I see a scarab beetle on the sidewalk on my walk home from the bar. Instead of stepping on it, I scoop it up with the Yellow Pages on the driveway and place it on the ficus tree next to the garage door.
I’m very nice when I’m drunk. I fall into bed next to Janine. She is awake but she does not want to talk to me. She probably wants me to shower and get the whisky smell off, but I still have some dignity left. I am my own man and tonight I want to sleep in my jacket and jeans.
In the morning, I see Janine smile for the first time since our son died. She has made pancakes. A stack of three pancakes for her, and a stack of three pancakes for the scarab beetle.
“I see you brought the bug in,” I say.
“Sorry there’s only one pancake left,” Janine says. “Scabby was starving. Maybe you can wake up earlier next time.”
So she’s given it a name. That’s fine. My childhood dog’s name was Scrappy, and I wonder if Janine is playing a trick on me. Do those names even sound alike? I try not to think about it.
My hangover gets worse on the drive to work and so I pull over on the freeway to throw up the single pancake I ate. I gargle with the mouthwash I keep in the glove compartment.
Janine spends more and more time with Scabby, who grows bigger every day. She takes it to the play structures in the park. She takes it to the mall and looks at the stuffed animals in the Build-A-Bear Workshop.
One day I come home to find them watching Wheel of Fortune. Scabby is now the size of a large Doberman. “Can you get groceries tonight?” she says, patting Scabby’s little armored head. “Scabby ate all the frozen chicken. I left a list.”
I decide to have a few drinks at Ralph’s Tavern before grocery shopping. At Ralph’s, I run into Hector. He has just sued his employer after spraining his ankle getting off a forklift, so we celebrate. After last call, we smoke two joints inside his van. We drive out to the soccer field and skid out donuts in the parking lot, like in the old days.
I come back home past 2:00 AM. Janine is waiting for me at the dining table reading The Metamorphosis.
“Did you at least get the groceries?” she asks without looking up.
We start to argue. Janine wants me to stop drinking, to be a better role model for Scabby. We start arguing, but Janine stops. She doesn’t want to wake Scabby in his room.
“His room?” I ask.
Janine tiptoes down the hall and opens Dave’s room, the room we never go into since he died. Scabby is asleep in Dave’s bed. I begin yelling. I hate seeing that thing in my son’s bed. I throw the desk lamp and shatter the window. I pick up Dave’s old hockey stick and bash down the closet mirror. I topple over Dave’s drawers. Janine grabs Scabby, cradles him in her arms and yells that she is staying at her friend what’s-her-face’s for the night.
My feet are bloody from stepping on broken glass, so I wrap them up with gauze. I make three Long Islands in the kitchen and gulp them down. My hands shake. My feet hurt too much to sleep so I go and get groceries.
Janine does not come back for a while. I sweep up the glass in Dave’s room and fix up his drawer with some old two-by-fours in the garage. I straighten out his trophies. I want the room to look nice.
I try removing the bloodstains in the carpet with shampoo, but it doesn’t work. I search Google and it tells me to use ammonia instead. The internet warns me not to mix ammonia with bleach, since the fumes will kill me.
I invite Hector to crash on the couch for a few nights. He brings over four bottles of Johnnie Walker, which he bought with his settlement money. We drink and smoke and watch reruns of Cheers.
Janine comes back with Scabby after a month. Scabby is all grown up now and much taller than me. He is dressed in a nice three-piece suit. Janine says she is back to collect her things, and that Scabby will take care of her from now on. He has found a nice job at that legal firm with the nighttime television commercials, Johnson & Perkins or something like that.
I beg her to stay. She hands me a business card. One of her old college friends is an addiction counselor and has agreed to see me pro-bono. I get angry. I don’t need anyone’s charity. I rip the card into tiny little pieces and toss them down on the doormat.
“It’s all your fault, I should have crushed you when I had the chance.” I leap at Scabby and throw punches, trying to bust his jaw or mandible or whatever you call it, but his exoskeleton protects him. I expect him to fight back, to rip me apart with his 100-times-stronger-relative-to-his-body-weight strength, but he just waits until I tire myself out. I collapse on the front steps of the house.
“I’m sorry,” says Janine, staring down at me. She grabs hold of Scabby, who opens up his back to reveal his glistening, golden wings. I watch them fly away, Scabby’s wings booming like a helicopter, until they disappear as a little dot in the blue sky.