Slugs

Julia Klatt Singer

 

It started to rain on a Tuesday in April.  The morning had been beautiful--sunny, cool, with a taste of warmth in the air, a quintessential spring day.  But by eleven o'clock the clouds had moved in without any warning, and a soft rain fell.

            It was a slow rain, a sprinkle really, not much more than that, but its dampness worked its way into everything: the tree trunks, the walls of our house, the basement stairs.  My clothing and our furniture felt damp, full of the rain.  Even the walls inside my closet seemed gummy and moist.

            By three o'clock the rain was coming down harder.  The wind had picked up, smashing the water against our windows and doors.  I listened as it lashed out, beating its tongue against the side of our house, a wild animal determined to get inside.  A few cracks of thunder, trailed by lightning snakes, hissed in the sky.  My hair stood on end, floating around my face like a sea urchin's tentacles.

            My husband laughed when I bought a rain gauge.  "What are you planning to do with that?" he asked, like most of his questions, not expecting an answer.  I placed it in the strawberry patch, right near the walkway, where I would see it, remember to check the rainfall, and empty it after each rain.

            Nothing bothers my husband.  Not the rain, not the humidity, not the long, gray winters here in southern Wisconsin , not even the boring job he has, counting other people's money.  Everything seems to slip right off him, never denting, never sticking, never making much of an impression at all.  I've been married to him for twelve years, and more and more he reminds me of Tupperware: strong, practical, indestructible and dull.  Something your girlfriend recommended a long time ago, and you acquiesced, bought the starter set, both to help her out and to improve your life, not knowing how long it would last.  It had made sense at the time, but its consistency is getting to you.  Each potluck you're invited to, you think about bringing it--without your name taped on the bottom with scotch tape--and leaving it there.

            After that first rain stopped, that Tuesday, I went to the garden.  The gauge showed an inch and a half.  I was pleased.  I was glad to know.  It had seemed like a lot of rain.

            I awoke at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday to the sound of a waterfall.  Water cascaded off our roof, smashing onto the porch roof right outside our bedroom window, then crashing to the sidewalk below.  The water was so thick, so quick, it looked like a moving mirror, shimmery, silver, fluid.  I watched the water, the gallons and gallons of water, flow by.  Eventually I fell back asleep to the rushing, endless sound.

            By morning it had stopped.  The rain gauge read three more inches.  The sky was the color of stainless steel.  The rain started up again around noon on Wednesday.  It was a slow, drizzly, cold rain, like a leaky faucet.  My husband came home that night, read the financial section and asked what was for dinner.  "Great.  I love your tuna casserole," he said, "It's better than my mother's.  Have I told you that?"

              "I feel like a sponge," I said.  "I don't know how much more of this I can take."

            "More of what?"  he asked, head buried in the comics.

            More of what, wasn't such a bad question, but it was one I wasn't sure I should answer.

            Thursday night was the first night of the dream.  I was six years old again, sitting on a gray boulder in my mother's rock garden.  This was the first place I remember seeing slugs.  I was watching her weed, caught in the rhythm of her quick fingers as they probed for the base of each undesirable plant, hidden under the daisies, disguising themselves as buttercups.  She was pinching, pulling, piling the weeds at her side.  It was then that I noticed it, slowly inching its way toward her hand.  I was about to scream, "look out, slug!" but instead I glanced down.  All the flowers in the garden had turned into pale yellow slugs.  Thousands of them inched toward me, leaving trails of slimy mucus in their path.  Hundreds of them lathered my feet, moving up my ankles, poisoning my skin with their touch.

            I woke up.  I lay for a moment debating with myself about whether or not to check my feet and ankles.  I abhor slugs.  Hate their soft, slimy, spongy, slow bodies. Here in the Midwest they are snails without shells, white and flabby--too lazy to carry their own home.  They eat holes into my carrots and peppers, leave their babies to finish the job.  They are cold to the touch, and surprisingly, difficult to chop in half with my clippers.  Finally, I reached under the covers and felt the skin of my left foot.  It was dry and calloused, just like normal.  My husband turned over, rolled up against me, his soft belly jiggling like Jello.

