For many years, I longed to be an enormous insect. One day, I learned there was a plastic surgeon in Mississauga, Ontario famous for full-body reconstructive work, and that the exchange rate for my American dollars had never been better! So I booked my appointment, scheduled all two weeks of my earned time off from Super Dollar Gourmet Food Market, and traveled up to see the surgeon. For my convenience, the clinic gave me all kinds of interesting paperwork to do during the long bus trip, and I passed the ride reading and signing releases and disclaimers that I gave my informed consent and accepted full responsibility for satisfaction with my results. I only wish they had given me such a relaxing activity for the return trip, when I needed one even more!
Once at the clinic, I brought my copy of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka to my brief pre-surgery consultation. I pointed to the inside cover illustration, and said, “Gimme the works, doctor! Just like Gregor Samsa!”
Without blinking, the plastic surgeon said, “Sure can do.” He took out a box of neon, rubbery Creepy Crawlers toys and asked me to decide which of their features I wanted to accentuate.
“Oh, a little bit of everything,” I said. “I’d like about six legs and the antenna to be as long as you can make them.” I picked up a particular bright and colorful Creepy Crawler. “Some fun stripes or dots on my shell, too, if you can?”
He nodded, had me change into paper underpants, and drew dashes, lines, and arrows all over my body with a purple magic marker. Then his assistant set me up with an IV of sedatives and wheeled me into the operating room for the procedure.
When I woke up from my operation, it was exactly like when Gregor Samsa wakes up at the beginning of The Metamorphosis, except instead of anxious dreams, I was just nauseous from general anesthesia. I threw up a little, and instead of pink acid from my old stomach, the vomit came up sweet and sticky from a new, secondary stomach! I took a deep breath, and instead of inflating my lungs with air, gases pumped through spiracles along my abdomen and flexed my pneumatic joints! The surgeon had really given me the deluxe treatment.
Excited as I was to get back out there into the big, wide world as a huge, beautiful bug, I had a lot of healing to do first. My mandibles were tender. My antenna ached. My exoskeleton itched something fierce and my half dozen sticky little legs wriggled beneath my surgical dressings in a futile effort to scratch. Also, while I was mostly very large in size, sometimes I shrunk down very small for a few minutes at a time, and then back, which made me dizzy at first.
The plastic surgeon was already working on his next patient, but his assistant told me these were all wonderful signs of recovery or nothing to worry about. Itching and tenderness meant I had circulation and sensation in the tissues, and the grafts and transplants were cooperating with my immune system! The spontaneous changes in size were an unexpected side effect, but the assistant told me just to keep an eye on it and get lots of rest.
The clinic was on the first floor of a shopping mall that sprawled along Hurontario Street. Conveniently, my hotel occupied some of the upper floors of the same mall, so the surgeon’s assistant only had to push me on my gurney a short way indoors to help me to my room. I had her unscrew a jar of chitin gel and place it on the nightstand before she left.
In my room, I slept and drank plenty of water. It was easier to drink than I thought it would be, because I could sip the moisture from almost anything. When I felt alert, I gently raised my little wings up and down, back and around, so they didn’t get too stiff. I remained mindful and present through several changes in size, and soon found I was able to shrink down oh-so-tiny and back again on purpose! I became small and gingerly crawled into the open jar of chitin gel, burrowing and soaking the slime into my hardening body plates.
My window looked down into one of the mall’s food courts. All the shoppers droned and swarmed in their movements below. The sight of them soothed me in my fragile instar state. Despite our differences, it is nice to remember sometimes how we are all really part of the same hive. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this perspective, and when I was cleared to go home at last and made my way towards the bus station in Toronto, I was detained by the United States Border Patrol.
The United States Border Patrol held and questioned me for a very long time. They wanted to know why I seemed so anxious. I told them the truth, which was that if the bus continued without me, I would have to pay for a whole new ticket. This made them decide to hold me even longer. The bus continued without me.
They took away my passport and asked me who I had stolen it from and who I thought I was trying to fool. I showed them all of my other picture IDs, such as my Massachusetts driver’s licence and my Bank of Benthic debit card, and offered to substantiate my identity further. The one in charge ordered the others to search and frisk me. They put on gloves and prodded about between my segments. They shined bright flashlights into my compound eyes. They even probed my oviduct!
It took them several days to release me, during which I glimpsed that I was only one among many others detained. There were all kinds of people raising the suspicions of the American law enforcement, with diverse traits such as having skin and also names, but certainly I was not the only arthropod, either. They combed through my social media and called several of my contacts. My store manager was asked to fax through proof of my work history and authorization.
“Is this because I’m an enormous insect?” I asked.
“Now ma’am, or sir, we’re going to have to ask you to calm down,” they said. Their suspicions raised higher and higher, though they would not address the matter of my appearance directly.
My human resources file came through from Super Dollar Gourmet Food Market. Out of respect for the Canadian government, they allowed me to buy a new ticket for the next bus to Boston, but they did not return my passport, licence, or debit card.
