I am Frumpteter the dragonfly, horizontal-winged and ancient, daughter of Grummuth, granddaughter of Trumpeter. When they asked my grandmother what my name should be, she said Frumpeter. She has no teeth. I’m certain she meant Trumpter but no one will believe me.
Humans swim in the lake where I live. I don’t mind it. They stir up muck and attract mosquitos, my favorite meal. I bring my grandmother mosquitos, mostly dead but still twitching, so she’ll feel the fight in their wings when she eats and stay wild.
Trumpeter’s right claw doesn’t work anymore. Her head tilts to the side. She’ll die soon, but she still a dragonfly—she loves to eat. Her iridescent orbed eyes spark at the first taste, her jaw rips through the scaly abdomen, quick and ferocious.
Eating a mosquito is like this: The wings crackle when you folded them on top of one another, the body makes a satisfying snap, one bite is pure heaven. Have you tasted wriggling life speared on the hooks of your jaw? Have you held a six-legged thrashing thing to grandmother’s lips?
When I’m not eating, I sit beside Trumpeter with photo albums, my time as a naiad, mother with her body submerged and face above water, gulping her way to wings, father before Trumpeter ran him off. The pictures spark something. She talks enough to tell me their names. She calls me her twin. We were born on the same day, years apart. Her voice is all gravel and squeaks—I could listen to her for hours.
What is it you want me to tell you? Oh yes, something big and expansive about the world. I don’t know any of that. I know only of lovely absurdities.
When I lived under water, I had gills in my rectum. If I saw a tadpole or a mosquito larva I wanted to catch, I expelled water through my anus to catch it. Once I even leapt out of the water and caught a tree frog. He struggled, but I killed him with the spikes of my jaw.
Only female dragonflies live at this pond. The men were always pestering the women with unwanted matings, so the women found their own place to live and chased off the men that followed them. Sometimes I wonder what my father was like. But mostly I think about flying and bringing my grandmother food.
Before she goes to bed, I take a piece of soft moss and polish her chitinous armor. The iridescence is fading, but she’s still a beautiful black and green, with bits of pink if the sun hits right.
I love my grandmother’s irregular face. The way she softens into her bed of grass when I clean her. She looks away from me mostly, but when our eyes meet, the strength of her and her love for me shakes ground and sends wind through the reeds.
I wonder about being eaten. What it must feel like. I am eating and eaten. I saw a swallow swoop down and eat my mother’s best friend right in front of me. My mother didn’t even cry out. She’s quiet, too. When she looks at me, I see the haunting in her eyes. Maybe she misses father. Maybe she is worn down by her dying mother, or me. I’m as behaved as I am.
Sometimes she looks regal, like the queen of all dragonflies, stern and unmoving. But then the light changes, and I see where the membranous linings of her thorax are overstretching and softening. She knows that if we did not all have one another, she’d have to abandon her mother. It would be too much for one dragonfly to hunt for two. But as a community, we can all spare a little meat.
I once heard a story of a dragonfly that learned to walk. Two of her legs grew large and misshapen, the rest fell off. Her wings cracked off, she sprouted hair, eyebrows and a downy mustache, breasts, a round bottom. All the hardness, segmented strength of her taken. Flightless. Two legged. A poor hunter. The dragonfly went mad, drained the pond where she had been born. Built a house of wood right on top of it. Planted gardenias and daisies and grass outside. Lived out her days dry, soft, alone.
My mother says that such stories are meant to frighten us, but I shouldn’t worry. I’ve transformed from water bug to flyer, and I can rest in my incomplete metamorphosis.
Once, my grandmother fell into the pond. My mother, her friend Ellii, and I had to haul her out before a big mouth bass could bite. We got her onto a log in the sun. I tried to dry her wings, but she shook, and we got tangled together.
“Hold still, Frumpeter,” my mother snapped. I leapt up and flew above them to get out of the way, watched as my mother caressed my grandmother’s wet face, heard her whisper everything was going to be okay.
The water levels are decreasing. My mother’s friends say it is just the time of the year, that the sun is hot and the water is evaporating. It’s temporary and won’t be like this forever. They say that the oil in the water, the slick weight of it, is runoff from a boat here once and now gone. Everything is fine, they say.
My mother says nothing. She is as big as a tree trunk and small as mosquito larva. Death, birth, decimation: I see it in her trembling claws.
It won’t be such a bad thing to die. One day the sun is shining on you and the next it’s not. One day you have a mosquito in your claws and the next, the next you are still and unmoving. I think I’d rather die on a blade of grass than be eaten by a bird. But no one lets you make that decision. It’s bigger than me.
Trumpeter once told me the world is bigger than all of us. That god is a great spider in the sky that laces their webs together, encircles the moon and pulls it to us at night, the sun in the morning. I asked her why god wasn’t a dragonfly, and she looked surprised.
“God is not us. God is themself. Separate, troubling themselves with the movement of the sun and the moon and the weight of the water.” She told me god spins an invisible web each night and arranges the stars on the gossamer. “God doesn’t hate you or love you. God is. You are. That is enough.”
We are all dying. I want nothing more than to be here, preening in the sun like a chitinous cat, studying the face of my grandmother.