The thin man named Nel rested his hand down on the kitchen counter. A ladybug, then another, walked onto his fingers. He lifted his hand, holding it up to his eyes, watching the bugs stroll between his fingers and over his veins like bridges.
‘The relationship we share is symbiotic,’ Nel told the witch, speaking of the ladybugs.
Sitting at the kitchen table, her lavender dress laying loosely upon her average frame, the woman wondered at Nel’s words. She asked, ‘How?’
The thin man gazed away from the ladybugs exploring his hand, looking to the pale witch. ‘Well, look around!’ He waved his hands about, careful not to drop the ladybugs. ‘Clearly there is symbiosis here!’
The walls moved with the skittering of ladybugs, a red mass, dotted with black pinpoints. As did the floors, the bugs’ movement as the ocean lapping at the beach, a sort of red tide.
The only light came from the window over the sink.
The witch-woman peered down at her bare feet. The ladybugs moved around her, despite their massive numbers. Never stepping on her toes, seemingly avoiding her. She looked to where the thin man stood. There, as well, the ladybugs moved around Nel’s shoes.
‘Only when you invite them will they climb upon you,’ he informed the lavender witch, seeing her eyes explore his home.
The woman wondered, once more. ‘Why?’ she asked. ‘How is it you live together?’
Nel turned his hand over. The ladybugs walked up and over the edge, and soon moved along the lines of his palm. ‘I share my home with the ladies.’ His eyes glanced to the walls and back to the witch in her seat. ‘They replenish me.’
The witch reached down, her hand touching the floor. She invited a runt of a ladybug onto her fingers. It climbed atop her violet nail, moving speedily up her ring finger. The lavender woman smiled at the thin man.
Nel smiled back, bringing his hand to his lips. He enclosed the first ladybug within his mouth, breathed in deeply, and swallowed.
The witch stared, disgusted, and it showed clearly on her face.
‘Symbiotic,’ said the thin man. ‘It is how we –‘ He sucked in the other ladybug, eating it, thusly. ‘ – live.’
The woman in lavender stood. ‘It’s unconscionable. Taking the life of a ladybug.’ She enclosed the impish ladybug in her hand, meaning to keep it safe.
Nel shrugged. ‘It’s how the ladies and I live. It’s unpoetic, and it just is. We need each other.’ He turned to the windowsill behind him, scooped up a handful of ladybugs.
The witch put her hand to her mouth, horrified as the man dropped the red bugs down his gullet, swallowing like a great pelican.
She stepped carefully through the kitchen, making for the front door, certain she could not watch another moment of this feeding.
‘One second!’ hollered Nel, chasing after his guest.
The lavender witch stopped just before setting foot out of the door. She turned to see the thin man holding out his hand.
‘I must insist. The ladybug. Please.’ His fingers twitched. ‘The lady’s home is here.’
Down at her closed fists the woman glanced. And back and forth she then looked. She held her hands out, opening them. No ladybug.
Nel nodded, firmly. ‘Right, then.’ He looked back into his house. The ladybugs came cluttering up behind him, dancing and swirling around his feet. ‘Well, off with you, now. You’ll never understand how we live.’
The witch whipped her dress behind her, and trotted down the man’s steps, rushing away. And into the woods, which would give way to a grassy beach.
Under the green of the forest, far from the thin man named Nel’s home, the woman rested on a fallen tree. She opened her mouth, and out walked the tiny ladybug, slowly along her bottom lip. The witch blew softly and the bug opened its wings. It took flight, up, up into the pines, and the lavender woman soon lost sight of the ladybug, glad to see it go.