Novel excerpt: Little Magpie

[img_assist|nid=7435|title=Nature/Invention-Intrusion by Marge Feldman© 2011|desc=|link=node|align=right|width=250|height=202]I find Maggie squatting on the kitchen floor beside the door to the garage. My eyes always go to her belly first, as if she has swallowed a globe. There’ve been two miscarriages, both early. Never have we gotten so far. Then I notice she’s picking something off the floor, putting it in her mouth. Get closer. They surround her. Hundreds of them. Ants. Maggie is eating ants.

A lifetime of sitcoms has prepared me for cravings—pickles, hamburgers. Running out in the middle of the night for a pint of Haagen Daz Vanilla Swiss Almond. Strawberry Frosted Pop Tarts. But insects?

Maggie looks up. She removes the finger from her mouth. “Must be the baby,” she says. Her hand follows the curve of her belly. “She wants bugs.”

“Really? They sell crickets at pet stores. I could get some.”

“Crickets?” She purses her lips, gazes up to the ceiling. Then nods. “Okay.”

The girl at Pet World brings them to me in a clear plastic bag, twist-tied at the top. She holds them up, dozens of them, hopping against the plastic. “You’ll have one happy lizard,” she says.“Yeah. That’s all one can really hope for in life, isn’t it? A happy lizard.”

She nods, a sign that we share some deep understanding. She tells me she threw in an extra dozen, then winks.

In high school Maggie wrote a piece about the opening of fishing season and the senseless slaughter of the earthworm. In graphic detail, she captured the wriggling on the hook, the oozing entrails, the practice of cutting them in half to double the bait. Together we collected money, went to bait shops, released nightcrawlers, earthworms, grubs back to the wild of gardens.

At home, in the garage, I hold up the bag. A cricket stares back; all eyes, bugs are. Crunchy. Gooey in the middle. Like pretzel snacks with cheese in the center.

 I picture the bugs skittering down her throat, at the bottom, a baby open-mouthed—a miracle baby. Dozens of times, the brown bleeding began, and we were told she was lost, only to see her on the ultrasound, hear the beat-beat of her heart. How useless and helpless I feel during these races to the hospital, as if there’s nothing I can do for them.

I carry the bag of crickets upstairs, find Maggie lying among the dozen flower pillows, her face the center, the cushions as petals. I swish the bag back and forth, imagine her sitting up, tossing cricket after cricket into her mouth, as if chomping on popcorn.

But instead the crickets bring tears. “What?” I say. “Beetles? You want beetles?”

The crickets pop in my ear.

“I’m bleeding again,” she says. “Heavier this time.”

A blur—the car ride, Maggie holding the bag of crickets, tapping against the plastic, then opening it, taking one out. “She’s still hungry.”

The breakneck drive, the crickets, the hospital waiting for our arrival—it’s all part of the blur, something to hide the truth from both of us, that nothing matters except the desires of Fate for our baby to live. But that’s nothing to tell Maggie.

“It has to be a good sign,” I tell her.

“It does, doesn’t it?” Maggie answers, then opens her mouth and feeds our baby’s desire.

Randall Brown directs and teaches at Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. His work has been published and anthologized widely. He is the founder of Matter Press, its online magazine The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and the blog FlashFiction.Net. “Little Magpie” appears in his flash fiction collection Mad to Live.

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