Moth Man Comes Home
Flint had arrived Wednesday. He was supposed to have had the entire week off; he asked for it in advance. But the learning center was understaffed that week, and someone needed to answer the office phone, so he had offered himself as the sacrifice. He didn’t really mind staying an extra day. He wasn’t in a hurry to get home, but he bitched about it to the other graduate students when they went out for drinks the week before. As soon as his shift ended that Monday, he hopped into his 1987 Volkswagen Cabriolet, filled it up with gas, and made the 35-hour drive from Portland, Oregon to West Virginia.
It had been five months since Flint left Mason County for Reed College. His mother had begged him to continue his education somewhere closer. Marshall University has a great English program, she told him as he was moving out of their home. You could stay here and continue the family business. But there was no way in hell that he was staying in bum-fuck, middle of nowhere West Virginia for another three years. No respectable poet ever came out of a public university that specialized in plant food, and he wasn’t about to be the first. He hadn’t been back since leaving that summer and hadn’t spoken to his mother since they got in a fight over his new girlfriend a month after he left. The only reason he was going back now was because he’d promised his little sister that he’d come back for Thanksgiving, but he wasn’t even excited to see her.
He pulled into the parking lot of Krodel Park at 9:45 pm. For the past day and a half, he had felt as if his existence was only defined by the occasional stop at a dimly lit gas station and the seemingly endless pile of Dorito bags that plagued his car’s backseat. While he was thankful that he had finally finished his journey, Flint couldn’t help but be upset that he had actually reached his destination. He was hoping that the park would be empty since hanging out in a forest in the middle of the night was widely considered to be dangerous, but he quickly realized that he had underestimated the stupidity of the entire redneck population. Cameras started flashing as soon as he stepped out of the car. He stuck up both of his middle fingers, holding them like shields as he passed through the park’s picnic area, trying desperately to avoid drunken screams and flying rocks. He held that position until he managed to disappear into the forest path. Even though he hadn’t been gone for long, he still had trouble finding his old home. It took him about an hour to get to it, but as soon as he spotted the cave he felt as if a 20-pound dumbbell had materialized in his stomach.
As he walked through the geodesic halls to get to his old room, he became uneasy with the suspicious lack of talking from within. He assumed that his extended family hadn’t arrived yet, and he knew that his sister wouldn’t be in until early Thursday morning, so that meant that he was going to have to deal with his mother by himself. She would be pleased. He wasn’t.
The smell of burnt polyester and fading primrose wafted through the kitchen as Flint attempted to maneuver into the adjoining hall without being seen. He had managed to walk five paces in an uncomfortable crouched position while poorly shielding himself behind the kitchen’s island before being interrupted by the most artificial cough he had ever heard.
“I see that you’re still wearing your food,” called a voice from the other side of the red maple table.
“I’m sorry that I can’t walk around campus naked,” said Flint as he arose from his hiding spot. He was expecting a dramatic face-to-face confrontation with his mother when he arrived but was slightly disappointed—less so than his disappointment at coming to the cave—to find himself staring at a pair of wheat- and russet-colored striped wings as their owner hovered over a pot on the stove. “It’s nice to see you,” Flint added in a way that could be interpreted as nothing but fake sincerity.
“Of course, it is. That’s why you’re sneaking around the kitchen like Matt Damon in Mission Impossible instead of saying ‘hello’ to your mother.” The husky voice that came from the back of the wings did its best to mimic Flint’s tone, but Flint knew that his mother was most likely more concerned with the interruption of her cooking than she was about being ignored. The creature stirred the contents in the pot, and Flint made a note that she still hadn’t looked away from her cooking.
“Tom Cruise, Mom.”
“Excuse me?” The spoon stopped moving in the pot.
“Tom Cruise is in Mission Impossible. Matt Damon is the Bourne guy.”
His mother gave a grunt of indifference and shifted her antennae to the back of her head, a gesture that Flint understood to mean that the conversation had ended. Flint let out the most obnoxious sigh that he could muster and left the kitchen. He made a point to shuffle his wings loudly as he left the room.
