copyright 1995 by Danica Nuccitelli
A tiny tickle began at the gentle arc of her ankle. The woman's grey-blue
eyes looked down and saw a ladybug meandering up her leg. She willed it to
fly away safely, flutter up onto the breeze.
The trembling in her ankle must have disturbed the little bug, for it stepped here, there, unsure for a moment. Then the ladybug stretched its tiny, spotted half-shell wings and disappeared. Sighing at the loss of beauty, the woman shifted her weight.
Sticks cracked ominously beneath her feet. Her death-rattle, the woman thought with a grimace. The clearing was silent despite all the people gathered around her. It was a strange silence, like the indrawn breath before a cheer, or a scream.
Someone had told her, once, that ladybugs brought good luck. Count the spots on their backs, he had said, and make a wish... or was it one wish for every spot? Well. It hardly mattered now.
Maybe if he hadn't died, she thought with a touch of sadness. A woman making her own way in the world was suspicious, unusual. With a husband, one could dowry. But a widow was supposed to exhibit her grief, parade it for a year, then become invisible for the few years she had left. People whispered about you otherwise, whispered that you'd charm men into your web, suck their money away, eat your new husband's heart. Al dente, presumably.
Smoke brought her back to the present, the imperative now. Somehow, she had missed the crucial moment, the spark being struck, the log catching fire. Growing, like a ravenous ivy or dandelion, up the pole to breathe hotly at her feet, her knees. Her hips. Her heart. It almost seemed to caress her before destroying, biting into her flesh. She clenched her sweaty fists against sudden, terrible fear, crushing the returning ladybug in the palm of her hand.