Insect Contestation: The Impact of Deforestation on the Stability of the Mauve Tree Ecosystem

Submitted into Contest #76 in response to: Write about two people who just can’t seem to understand each other, no matter how clearly they think they’re speaking.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction

You wouldn't know just by looking at me that I did a Masters at university. I don't think it's particularly on-brand for a Master’s Graduate to spend all her time on Instagram and pop a mini bottle of champagne at eleven o'clock in the morning.

Whatever, it's a Sunday, and I know how loud Sundays are in this house.

There's a small National Park about two hours away from where I live. It's not a popular destination for hikers because the path is narrow and rocky and in summer, bugs fly into your collar and spiders trap you in their webs. I did the research for my Masters there.

I think my paper was called 'Insect Contestation: The Impact of Deforestation on the Stability of the Mauve Tree Ecosystem'. Sounds fascinating, right?

Let me try to explain. Science is really quite simple when scientists forgo all the fancy words and complicated graphs. So, there's this tree. The Mauve Tree. It's relatively rare and very pretty, because the underside of the leaves looks purple from a certain angle.

There are two types of bugs that live on the Mauve Tree and they don't get along. I mean, really, they hate each other. They fight so much that the trees become uninhabitable for a lot of the smaller bugs.

You must be thinking, well, that’s a toxic relationship, and they all need to leave! And that’s a great idea, but humans have gone and cut down all the other trees the bugs could live in. So they’re all stuck together.

Let me tell you my hypothesis. I said, let’s leave all the bugs alone for a little while and let them battle it out. I reckoned that in a couple of generations, they would sort themselves out and form an equilibrium. Equilibrium. That’s when you have a balanced system and everyone kind of gets along with each other.

So I watched the trees for ages and ages, and it turns out I was right! Mostly. The bugs didn’t get in each other’s way too much, and their fights were mostly little scuffles. Again, mostly. Sometimes, only sometimes, they fought so hard they killed each other. That wasn’t great.

The Masters thing didn’t really help me get a job. I thought I’d be irresistible to employers with that certificate up my sleeve. Unfortunately for me, employers weren’t looking at my sleeve. They were looking at my pregnant belly and my pregnant lady waddle and they didn’t want me. “Having a master’s degree is great, but where’s the real-life work experience?” they told me. So I waddled out of the workforce and I became a reluctant housewife.

***

Now, sixteen years have passed and it’s a Sunday.

My kitchen walls are purple and my husband and daughter are two angry insects in contestation. I’m a smaller bug drinking champagne, caught in the arena of their fight.

“Look, I said no. Why don’t you understand that? No! It was basically your first word! It went ‘no’, ‘mum’, then ‘Elmo’,” he grins at me as if we’re sharing an inside joke. No, no, no, don’t involve me. I’m not on your side.

“I know what ‘no’ means, but you’re not listening to me! And stop talking about what I was like as a baby. You only do that to patronise me. I’m sixteen now and I’d like to be treated as such. I’m basically an adult.”

I narrate the fight in my head with my David Attenborough voice. The Natalieae Sixteenae fails at proving her maturity by sounding like every other teenager ever.

The Mattius Patriae shakes his head and puffs out his chest, establishing dominance, but the Natalieae Sixteenae is tall enough and old enough to not be intimidated by him anymore.

“Stop it, Dad. Can you stop and think about how I feel, for a second?”

“Yes, yes, you feel very annoyed that I’m not letting you go to that party,” he says mockingly.

“No! I’m frustrated that you think you can just boss me around…”

“I can boss you around, because you’re my daughter…”

“Who’s sixteen! You don’t understand!”

“I do understand! I hear you loud and clear…”

“No, you don’t. If you just let me finish…”

Every single Sunday, I think. On weekdays, they have little scuffles, and they blow off steam away from each other at work and school, and then the weekends come around and we’re stuck together in our Mauve Tree and the equilibrium is completely destroyed by Sunday.

Oh, damn, that’s the end of the champagne, and I can’t take it anymore.

“Alright, that’s it, get out of my Mauve Tree,” I stand up and wave my arms at them. They stop fighting to stare at me.

“What?” they say in unison. “Mauve Tree?”

"What's your mother talking about?" Matt turns to Natalie and she shrugs at him.

Why won't they leave me in peace? I keep waving my arms at them and accidently stumble on the leg of the chair I was sitting on.

Natalie smirks at me and crosses her arms. “Are you drunk? At eleven in the morning?”

Matt nods and points at my little champagne bottle. “Did you finish that by yourself?”

“It was a small bottle!” I huff. Why are they ganging up on me?

“Oh my god, Mum,” Natalie laughs and Matt joins in. The ugly frown on his face has smoothed out into an even uglier goofy smile.

Matt guffaws. “Looks like Natalie’s not the person in this family I need to worry about. It’s you!”

I push past them, out of the kitchen and into the study, closing the door behind me. I let out a sigh and am embarrassed to smell the alcohol on my breath. My paper is sitting on top of the bookshelf, neat and leather-bound, gathering dust. I reach up to get it, coughing when the dust falls on my face.

I flip to the conclusion. In dire times, the contesting insects will sometimes come together to hunt the smaller creatures. I can hear Natalie and Matt laughing together in the kitchen, their fight abandoned. And through this process, equilibrium is restored.

Yes, of course, equilibrium. 

January 11, 2021 08:19

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