As he walked through the limestone halls of the cave, Flint noticed that his sister had finally gotten around to hanging pictures on their wall. Captured memories in unfortunate picture frames lived amongst the stalactites and occasional arthropod in a weird display of a fucked-up harmony that he thought was extremely on-brand for his family. If anyone—when people actually gave a shit about him being something other than a giant moth—ever asked him to give a visual representation of his life, he would just take them to that hall and point to the picture of him receiving his bachelor’s degree with the family of centipedes crawling over the glass. He chuckled to himself and continued to fantasize about future interview questions, his antennae slightly rising up at the thought.
“I better not catch you wearing those shoes in my house. I just finished mopping the floors before you got here.”
“It’s a cave, Mom,” yelled Flint as he went back to scanning over the photographs.
“A cave that people live in…and that I mopped. If I catch you wearing shoes in my home, there’s going to be a problem.”
“Maybe you should focus more on the fact that five different species of spiders have also claimed this place as their home.” As Flint said this, he noticed a picture near the kitchen door that he had overlooked. He snatched it from the wall and marched back to the kitchen then waved it in the air as he walked back to his parent. “Why is there a picture of Luna on our wall?”
“I always liked Luna.” His mother stopped tending to her pot on the stove and turned to face Flint, channeling the same false pleasantness that they both had used only moments before. “She was fun.”
“We broke up eight months ago.”
“She’s a nice girl.”
“I just don’t understand why you can’t accept that I’m dating Emily. We’ve been together longer than Luna and I ever were at this point. I don’t get why you can’t just let it go.” Flint’s antennae were lowered against his head at this point. His mother lived for moments like these, but he told himself that he wasn’t going to give in to her.
“She’s a human, Flint. You are a moth,” His mother began to brandish her spoon as she said this, making sure to milk the scene for all it was worth. “I don’t even know what you think you’re going to do with that. You can’t have kids with her, you probably won’t be able to get married, and I don’t even think that your relationship is legal. What does this girl even eat? Kale? How are you going to bring this girl home to meet your grandmother if she can’t even eat my rayon casserole?”
“It’s not even a big deal. There’s no law in Oregon that states that a human anthropology student from Paris can’t date a bug-monster from Mason County. Besides, I don’t even think I want kids. I’m getting a masters in poetry. I’m not going to be able to afford, like, private school and shit…and dentists.”
“Oh my god, she’s not even American.” His mother’s wings began to rapidly flutter as she began to rise from the ground. “I swear to god, Flint, I do not know who raised you.”
“Texas, Mom. She’s from Paris… Texas.”
His mother scoffed at the correction and lowered herself back to the ground. “I can’t deal with this today. Your cousins and grandmother will be here in six hours, and I have food to cook. I suggest you go tidy your room and get the blowup mattress ready before Nash gets here.”
“I can’t share my room with Nash this weekend. I have a whole bunch of shit to do for school, and I can’t have him staying up until 5am to Facetime whatever weird internet girlfriend he has this year.”
“You can share your room with Nash, and you will. Now go clean up that disgusting room, or, god help me, I will go in there and dump everything in that room myself.” Flint began to walk back down the corridor before being stopped by his mother’s voice. “And the girl that he’s seeing is Luna.”
“Glad that someone’s seeing her then. God knows I’m not.”
Of course, he wasn’t glad that Nash was seeing Luna. Flint and Luna had dated for only two months and twenty-seven days, but Flint had been convinced that they were going to get married. Luna’s family had moved to Pleasant Point from Moscow when she was seven, and she and Flint had been inseparable since. They began dating right before summer had started and broke up before Flint left. He wanted to go off and pursue his dreams of being a writer, but she was perfectly content with staying in West Virginia and scaring teenagers who just wanted to make out in the woods. The separation itself wasn’t actually that dramatic. Flint prided himself in his refusal to wallow in heartbreak, but the fact that Luna was now dating Nash, someone who Luna constantly denied cheating on him with during their short, but passionate, time together, really pissed him off.
