James Tate

The Plague of Divorce

        There is an old rake leaning up against the house, and today I saw a luna moth clinging to its handle. A long time ago I read that a luna moth can smell the pheromones emitted by a potential mate fifty miles away through all the pollution of cities and factories and so on. So I just stared at it for a while and thought about that. It must have had a six-inch wingspan, lime-green with some beautiful spots. I was honored that it had chosen my rake as its resting place. I was resting, too. Of course it knew I was watching it. But, beyond that, I had no idea what it was thinking. Occasionally, it moved its wings slowly. Was it sending a message to me? Maybe it was just telling me what it saw today, the farmhouses, the river, the fields and forests, some deer. It’s lonely being a luna moth, but it’s also exciting, all the travel, and of course the storms. And when it does finally find a mate, I suppose there is no real love exchanged, nothing particularly tender involved. I stood there staring at it for the longest time. I was nearly asleep on my feet. I heard a car door slam. It was Glena. “Come here and help me with the groceries,” she said. I was afraid to leave the moth, but I had to help Glena. I went over to the car and grabbed some bags. “There’s a luna moth over there on the rake,” I said. “You’ll never guess who I ran into at the store,” she said. “Who?” I said. “Julian Hartley. Ashlie’s kicked him out. He’d never shopped for groceries before in his life. He doesn’t know how to boil an egg,” she said. “I wish you’d take a look at this beautiful luna moth out there before it flies off,” I said. “You should have seen what he had in his basket. It was pathetic. He was like a little kid. Poor Julian,” she said. “Well, I guess we should have seen this one coming,” I said. “Oh, I did, I just didn’t say anything to you. I know you’ve never really liked Ashlie. You think she’s a cold bitch, and Julian’s your friend,” she said. “That’s not strictly true. Ashlie can be very funny. I just didn’t think they were very well suited for one another, that’s all,” I said. When we had finished putting the groceries away, I said, “I wish you’d come outside and take a look at this luna moth. It’s really quite amazing.” “Oh, and guess who else I saw. Maxine. She’s really going to have those breast implants. I can’t believe it. I already told her about all the dangers I’ve read about, so I couldn’t say anything. It’s crazy,” she said. “Well, it’ll give Harry something to play with in his spare time,” I said. “That’s very crude of you,” she said. “Why else is she doing it?” I said. “What did you do while I was gone?” she said. I had to think for a second. “Well, I was mostly staring at this moth, a luna moth,” I said. “Could you get me a rag, honey? I spilled some milk trying to make room in here,” she said. I found a rag and handed it to her. She was down on her hands and knees. “When you think of how many of our friends have gotten divorced it’s downright scary,” she said. “Have you ever seen a luna moth?” I said. “One of these days I’m going to clean this fridge. I keep saying that, and I keep putting it off. It’s just one of those things I hate to do,” she said. “I’ve only seen one in my whole life and it’s out there right now, or at least it was,” I said. “Maybe we should get a new one. This one is at least fifteen years old,” she said. I turned and walked out the door. Just as I approached the rake, I saw it lift off and fly away. Night was falling. It had to get somewhere, somewhere so particular in the vast world only it had imagined, and for whom only it could make real.