For the week, I’m at Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. Today was the first day of five or six days of writing and not much else. There are no planned activities, no television. In town, there’s a library, hardware store, pizza shop, and general store/cafe that makes good coffee and is open for breakfast and lunch. And that’s about it.
I’m trying to finish the draft on an essay on lice-picking, which is really (I think) about love. I might call it, “The Work Hands Do.” So far, I’ve added more than 1200 words to the document. I know that writing is not about quantity, but I do have to generate enough material to have something to work with. Here’s an excerpt:
The poison, permethrin, promises to “kill lice and their unhatched eggs with usually only one application.” The permethrin kills no lice; it slows them down for an hour or so. Immune, adapted, they cling, restively, at the bases of hair shafts and do not scurry. They’re drunk on permethrin. I have time to sight, catch, and comb them before they sober up and escape back into the jungle of hair. I dip the fine-toothed louse comb into a container of burning hot water and swirl. Captured ones float for a few moments before sinking. I don’t know, but I imagine that the sinking is a sign of death.
The lice are dark enough in the container of water that I count them. Occasionally the count seems not to add up so I hold the comb up to look for bodies trapped like seeds in teeth and find them there, suspended sideways in the comb, delicate legs scurrying in air, yet not desperately so. They seem to scurry always in a workmanlike way, regardless of footing, unable to take me in as a threat, unable to even see me, not afraid of me as a predator in the way that mice are afraid.
I make my thumb and forefinger into pliers and close over the head and tail of each trapped one and drag it down the long space between teeth it is caught in. I feel its substance, like nut meat, and I imagine eating them. I do this enough times so I think always of eating them when they are pinched in my fingers like this. It would be so easy to eat them, like completing a gesture I already know, that I feel drawn to doing in the way I feel drawn to letting my body go over the barrier at the edge of the falls or on the third or fourth level of an open air parking garage. It’s so close.
I do not eat them. It would not be something that I would do.