The bus pulled into South Station fourteen hours after its scheduled arrival time. It was dark and hazy and the street lights clicked off just as the bus slowed into the berth. I was scheduled to go back to work that very morning, but both the bank and the Registry of Motor Vehicles were on the same block as the bus station, and it would be a real chore to get by without my IDs only to come all the way back downtown another time. I called into work sick.
The bank opened first. I explained my situation to a teller, who directed me to the branch manager. Behind her polished desk, her office window was open. The haze of early morning cleared into a dry, warm, perfect spring day.
She shook her head. “I’m sorry, but we can’t update your account information or send you a new card until you can provide a government-issued photo ID reflecting the change. Do you have your passport or licence?”
“No, they were confiscated,” I admitted. Her forehead furrowed. “By mistake!” I added. “It’s more like they were lost! I’m trying to prevent any further confusion.”
The branch manager leaned forward in her leather chair and drew her thin lips into a lemon-sucking frown. “Legally speaking,” she said. “I’m afraid we’ll have to freeze your accounts for the time being, now that you’ve reported this.”
“Don’t you want the most accurate information about me?”
“We cannot accept the risk, unfortunately. You could be attempting to commit fraud or evade creditors. Though we’ll be happy to unfreeze your accounts once you have an up-to-date government-issued photo ID.”
“I understand,” I said, and crawled onto her desk. She shrieked as I darted across the shiny surface and dove out the window, tearing a lovely hole in the screen. My hindwings were still numb, and my forewings still a little twitchy, but they worked! I flew all the way around the corner to the Registry of Motor Vehicles.
The line was long, but if I queued into it right away and stayed awake standing in it through the night, I might have my turn inside as soon as the following morning! I called work again to inform them that I was going to be sick tomorrow, too.
The store manager, the one who had faxed my work history to the United States Border Patrol, answered the office phone and drew a long, audible breath at the sound of my voice.
“I’m worried about your focus and commitment to Super Dollar Gourmet Food Market,” he said.
“I’m healing much slower than I thought,” I said, and forced a weak trill as much like a cough as I could manage.
“Mm. Look,” he said. “If you fail to clock full time hours this many weeks in a row, including your time off, we have to drop you down to part time without benefits, like, disability leave and health insurance, for example.”
“What should I do if I stay sick for a while?”
“You’ll have to have it approved ahead of time.”
“Well, you can count on me!” I said. Car horns, shouting pedestrians, and sirens zoomed past me as I scuttled along the sidewalk outside the Registry of Motor Vehicles. “I’m heading back from the doctor’s right now, and I think I’m already feeling a bit better. It’ll be an early dinner of chicken noodle soup and ginger ale for me tonight, then straight to bed!”
“It’s nice to hear you choosing the right attitude,” the store manager said. The volume of his voice trailed away through the sentence. “See you tomorrow morning.” The office phone landed in its cradle with a click like a beetle on its back.
I took on extra shifts for several weeks to make up for my lost time, but the Registry of Motor Vehicles was only open during the same hours as the store, and my paychecks continued to be directly deposited to my frozen accounts.
I asked to receive paper checks instead, but there was an indeterminate wait before the switch would take effect. For those weeks I made as many meals as I could from free samples and returns, and begged, borrowed, and stretched my pocket change. I saved enough sidewalk pennies for a single can of beer from the liquor and specialty section, but of course, when my fellow Super Dollar Gourmet Food Market teammates had to card me at the register, I had no proof of my age.
“Aw, come on,” I begged my favorite co-worker. “You know it’s me.”
“Sorry,” they said, possibly the only person to ever apologize to me and mean it. “We’ll both just get in trouble.”
I worked harder than ever with my stiff and tender new body. Yet, each night between my double shifts, I failed to sleep more than a few restless hours at a time. I paced about my studio apartment on Commonwealth Avenue. I climbed the walls and the ceiling. It was not quite fun, per se, but it was distracting to scuttle across the eggshell paint with my many dirty feet. I saw no further use in showering when filth accumulated on me in such interesting new ways. I made myself small and crawled in and out of cereal boxes and peanut butter jars and then scurried in circles around the kitchenette and through the bathroom, leaving greasy and crumbly trails. Some nights I worked myself into quite the frenzy with the expired foods I took home from work. I marveled at the blooms of bacteria and fungus on the meats, the smoky-blue blossoming over the rinds of the cheeses, the herbal vinegars that bubbled, rose, and floated atop the spoiled smoothies and juices. I was wrung out, filthy, but full.
When the landlord came looking for the rent I couldn’t pay, I shrunk as teeny-tiny as possible and hid inside the kitchen sink. He let himself in with his special key, took one step into the apartment, and to my relief, he did not come looking for me any further than that. My many footprints all across the walls and ceiling dazzled and distracted him instead, and he rushed away without a word!
“Phew!” I hissed since I could not quite sigh anymore. Then I expanded until I was big enough to fill the entire apartment, and I thought my hardest about how to show a good attitude and accept full responsibility for my own satisfaction. I decided to be more patient and better consider the feelings of others. So, I waited and waited until the slow weeks at work, until the fateful day I had only a single, evening shift. On that morning, I spent my few remaining coins on the downtown express bus fare, and made it to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. Finally! I filled out their relaxing array of forms as neatly as I could while passing those final, exciting hours in line.
