My husband runs his stinger down my chest, a loving gesture to remind me of what damage he could do if he wanted. With his wings he buzzes that he loves me even as his gentlest touch rends my flesh. He has no softness.
In my dreams I often hurt my husband but only in my dreams do I ever have the courage to. I would poke holes in his compound eyes, slice up his wings, rip out his stinger. I often woke up horrified from these dreams because of how much my desire for violence imitated his but I also found myself fearing that somehow he would learn about them. I knew this fear was irrational though, right up until I was awakened by him poking me with one of his legs and I opened my eyes to his quivering jaw – a sign that he was angry.
“Dreaming of hurting me?” he said through the vibrations of his wings.
Had I been talking in my sleep?
“No,” I told him, “I would never dream of hurting you.”
He raised his stinger. He knew I was lying.
“You know what I heard you say?” he buzzed, “you said ‘Let’s see how you do without this leg.’ Which leg, bitch?”
I had talked in my sleep.
“That wasn’t about you,” I said, struggling for a convincing lie, “it was another man who had threatened me.”
He leaned in.
“Another man? What the fuck are you doing dreaming about other men?”
“It happened a few days ago. He approached me in the street, cornered me, asked me if I was single. He got angry when I said I was married. I ran away but when I dreamed about him I was trying to be brave like you.”
The story was half-true. That scenario had played out often enough. More importantly, it had the effect I’d wanted. Anything to avoid his rage. He relaxed, lowered his stinger.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asked.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” I said.
“That’s all you ever fucking do is worry me,” he buzzed, but he also backed off, crawling back to his side of the bed to shake off his anger. Neither one of us slept very well for the rest of the night.
Even when they’re not with their husbands I can tell what kind of creature the women I see in the streets are married too. The rat-wives learn to scurry like their spouses, the snake-wives show the marks on their arms and necks where they have been constricted again and again, the shark-wives are wet from water and blood. And when I see a woman who twitches like me, who is hollow-eyed like me: those are the other insect-wives. Sometimes I can tell by the bite and sting marks just what kind of insect they’re married to, but our real marks are never the visible ones. I feel them in the other women because I know where they are in me. There is an unspoken language between us, shared through the looks of understanding when our eyes meet.
I thought my husband’s anger over the dream would subside but it just kept growing deeper. The rage strikes at unexpected times. We’ll be watching TV and, apropos of nothing, he will blurt out “that mother fucker, hitting on my wife,” his words tuned to his carapace’s angry quivering. I’m sure this will not end well but for now I’m just relieved I’ve directed the anger away from me. There’s a part of me that says I should be flattered by his fury, except that I know it’s not for my sake that he’s angry but his own. His shivers of rage have a beating heart beneath them that thrills at the violence my dream permits him. And I know too that because of my words his anger will eventually have to be directed outwards, at something or someone, and I don’t know if I’m more terrified at the thought that it could be directed at me or at someone else.
He really believes it too. He has accepted the lie completely, or at least I think he has. It may also be that he’s just relieved he doesn’t feel the need to punish me. Sometimes I think he’s as weary of the violence as I am, even as he’s spurred to it again and again, again and again.
Probably worse than any scar my husband ever gave me was seeing what happened to the woman who used to live next door to us. I say “used to” because her husband, a honeybee, stung her in the chest one day when he began to suspect she was cheating on him. It was ruled as a murder/suicide.
I spent a long time after that incident trying to grasp how deep your hatred has to be that you would kill someone knowing that the act would spill your intestines all over their dying body, but it’s just beyond me. My husband stings with that same kind of fury, but his stinger stays put with each piercing and his eyes still glint with violent life after he’s hurt me.
The rage continued to eat away at my husband until he woke me up a few mornings after my dream to tell me he wanted to go hunting for the guy who had hit on me. I stared into his compound eyes, madness glimmering in every hexagonal frame. He was consumed completely and unless I wanted to be consumed with him then I had to go along with this.
He rushed me out the door in my bathrobe and without makeup. I barely even had time to put on shoes. Out in the yard he beckoned me to climb onto his back. I hated riding on his back but objecting would have really set him off, so I mounted him and he flew off. Getting to fly with him was supposed to be a rare privilege but it terrified me every time I had to do it. I gripped tightly to his carapace for the sake of my life, his jagged edges slicing my legs as I did so.
“Show me the guy who hurt you,” he buzzed. I wanted to oblige him just to end this and walk on solid ground again, but who could I shift the blame to?
We flew for hours over happy and unhappy couples, snakes and cockroaches and squirrels out with their families – who among them was as miserable as me? Someone had to be sacrificed to my husband’s anger. It was the only way to bring this to an end, but if I could save someone who had the same hurt in her eyes as me maybe it would be worthwhile.
And then I saw in a park a woman cowering beneath her husband’s fangs, rearing up on his eight legs. It would have to do.
“That’s the guy,” I said, pointing to the spider, “he’s the one who harassed me.”
“Time to make him squirm,” my husband said and swooped in for the fight.
I jumped off his back as soon as he landed, all too aware of the blood sticking to my legs.
“Hey, you’re the son of a bitch who’s been fucking with my wife aren’t you?” he said and reared his stinger. The spider, forgetting about his own wife, turned to this new threat.
“Who the fuck are you,” the spider responded, then turned his four pairs of eyes to me, “I don’t even know this bitch. You’re fucking crazy.”
“Say that to me again mother fucker,” my husband said.
No other invitation was needed. They clashed, stingers and claws and legs flailing at each other, their fury beyond measure. One or the other or both of them would die in this fight. I saw no other way for it to end, not when there was this much hatred involved. I looked to the spider’s wife, saw the pain and fear I knew were in my own eyes reflected there. We stood side by side watching our husbands fight, and I was sure the little ball of hope in my gut was there in hers too.
Adam Breckenridge is an Overseas Traveling Faculty member for the University of Maryland Global Campus, where he travels the world teaching American military stationed overseas and is currently based in Japan. He currently has thirty-seven short story publications to his name and his fiction has most recently appeared in Lucent Dreaming, The Fantastic Other, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies.