Circe’s Bicycle

by Tara Campbell

The moth came one night in October. Mallory still isn’t sure where it came from, not that it matters anymore.

That night she awoke to a fluttering in her ear. Her fingertips brushed against a tumble of wings and she jolted awake. The streetlamp shining through the window illuminated a tiny blur of grey over her bed. The moth (which had been right next to her ear, she thought with a shudder) stumbled through the air, evidently knocked out of its path by her waving hand, and landed on the hill of her husband’s knee under the blankets.

She thought about the wool suits in the closet.

Her husband snored.

Out the window you go, she thought (to the moth, not her husband), and inched her legs toward the edge of the mattress. The moth flitted back into the air. She slid out of bed and slipped into her fuzzy pink house shoes, which were a little goofy, but she wore them because her daughter Amy had picked them out. 

Mallory stepped to the window and opened it, then turned to look for the moth. It fumbled above the bed, fat and woolly, flashing grey to white to grey again as it lurched across the grid of lamplight shining through the windowpane. She crossed to the bed and swatted at the hairy insect, not wanting to actually make contact. She waved currents of air in its direction, trying to sweep the grape-sized menace out the window.

The cold floor chilled her feet through her slippers. The soles were getting thin after a few years, but she wouldn’t throw them out. They were the last present she would ever get from her daughter. The car had struck Amy on her bike a month after Mother’s Day. She was almost seven.

Mallory’s husband snored on.

She pursed her lips. None of their battles were shared. She was still trapped in the wreckage of Amy’s bicycle. It had pink tassels and a unicorn painted on the seat. She and her husband had widened their eyes at each other when their daughter had picked it out, silently asking each other, So girlie; where did she get that from? Mallory still pushed and bled against twisted metal in her sleep. Her husband slept the night through.

Mallory thought it was just her imagination when the moth grew to the size of an egg. She could almost hear the thrum of its wings from across the room. But those could only be the tricks of a tired, frustrated mind, like those nights after the funeral she thought she heard her daughter’s footsteps between her husband’s snores. Months after she stopped waking her husband to hear better, she still stayed awake to listen.

Amy had been riding just outside the house. Mallory had only turned around for a moment. She’d gone to get the wrench to take off the training wheels. Amy had finally decided she was ready to try riding without them.

Mallory stopped swinging when the moth grew as large as a grapefruit. Its fluttering wings pushed riffles of air toward her face. Her skin prickled. The insect developed black and yellow stripes, and a stinger, and an insistent buzz.

Her mouth opened, silent and frozen.

The bee—it was definitely a bee now—kept growing. Its wings thrummed. The window rattled in its frame.

She wanted to whisper to her husband, she wanted to wake him up, she wanted—

The bee, now fat as a watermelon, extended its spindly legs and picked her up. It lifted Mallory from the floor, its tiny claws hooking into her nightgown. With a thrust, it carried her toward the window. She was still too shocked to scream as it dragged her over the windowsill and launched into the night air.

The bee latched on to her nightgown with all six legs, suspending her parallel to the ground like a hang glider. Mallory wriggled in the giant insect’s grip until it let go with one leg, swinging her off-kilter over rooftops and trees. She held still, and the bee grabbed the loose end of her nightgown once again.

The bee flew across the neighborhood and into the fields. Mallory dangled below it, shuddering in the cold night air and shielding her eyes from the rush of wind in her face. Moon-silvered grass and trees flowed below her. Hills rolled up toward her and down again, until they finally reached the coast.

They flew out over the ocean. Mallory looked down over chopping peaks of white froth against inky black water. She felt a jolt and her stomach flew toward her mouth. She was falling. The bee had released her, all six legs at once.

Mallory slammed through the surface of the water, a rag doll thrown through a plate glass window. Icy seawater needled her skin; her nose and mouth filled with brine. She flailed against the waves and swallowed another mouthful of ocean. Her stiff limbs chopped through the surf, which gathered itself and pushed back. She couldn’t stay up.

Later (she would never know how long it had actually been) Mallory awoke to something prodding her shoulder. She didn’t want to open her eyes. She was warm and dry, and was lying on her side in what felt like sand. Something shook her shoulder again.

A little girl’s voice whispered, “Momma?”

Mallory’s eyes sprang open to reveal a blurry, sideways image of a little girl squatting next to her. Recognition shot through her body like lightning. She raised her head and blinked.

Amy?

“Uh-oh, Momma,” laughed Amy. “Watch out for your horn, you almost got me.”

Amy? Baby? Mallory struggled to sit up, her four hoofs pawing at sand and air. Her daughter backed away from the flying sand, giggling and brushing off her dress.

Mallory looked down at her body. She was a white horse.

Amy reached toward her again. Mallory’s eyes followed her daughter’s fingers to the tip of the golden, spiraled horn sprouting from Mallory’s forehead. Her vision blurred, this time with tears, as her daughter drew closer. She closed her eyes as Amy carefully stroked her cheeks. Her heart swelled when Amy slid her arms around her neck. She breathed in her baby’s sweet warmth, turning her long neck to pull her daughter even closer.

“I missed you, Momma.”

Mallory tried to answer, but her reply came out as a whinny. She grunted a couple of times in frustration.

“It doesn’t matter, Momma. I still love you.”

Mallory nuzzled her daughter.

# # #

She and Amy explore the island every day now. They eat juicy red fruits and coconuts that Mallory cracks open with her hoofs. She speared a fish with her horn once, but Amy was too squeamish about gutting it, so that was that.

Mallory has lost track of how long she’s been gone. Her husband must have filed a missing person report; there must still be a search. Once in a while they hear an airplane and run, giggling and neighing, into the trees to hide until it passes.

Eventually, she knows, there will be a funeral. Her husband will move on. The moth will return to his bedroom in the form of another woman. Perhaps the moth will lay her eggs next summer and bear him dozens of beautiful children. That wouldn’t bother Mallory; she’s with Amy. She’ll see her grow up. Or maybe, on this island, she won’t grow up at all.

Mallory can hardly wait to find out.

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2 Responses to “Circe’s Bicycle”

  1. Alejandro Redenz Says:

    I am always thought about this, thanks for putting up.

  2. eatstuf Says:

    Announcing discussion forum, taking place Labor Day Monday (US)–
    AFTER winner and runner-ups are announced–
    only on defenestrationism.net .

    With such nuanced and diverse stories this year, such as Circe’s Bicycle, and more informed, intelligent comments than any prior contest, we will offer a forum for discussion after the big announcement.

    !Surf on through and join us!
    and remember us next time.

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