaneros are high on the Scoville picante scale. I even believe you that Jerome’s a female, even though that just makes no sense. But I don’t believe what you’re telling me about the silk and the moths.”
She looked down. “Listen, I…”
“Have you recovered, Nate?” It was Dr. A, calling out as she jaunted back into the office with Lalo. “I’ve just had a tour of the facilities. This is a magnificent silk production facility, with an innovative diet for the silkworms. I’m so proud, Lalo. You’ve always been so good at applying theory to practice.”
Nate looked from Beverly with her mouth open in mid-sentence, to Jerome perched on the tipped-over Buddha, to Lalo with a large smile and eyebrows raised, and at last settled his eyes on Dr. A, who was bent over looking into the carry case. “I’m feeling better, thanks, Dr. A. Hey, quick: isn’t tomorrow Jerome’s saint’s day?”
“Hmmmm? Oh, yes, but he’s gone all agnostic, remember? Just look at him, prancing about on the fallen idol.”
Nate bit his lip. “Beverly says Jerome’s a girl. I mean, a female.”
Beverly looked away, but Lalo squatted down and peered into the carry case. “Indeed, Miranda. This is a female mantis. You yourself taught me how to tell the difference! Why would you say it’s a male? That seems as silly as debating whether this insect is agnostic or Catholic or Buddhist.”
Dr. A sat down heavily, her eyes starting to leak. “I just don’t want to admit it.”
No one knew what to say. In the six years he had known Dr. A, Nate had never seen her cry.
|Mantis abdominal segmentation. Source.|