What I learned today about forensic entomology should have been enough to make me look at the oak trees differently, at the moss full of chiggers and other invisible life that might tell me about death, or at least about the timing of it. Jane Doe’s body was found wrapped in a sheet of linoleum along the creek bank, that much we know, her fingernails already lost to the heat and to any number of insects the investigators placed in vials to be catalogued and analyzed later.
I should be running her prints, or what’s left of them. Instead, all I can think about is Big Earl, the garbage truck driver who discovered Jane Doe. He spent the last hour of his interview this morning trying to convince me that the rapture is just around the corner. He said the roll off cans don’t require more than two people to work them, even though one guy lost his leg three months ago when he got pinned between the dumpster and the tailgate. Still, he didn’t die, but death is everywhere, Big Earl said. In the pine trees lining the landfill where the compacted cubes of trash are dumped, their roots saturated in piss and oil and the wet remnants of dirty diapers and maxi pads, their branches twisted and bare.
Big Earl drops loads by the craneful into this gaping hole in the earth because, as he says, sorting things out is just too hard these days, because no one really thinks the waters will rise again. I’m thinking Noah, Jonah and the Whale. I’m wrong. He’s been reading the book of Daniel, about the determined desolation of the soil that fuels his labor, puts food on his mother’s table. Not his wife’s. He doesn’t have one anymore. But he’s not sad about that given the upcoming rapture.
I tell this to my 12 year old daughter when I get home from work while she rifles through the pantry. Science stuff always gets her going. What is a chigger anyway? I ask. And why don’t we know it’s there until it bites us?
My 12-year-old tells me a chigger is born with six legs, that it grows two more as an adult. I think maybe she’s trying to tell me something about puberty, about freedom, about the kid in her class who can’t wait to move away from her meth head mom. I ask my daughter whether this is all just a metaphor.
She says she doesn’t know what a metaphor is.
Jami Kimbrell’s short fiction has appeared in Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Vestal Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and is forthcoming in New South Journal. She is a trial attorney practicing in Tallahassee, Florida where she lives with her husband and poet, James Kimbrell, their four children, and three dogs.