Monday, 28 July 2014

Two Moths

We're with the superheroes at the swimming pool. It's the first time we've been in ages.

In the water are the same assortment that you'd get anywhere on a summer Sunday afternoon. Mums and Dads splash around with little ones in the shallow end, whilst teenagers with buzz cuts and quiffs preen themselves and dive off the side, playing up to a group of girls giggling in the seating area behind the glass wall. A sixth-form couple wrap themselves around each other by the rope separating the general swimming area from the lap lane. On the far side, a lifeguard in yellow tee-shirt and baggy shorts barks commands to a group of kids dressed in wet clothes. He throws things in the water and gets one of them at a time to dive in and retrieve them.

In the deep end, I hang onto the side, under strict instructions from my daughter.

'Daddy,' yells Whirlwind. 'Daddy, watch me!'

She pushes off and swims five or six strokes front crawl before disappearing from sight. After an age, she reappears, surfacing like a performing dolphin at a seaside show. Eyes hidden by mirrored goggles, her smile's huge.

I give her the thumbs up. 'That was ace!' I tell her.

'Much better, Ellie,' her mum says. 'Well done!'

Whirlwind smiles even wider, before turning and splashing towards the other end of the pool in search of her big brother.

I rest my back against the edge of the pool and, elbows bent in front of me, grab hold of the rim that runs round its perimetre. Legs straight, but still a way from the bottom, and chin resting in the water, I close my eyes.

I'm unsure of the cause of the tickling sensation against my right ear - there, gone, in an instant - but when I open my eyes, it all becomes clear.

'Can you reach it?' an old lady in a one piece swimsuit asks me.

Looking forward, I see it. A moth on the surface of the water. I watch as it backstrokes crazily, spinning in a wide arc, just out of reach. Its limbs move in staccato, panic-stricken bursts while its wings remain useless, weighted down with moisture.

By some miracle its course of movement brings it straight back to the old lady beside me. She reaches out with a spread palm and scoops the moth up.

And then it flies. Just like that.

We're both as surprised as one another. The old lady laughs in delight. 'Oh my,' she says, her voice a song. 'Fly away, little one, fly away!'

I rest my head back against the rim of the pool as the moth soars in glorious spirals towards the leisure centre roof.

                 *                *                *                *                *                *                *

It's not even dark when I decide to go to bed. But I'm tired and an early night will do me good.

The bathroom light's been left on. Attracted by the brightness, a couple of flying insects have got in through the not-quite-closed window and are flying laps round the bare bulb.

As I brush my teeth, I can't help but notice the merest flicker of movement somewhere else. There, resting on the inside of the toilet bowl, of all places, is a tiny moth. I watch it for a while, but decide to leave it where it is.

Back in the bedroom. I lay for a while, finishing Scott Jurek's book, until my eyelids are heavy.

When I return to the bathroom for a good-night piss, I'm surprised to see the moth again. Drowning in the water inside the toilet bowl, it's awkward, hurried movements betray its fear. Try as it will, it just can't get out.

There was a time when I'd just pull the chain, flush this little life away, but not tonight. I think of this afternoon, of that beautiful creature heading for the swimming pool roof, flying free.

There's an unopened box of toothpaste on the window ledge. I tear off one of the ends and use it to gently lift the moth from the water. Then, opening the bathroom window a little wider, I place it on the outside window sill.

I hear that old lady's laugh of delight. I hear her sing-song voice.

'Fly away, little one, fly away!' I whisper.

I watch as the moth tries to flutter its wings. Tries to escape.

I watch as the once-vigorous movements grow slower and more laboured.

How much of this movement is just instinct? I wonder, Does this little creature know it's dying?

I watch until it's dark outside, the moth mustering just the occasional half-hearted flurry of its wings and legs, until, eventually, it's quite still.

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