I step outside from the door of my flat, lock it, and turn around to head down the walkway of the two story block of flats to the stairs. In the middle of the walkway there is a praying mantis. It’s green, with yellow eyes. It sees me, and starts swaying from side to side in a menacing way. It seems to be warning me off. It has its front claws raised in that praying mantis pose. It reminds me of the film Karate Kid. I imitate the Karate Kid and mantis. We stay there, locked in that position. I’m late for work, I have to go. I step around the mantis.
“You win” I say.
When I come back from work, tired, the mantis is still there in the same place. This time it doesn’t assume the warning stance, I step round it, keeping my distance.
The next day, I head off to work again. The mantis is still there, in the same place. I wonder why no one has stood on it yet. I step round it, careful to keep my distance again. I head off to work. When I come back, it’s raining and I have a transparent plastic umbrella in my hand.
The mantis isn’t there in its usual place. As I’m heading to the door with my key, I see it. Nestled under one of the lights, hiding from the rain. I wonder why it’s still here.
The next day, I check to see if the mantis is on the light. It is. It’s still there, but now there is,a smaller mantis there too. The bigger one doesn’t seem to have noticed the small one creeping up on her. I don’t say anything, I just head off to work.
When I come back, there is only one mantis there again, unless you count the head of the small mantis, which the big one is gripping in its folded claws and munching on with its mandibles.
I go into my flat. I close my eyes. I open them again and turn on the TV. Some girls’ head has been found on a beach in Chiba. I think about the mantis, eating its mate. I think about spiders, devoured by their own children. I think about humans. I don’t know what to think.
Ellie is a pretty girl. She has long dark brown hair that gets in her eyes sometimes and neat, delicate fingers. She is tired of spending so much time on her appearance. She is tired of spending so much money on cosmetics. She hates plucking her armpits. She hates waxing her legs. She hates curling her lashes. Her boyfriend used to get up out of bed, dress, brush his teeth and walk out the door. It takes her ages to get ready to leave the house. She’s tired of it all.
Her boyfriend used to make jokes if he found a bit of stubble under her arms. He would say “You could strike a match off that” and then he would laugh. He had shaved only rarely, he was usually hairy and spiky and unkempt. He was very handsome.
“Fuck it” thinks Ellie. She gathers all her things like razors, mirrors, nail clippers. She gathers them all and throws them in the bin. She stops even taking a bath. She lets her hair grow tangled and wild. She doesn’t cut her fingernails. She’s still on time for work, but the boss thinks she’s slacking off. She has a word with her. She doesn’t answer back, she just takes what she has to say and says she is going to try harder. She doesn’t buy any toothpaste. She stops flossing. She loses her job. She loses her house.
“All because of toothpaste!” she thinks.
She’s walking around the park with nothing to do, talking about toothpaste to herself. Talking about hair mousse and moisturizer, shampoo and tweezers, floss and wax. All that stuff is bad for the environment. All that stuff is unnatural. Perfume and antiperspirant. The contraceptive pill. Tampons. Easy glide shaving foam. Manicure sets. Talcum powder. Mascara. Lip gloss.
“It’s all unnatural. It hides your real self.” She says this to the people who are kind to her.
They seem to listen. They gently lead her away.
Stephen Prime is a cantankerous Yorkshire man. He was born angry and his lack of faith in the future of the human race leads him to constant despair. He despises apathy and environmental destruction in all its forms. His work has been previously published in The Vein and Drunk Monkeys, among other places. His first book of short stories, entitled Entropy, will be out on Paravion Press. He publishes irregular dirges on his blog at www.stephenprime.com