Lalo looked at his former teacher incredulously. “Admit? What is it you don’t want to admit?”
Dr. A seemed like she was trying to answer, but her own sobbing impeded her.
“It’s alright, Dr. A.,” said Nate. “Nobody was trying to make you upset.”
“It’s just that…” she managed to get out, “it’s just that I get so distracted.”
Nate noticed that Lalo looked away in disgust. Beverly, on the other hand, sat down next to Dr. A and held her hand. The older woman turned to her and smiled.
“I must have… I must have known Jerome’s a she, and then got distracted, or forgot, or something,” Dr. A went on. “Sometimes I feel that if I don’t say something out loud to myself many times, I will forget it.” She paused and smiled, but then more tears came as she added, “But then again I might be repeating to myself the wrong information.” She sobbed onto Beverly’s shoulder.
At that moment they all heard a loud buzz. Then came a female voice over an intercom: “Sandra for the pickup.”
“It’s my associate,” Lalo said. “Excuse me for a few moments.” He walked over to a dolly stacked with three boxes, and then wheeled it toward the back of the office, beyond Beverly’s desk, where Nate could make out an EXIT sign.
“Beverly,” said Nate, “I know Dr. A loves tea and I bet she’d love some right about now. You brought me some milk earlier – is there a kitchenette around here somewhere?”
“Good idea,” she said, and started to stand. “I’ll go make some tea.”
“No, please,” said Nate. “Let me do it. I know how she likes it. Just point me in the right direction, and then if you could stay and chat with Dr. A, I’ll be right back.”
Beverly indicated where the kitchenette was and Nate headed off. He found a mug, a microwave, and some tea bags, and set a mug of water in the microwave for two minutes. Then he left the kitchenette, stealthily moving toward the back door where he had seen Lalo go. He walked slowly, quietly, because he didn’t want to be heard, but also because it was dark in the back office and he didn’t want to bump into anything. As he stepped further and further away, he heard Dr. A’s voice fade away as she talked with Beverly: “the time I got in my head the wrong flashing sequence”…”wasn’t the firefly species we were studying” … “ruined the entire experiment”… “foundation refused to allow any more grants…”
|Fireflies – long exposure photo. Source.|
Nate stopped and held his breath. He was just around the corner from Lalo, and could only hear Lalo’s side of a conversation.
“Completely out of stock?”
“But these boxes are all I have left for now.”
“Wait! How are the marks?”
“C’mon, lift your blouse already, Let me see.”
“Ooh, my. Se ve muy mal. Did you try aloe vera?”
“This is not good news at all. I’m going to have to make some adjustments.”
Suddenly the microwave timer beeped…an excruciating five times. Nate ducked quickly behind a desk. Lalo had stopped talking, but he hadn’t moved. In the silence, Nate heard Beverly and Dr. A laughing from the other end of the office, which made him feel a bit better.
He started crawling behind desks to the narrow aisle leading back to the kitchenette, but froze when he heard Lalo again.
“Claro. Tienes razón. We won’t be able to meet the demand. But the good news is, that means we can keep raising the price.”
“OK, hasta mañana. Cuídate.”
Nate heard the door close. He quickly stuffed himself underneath the nearest desk.
Footsteps approached and stopped right in front of him. Nate could see Lalo’s bare feet and calves millimeters from his face. He held his breath.
Lalo turned and walked back to the door. Nate heard the door open.
“Sandra! Cuando llegues a casa, ¡báñate! But don’t use harsh or heavily scented soap.”
“Sí, eso. Precisamente. OK. ¡Beso!“
Nate’s Spanish wasn’t nearly as good as his French, which was abysmal. But he at least understood that the conversation was coming to an end. He rolled out from under the desk, hurled himself down the aisle toward the kitchenette – half crawling, half hopping – and threw himself around the corner to the microwave as quietly as he could.
Five seconds later, Lalo strolled back past the kitchenette. He saw Nate dunking a teabag in the mug and asked, “Thirsty?”
“No – this is for Dr. A.”
“Oh.” Lalo paused. “She’s really losing it, isn’t she?”
Nate raised an eyebrow. “She tries to keep it together. I mean, wasn’t she a good teacher? She had her material down, right?”
“She was an excellent teacher. Truly outstanding.”
Nate stirred the teabag around. “She remembers more than you think. Sometimes she’s really lucid.” Nate looked directly at Lalo. “She remembers a whole lot about you.”
“Interesting,” Lalo said, and went on to the front of the office where the two women were still sitting.
Soon Nate had joined them, carrying the mug of tea. “Chamomile,” he announced.
“Oh, thank you, Nate. Very kind,” said Dr A. She took a sip and continued, “Beverly and I have come up with a new name for this mantis.”
“Let me guess,” said Nate. “Jezebel.”
“No,” laughed Beverly,
“Manty the Mantis,” said Lalo.
“Oh goodness, no,” said Dr. A. “It’s Ladybug. That way I’ll remember she’s a she.”
“Ladybug the Mantis?” Lalo laughed.
“I was telling Dr. A,” said Beverly, “that ladybugs are like mantises because people associated both of them with prayer.”
“The mantises because of their hands, right?” Nate imitated the mantis posture.
“Their front legs, yes,” said Beverly, “and ladybugs, because Europeans prayed to the Virgin Mary to get rid of the harmful pests plaguing their crops. Then, when they saw red beetles with black spots eating the pests, they called them the ‘beetles of Our Lady.'”
|Ladybug eating aphids. Source.|
“So the name helps me associate things, and keep things straight, you see?” asked Dr. A, smiling. “But sometimes I surprise even my own self with my memory. All is not lost. Now, what was it… oh yes. I remember we are here to find out about the moths, and about Super Silk.”
“Excuse me a moment,” Beverly said, and walked briskly into the warehouse. Lalo took a step in the same direction, but was interrupted.
“Lalo, these silkworms you have all over this warehouse,” Dr. A went on,”they grow into moths, but they aren’t the kind of moths that eat clothing. The moths that have suddenly been eating people’s clothes here on St. Ethel are not the same moth species as the silkworms. What, exactly, is the connection, Lalo? And, since when have you become such an enthusiastic naturist? And, Nate, dear Nate, could you please bring some sugar?”
Lalo looked pale.
Nate smirked at him. Then he nodded at Dr. A… but the sugar could wait.