The Midnight Moth by Josh Sippie
I stood tottering on my front step, staring into the screen door. June bugs, ladybugs, mosquitos, moths, something that looked like a small green cricket. I installed this screen door myself, with the express purpose of saving lives. There was a tedium to coming home late, drunk, opening the front door, and letting in the flood of bugs that had congregated by my porchlight. In my late-night stupor, the last thing I want to do is save the lives of bugs that my morale compass wouldn’t allow me to kill or leave to their own fate.
The bugs circled over my head like vultures as I snuck through them, ignoring the wings and feelers as I pushed the front door just enough to slip through the crack. Nothing sounded better than the fetal position. But something else snuck in with me—a grey specter, erratically flying out of the mass, almost like a glitch in the system. It turned the corner down the hall towards my kitchen and I obediently followed. Perhaps it would take me to a burning bush, where God would finally speak to me, drop some truth that I needed to hear from a disembodied voice that didn’t sound like my father or Tony Robbins.
I forgot what I was doing when I made it to the kitchen, but used my momentum to take me into the bedroom, where I fell on my back and stared at the ceiling. The grey specter had anticipated this, fluttering around the bright light of my ceiling fan and revealing itself as a moth. I was now responsible for this moth’s life. A life that I was also subtly terrified of because they eat clothes and I like my clothes. It’s a symbiotic relationship that I never asked for.
I did what I knew I had to do. I grabbed an empty cup and a sturdy piece of paper and turned off my ceiling light and turned on my desk light. The moth obeyed, fluttering towards my desk, right next to the Dave Barry calendar that was two months behind. I caught the moth in the glass and covered the bottom with paper. After opening the window, I let him out into the night.
I’d begun to see the real problem in coming home late, drunk. Apparently, I hadn’t installed the screen door properly, because the bugs had found their way in again, a cloud of fragile wings and legs. I wondered if this was God speaking to me, taking advantage of my oversensitive emotionality by trapping bugs that I’d never kill in the purgatory between the apparent hell of my home and the apparent heaven of the great outdoors. Or vice versa. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Gritting my teeth through the drunken malaise, I turned my vision to my feet and slipped through the front door. I focused on making it to my bed and shutting out the guilt of worrying if that June bug had a spouse and kids waiting for him to get home from his adventure that now left him trapped in my living room lampshade.
As soon as I shut my bedroom door, it found me again—triangular, gray, black stripes across the wings. Out of curiosity I discovered that it was a forage looper moth. I unclenched my teeth. He had a personality now, an identity, a name. My heart panged looking at him, sobering my foggy eyes enough for me to construe sadness in his velvety wings.
I fell asleep with the lights on, mesmerized by the way he flew. Like fire, there was no rhythm or pattern to his flickering flight. It was just random, completely unhinged, but so determined. There was something admirable about a creature that seems to have no idea what it’s doing but actually does. The great middle finger of nature towards humanity. Nature always knows what it’s doing. Humanity starts drinking to hide from answering questions and drives home drunk.
I’d save him in the morning.
I began to look forward to coming home late, seeing the moth, observing its flight form, drunkenly tracing its rhythm in a desperate attempt to find a pattern. But the more I saw the moth, the more he slowed. The more he became accustomed to the room. The more it failed to intrigue him. He stopped fluttering. He stopped caring. He wouldn’t even sit on the ceiling anymore, he’d just sit on the windowsill, looking out on the night he left behind night after night, putting himself at my mercy. I’d catch him as always, let him out into the night air, and he’d fly away towards the moon.
I wanted better for him. But I didn’t know how to give it. He always came back, after all, stumbling into the front door, into the bedroom, lying lethargically in idle contemplation. The kind of rigamarole that monotony is born from. As I watched him, his antennae flickering in what I took as slight recognition that he had seen me before, I opened the window inches from his gaze. He didn’t frighten and I didn’t catch him. With the slightest hesitation, he flew off on his own, out in to the moonlit night.
Josh Sippie lives in New York City, where he is the Director of Publishing Guidance at Gotham Writers and an Associate Editor of Uncharted Mag. His work has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Hobart, Stone of Madness, Bear Creek Gazette and more. When not writing, he can be found wondering why he isn't writing. More at joshsippie.com or Twitter @sippenator101.