It was Christmas day, so Joan was bored. Her children had already opened their presents. Her daughter had cried because she hadn’t gotten enough to open, although she had specifically said that all she wanted was cash. Her son was grateful for the socks. Her husband had frowned at his presents and announced that he would return them all, which happened every year, but this time Joan had thought she really got it right with the blue chalk bag for climbing. Apparently, he didn’t like the zippers.
Then there was a late breakfast and nothing to do but look online for apartments to rent.
Not that Joan was going to move out; it was just something she liked to fantasize about: living alone in a cozy apartment, writing poetry and taking walks, bringing her lover to her space with art on the walls and warm feather blankets. In any case, she lived in Boulder, so whenever she looked for a place, her dreams were shattered. The apartments were either ridiculously expensive or they insisted on “no pets, no drugs.” Life would be hard enough without her pets, which she enjoyed because of their general furriness and inability to talk back at her. She loved her dog and cat and maybe could give them up, but no drugs? They lived in Colorado, for God’s sake, where marijuana was legal! So finding a dream apartment became a hopeless task.
After opening presents and discarding all the wrapper covered in reindeer and snowmen, they decided to watch an episode of Outlander, about a woman who travels through time to 18th century Scotland, falls in love with a handsome Scot, tries to change history by influencing a war, heals the wounded, gives birth to a stillborn baby, and loves and mourns and fights for their lives with passion. She loved the show. It was just like her life. But the show’s season was over, and they would have to pay for another season, so they decided to watch a documentary about caves instead.
Jeremy, her son, said, “This is so cool, don’t you think?”
Joan watched in awe and disgust as a glowworm in a cave in Borneo excreted mucous that descended in a thin line to catch insects. When the glowworm caught the bug, it sucked up all the mucous until it reached the bug and consumed it, wings and all.
“How can it even have room to eat the bug if it has to eat all the mucous?” Joan rhetorically asked. She did not enjoy dealing with her own spit and mucous, an often inconvenient excretion of her body that poured out of her when she was cold, and worms just grossed her out in general with their thin long digestive tracts–apparently full of mucous–and their slimy, pink-white bodies.
“Look at the lit-up lines dangling from the ceiling though, Mom, isn’t it beautiful?”
Joan didn’t want to invalidate her son’s experience. “I guess.” They kind of looked like Christmas lights, and since it was Christmas, she should be positive. Then she couldn’t resist. “But Jeremy, it’s a glowing line of mucous!”
“Oh, Mom, you’re just being all cooty-like.”
Then they showed a section about a kind of swallow that lives in those abominable caves. The swallow builds a nest out of its spit. It can take up to thirty days to create their special white nests that sit on the cave’s black wall. Unfortunately, the nests are in demand for an ingredient in bird’s nest soup in Asia, so people descend into the caves with ladders made of rope and vines and steal them.
“More spit! I guess part of survival in living in a cave is to be creative with your spit,” exclaimed Joan.
“Mom, Jeez.” Jeremy sighed. “Dad, maybe we could go spelunking one day.”
Her husband grunted.
When they showed a section about swarms of cockroaches that lived on gigantic piles of bat shit and consumed both the feces and the poor occasional bat that fell on the pile, voraciously eating it alive to the skeleton, Joan couldn’t take it anymore. She got up, looked at the clock, decided it was too early for a martini, and made herself some green tea.
That evening she thought of the poor swallows. They spent so much time making their nests, gave of their body to build a home and a cradle for their children. Then it was all taken from them in one day. She thought about starting over, how she too was always starting over. Every day she accomplished and failed at the same tasks—writing, teaching, cooking, cleaning, shopping. At night her cave grew dark, and she erased the day in sleep and dreams, and the next day she did it again, like the birds with their saliva after their homes became someone’s dinner.
But it was different, because she had her home. She would be like Batwoman and fight for the swallows, fight for her cave, defend the weak and live in her dark stone home that survived even when it defied any light. She would savor it all–even her precious spit.
But she still liked to look at apartments for rent. Just because.