November 20, 2007 · creative

jakob

On 79th street, the American Museum of Natural History.

Glide up the grand, granite steps to the gleaming, echoing entranceway. Up and over the babbling heads of centipede families queued by terse, bristling guards feeding sacs into clicking security machines.

Through the main hall, spiderworks of old bones tower; the young gape and point and chirrup. Onward, gliding through, climbing up. The tumult fades to a keening; degrades to a faint hiss of noise. Passages, stairs, quieter. Barely any sound now, or movement.

Push through the dusty, yellow tape – CLOSED FOR REFURBISHMENT CLOSED FOR – to the sixth floor. The surfaces are dimmer here, lit only sporadically. Lamps reflect like scattered fireflies from the plaque: Entomology Department.

Take a moment to listen. No cricket song, wing whirr, scuttle click. No sound. Unless, perhaps; a distant

tick

something. Creep, now, into the chamber. Glass-front casings, restraining armies of black, spiny shapes. No other feet have disturbed the dust here in days. No hesitant fingers brushed close to the glassed-off specimens in gleeful horror.
beetle Yet beyond the swarms, in the corner, a shadow on a chair. Pale, angular, Jakob.

Oblivious, he waits. The armies are still; the wars are over. The news has not reached this far. Listen to him whisper.

Wasp, Apocrita, fly, Diptera, beetle, Coleoptera, weevil, Curculionoidea,

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Acarina. He sits, motionless but for his lips; the mandible pulse. Calm and quiet. The recitation is punctuated by something quite different, a simple phrase

There’s only so much a man can

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take. And begins again.

For Jakob, words of comfort. A healing mantra. And if not healing, then at least something other than the incendiary thing that sets his limbs itching to cast his body through the shuttered window.

You follow his gaze, now. The clock. It has an imperfection of some kind. At the forty-ninth second, the sweeping red arm catches harshly at something inside. An involuntary spasm of noise; a mechanical

tick

tic. Listen to him think, now. The next one. One more. If I hear the sound one more time, I will climb up onto this chair to the clock face and drive the bones of my fist through the plastic casing and cogs and spindles until i feel plaster on my knuckles.

Wide, staring eyes.

Each measured mark from the number 6, an increment of unease. The arm sweeps around, low. Anticipation registers. At 7, something with sharp, bristling, clicking, itching edges slides into the back of his mind. By 8, an agony of tension. Fingers twitching. An impossible wait for the

tick

before the glass bursts and all rational thought is subsumed by an apoplexy of black spiny shapes flashing on a field of white.

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