            The rain stopped on Saturday morning.  The sky stayed gray, the air dripped like a pair of shoes worn in a river.  Another three and a half inches since yesterday afternoon.  I went to the shed to get my garden gloves and clippers to remove a few broken branches from my roses, now that the rain had let up. 

            As I opened the shed door, a crack of gray light lit a triangle of the floor.  The floor rippled toward the darkness.  I slammed the door and stepped back.  I closed my eyes, and took a long, slow breath.  Carefully opening the door full swing, I surveyed the shed.  Hundreds of slugs lined the walls, floor, buckets, lawn mower, and garden implements.  The light sent each one moving, climbing over others, a slimy oily path recording their wingless flight.

            I stood there, unable to pick up my feet, bend my knees, or move my fingers away from my mouth.  Do I leave the door open to dry them out?  What if they come out and take over the garden?  If I leave the door closed, will they multiply, completely rot out the shed?

            I ran to the house, and headed straight for the bathroom.  After turning on the shower as hot and hard as I could, I climbed in with all my clothes on and slowly undressed.  My husband found me there a half hour later, standing in the shower, encircled by my clothes, still wearing my tennis shoes, the cool water swooshing between my toes.  I shivered in the hot steam.  "Anything wrong?" He asked.

           

            I went to bed early that day, somewhere around six or seven in the evening.  I woke up at five in the morning to the sound of a soft rain.  I had had the dream again.  Although this time the slugs were living in my refrigerator, watching my television.  I wasn't sure what day it was, if this was the soft rain from last Tuesday, if it was day time or night.  Everything felt gray.

            For the first week my husband wrote it off as lack of sleep.  The second week he decided I was struggling from sun deprivation and brought me orange lifesavers and lemon drops, joked about scurvy.  By the third week, when the rain and the dream still hadn't let up, he stopped asking questions.

 

 

            I don't remember much of that month, just the dream really, and the first few days of rain.  After that it all blurred together.  Then somehow we left Madison , Wisconsin , and ended up here, in Zihuatanejo , Mexico .  A customer of my husband's told him about the charter and an inexpensive hotel near the water that he had stayed at.

            My husband hates the sun and finds that the ocean gives him headaches.  So he sits by the hotel pool, under an umbrella, either sleeping or reading one of the two dozen old magazines he's brought from home.

            I loved it here until this evening.  It was hot and dry.  I felt as though I was withering up, that my body was evaporating into the thin air.  I looked forward to the dry me, the suntanned and warmed me.  When we first arrived my skin was fleshy and pale.  All my muscles had grown soft.  I had no definition, as if my bones too had become flexible like cartilage.  I was feeling better today, beautiful, my skin lightly browned.  My bones were beginning to surface again, my blood warming up.  Lying on the beach I could see my hip and rib bones. I was still here.  Perhaps I was just hidden under all that soft, white skin.  How long had I been buried beneath all that flesh?

            We decided to have dinner at a nice restaurant tonight.  Every night prior to this we had eaten at a little stand on the corner frequented by the locals, or cooked on the hot plate in our room.  My husband ordered for us in Spanish.  As we sat sipping our sweet Mexican wine, the waiter came to our table, carrying a plate covered with a silver dome.  "Compliments," he said, "of the chef.  We make a special dish for you.  Chef says he knows how much you love them."  He set the plate down in front of me, and slowly lifted off the dome.  Underneath sat a dozen snails, their fleshy creamy bodies hanging out of their shells.  I screamed, and pushed away from the table, tipping over my chair. 

            I watched from outside the restaurant as my husband apologized and paid the bill. He came out to the street, and without looking up began walking slowly back toward our hotel. From my darkened corner, with my sunburned back against the cool tile wall, I noticed that as he passed under a street lamp his white flesh glowed.  I watched as his stubby shadow got longer and thinner, trailing along slowly behind him.