Flint pondered all of this as he walked back down the hall to get to his room. Upon arrival to his bedroom door—a large piece of plywood covered in stickers that advertised the various bands and video games from his youth—he was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had added a doorknob and hinge. Flint wasn’t exactly sure what to do about this development; he saw no reason to add an extra dose of security to a room that no one occupied, but he was grateful for finally having the chance to dramatically slam his bedroom door as an end to whatever future argument his mother would trap him in. He smirked a bit as he felt the cold copper doorknob against his furry hands, but soon lost his smile when he turned it and saw the inside of the room.
“What the fuck is this? Is this yarn? Are you knitting now?” He glared at the neon and pastel web of material that covered the room.
“I started a few months ago. It’s supposed to make the wool more tender,” called the voice from the other side of the hall. “Just shove everything in the closet and pick up your stuff.”
Flint cursed his mother and the craft department at Hobby-Lobby under his breath and set to tidying up the room. He gathered up the yarn and the various craft supplies that littered the ground, occasionally stopping to drape a lone string of ice-blue cotton around one of his antennas. It was a trivial activity, he knew this, but seeing the pastel yarn hanging off of his body’s reflection in the mirror that sat across from his bed reminded him of a tree adorned with icicles in the winter. That image didn’t hold any relevant meaning in his life, but he was sure that he would be able to stick it in one of his poems eventually. He had finally finished removing most of the yarn from the room when he realized that the only things of his that remained in his mother’s newfound craft station were his furniture, a few stuffed animals leftover from his childhood, and the banner above his bed that his sister made when she was six that read “FLINT IS RELLY NISE.” Gone were his movie posters and cat memes, replacing them were motivational signs and pictures of various flowers. The only items left that identified the area as his room were his former belongings and an unfamiliar picture frame that sat on his bedside table. The picture inside was of Emily holding her Yorkie, and it looked as if someone had found the picture and printed it straight from her Facebook page.
“I cleaned the room,” said Flint as he walked back inside the kitchen. “I like the picture of Emily. I think I actually took that one.”
“I didn’t put it there,” quipped his mother as she began to fiddle with the oven. “Your sister did. Said that you would ‘appreciate it.’” The faux sincerity had seeped back into her voice when she quoted his sister, and Flint noticed how her wings began to stir.
“I just don’t understand why you can’t be more supportive of my choices.”
“And I don’t understand why you can’t get it into your head that you. Are. A. Moth. And yet here you are, wearing…plaid and a beanie that you probably got from Walmart, and you’re dating a human, and you’re writing poetry at some college in Portland.” She had risen in the air at this point. “I just don’t get why you’re not acting like yourself.”
“This is who I am.” Flint began to feel his stomach tighten up as a water show began behind his eyes. “I’m a broke grad student who shops at Target, loves his girlfriend, studies poetry, and doesn’t want to be known as just some moth man who lives in a cave and only goes out to scare rednecks or eat some lady’s dog.”
“I’m a moth, Flint,” screamed his mother. “Your sister’s a moth too. What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong us?”
“Look, do you know how hard it is to get people to take you seriously when you’re a six-foot-seven moth in an American Eagle sweatshirt? Do you know how hard it is to get people to talk to me? To get people to actually give two shits about my work and not the fact that I’m some weird-ass cryptid who sits in their class on Thoreau?” Tears began to stream down Flint’s face as he spoke. “I can’t even make one friend without being worried that they’re going to post my picture on their Instagram page with a caption like, ‘Ay, the mothman’s getting turnt tonight’ and then selling it to some poorly made paranormal show with shitty camera quality and having that shit spread around school.” He wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “I don’t have a problem with being a moth. I just don’t want to be treated like one.”
“Well that’s too bad, isn’t it?” She made a point to sharpen her pronunciation of the last letter and lowered herself to where she was level with Flint. “We don’t get to choose our life’s circumstances. We just have to deal with them.” His mother turned once more to the stove where her polyester stew was boiling. “Now go to your room. I don’t want you crying in here when your grandmother comes.”
And with that, his mother ignored his presence. Her cooking had once again become her top priority. Flint lingered in the middle of the kitchen for a moment, waiting for a comforting word or another light jab about his wardrobe to signify that everything was fine between them, but the oven timer going off was the only sound he heard.