When it was at last my turn, I presented everything to the clerk. “Hello there!” I said to her. “I hope you are having a great day today! Here is my change-of-information form, which as you can see, is complete! I’ll need a new photo and a new card today, as you can probably see! Ha-ha!”
“You got the permit?” she asked. “You need the third-party metamorphosis permit with the original signature.”
“One must have a permit to update a photo?”
“Uh, yeah, ‘one must’, smart ass,” she said, and she stretched her arms out and appealed to the dozens of shelves stacked high with various files.
“Well,” I said. “May I have one?”
“I dunno, may you? I don’t hand them out, I process them. You’re going to have to apply for one at the Courthouse, pick it up there, have it signed by a licensed entomologist, and come back when you have everything in order.”
“Fellow laborer, you must be very tired from such a long day!” I said. “I’m so sorry to have wasted your time.” I was terribly embarrassed and rushed from the clerk’s counter, up the wall, and onto the ceiling of the waiting room where I thought I might take a moment to shriek without bothering anyone else. Unfortunately, this backfired.
I frightened several people, but I felt so, so bad about it! I should have asked the plastic surgeon to make me invisible as well, if I were really smart and considerate, but I was foolish and selfish instead. The cries and commotion in the waiting room drew the upper managers from their offices. One manager introduced himself as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion.
“I’d like to personally apologize for the negative experience you’ve had,” he said, and swiped at me with the business end of a broom. “If you will come down, I’d like to see what we can do to make it right.”
“Let me have my picture taken without a permit?” I chirped.
“Other than that,” he said, and took another swipe, but the bottoms of my six feet were powerful suction cups and I would not budge.
“It seems unnecessary to have a third party confirm that I am a large insect when, indeed, it’s quite apparent,” I said. “It’s a tad invasive, speakingly only for myself, but it must be extra paperwork on your side, too. You would not want to have a discrimination lawsuit on your hands.”
“We strive to treat everyone with dignity and equality at the Registry of Motor Vehicles,” the director said. “Though, you do realize the bug in the Kafka story is a metaphor, right? The author did not want the story illustrated. It’s meant to be ambiguous, symbolizing alienation and self-denial. The real metamorphosis of the title is actually the sister’s coming of age–”
“I am not a metaphor,” I said. “I need my driver’s license, and I would like to update my photograph, please.”
“I wrote a paper on Kafka in college,” the director scoffed. “I think I know what I’m talking about.” He climbed up onto a waiting room chair to get a better reach and aim on me with the broom. Just as he lunged it towards my head, I fluttered off the ceiling towards his head, bothered him about the face, and zoomed away over the snaking lines and out the double doors.
My shift started soon, and I had yet to eat breakfast or lunch or change into my smock. I rushed home, but there was someone waiting for me outside my apartment door. An exterminator had come.
“Landlord said something about an infestation?” He asked me.
“Oh, no, actually,” I replied as I unlocked the door and hurried inside. “No infestation. I have a lease. I live here.”
The exterminator pressed forward before I could close the door and barged in after me. “And the rest of the colony? How many have you seen?”
“It’s just me,” I said. “Just the one.”
“There’s never just one,” the exterminator grumbled. He set down his kit on my carpet. I could either get ready for work in time or rescue my personal belongings before he finished setting up.
I grabbed some marmalade and escaped just as the clouds of poison billowed from the end of his spray nozzle. Super Dollar Gourmet Food Market would have to do without my focus and commitment once and for all, but I chose in that moment to have a joyful attitude. I chose to be ecstatic, even! I was a huge, beautiful bug! Hooray!
Once outside the building, I smashed the driver’s side window of the exterminator’s truck, hot-wired it, and made off westbound on the carriage roads of Commonwealth Avenue. I trilled and buzzed and chirped out into the air. I hissed and strummed as hard as I could stridulate my limbs together while maintaining control of the truck.
Very soon, my calls were answered by other insects in the area! Hundreds and then thousands of them darted out from grates and crevices, flew down from on high, and enveloped the truck as we continued through the suburbs. We linked our many legs and formed a great and wondrous bug ball, the truck’s weight serving merely as our center of gravity. By the time we hit the Mass Pike in Newton, I didn’t even have to drive it anymore!
The exterminator had been totally correct. Of course there was more than one of us! I was impressed by how different and yet equally beautiful we all were. Plus, on average, we were quite venomous, too. Our shirking, shrieking hive progressed ever-onward, first northbound towards one national border and then back around, southbound, towards the other, and grew ever-larger and ever-louder on our merry way. Yipee!
We sawed and bored and chewed across North America! We clogged and encased those who would detain us or others with regurgitated fibers and secreted wax, acid, and oil!
Here and there, just for fun, we lay our eggs in the orifices of our enemies, though I admit my once-probed ovipositor took some personal enjoyment from this (tee-hee-hee). I let my beautiful invertebrate body expand to its maximum capacity and sink to the middle and the bottom of the mass with the other decomposers. Down there together, we rolled up all the land we passed through into a dung ball like no one had ever seen before, turning all of it over and over into something a bit more positive.