By David Norlin
My most terror-inducing experience did not involve viewing Psycho, Godzilla, Jaws, or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It happened while reading a book.
A book with the innocent title, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” A book by a well-known Wesleyan University English-teacher. A book by that terrorist, Annie Dillard. A book whose excerpt, widely read in college English classes, was titled, “Terror at Tinker Creek.”
It was about, not Frankenstein, but a frog.
As Dillard walked the banks of a pond, small frogs jumped from her path, one after another in a wave about five feet ahead, creating steady splashes of water, each preceded by a ‘yike’ of self-preservation, away from this monster’s threatening shadow. But the frogs’ real terror lay elsewhere.
Dillard’s experience was like many of ours, but she paid closer attention. As she walked, she noticed one frog not moving. He did. Not. Move.
Dillard knelt for closer observation. Looking intently down into his “wide, dull eyes,” she saw the spirit vanishing from his eyes “as if snuffed. “
As she tells it, “His skin emptied and drooped; his very skull seemed to collapse and settle like a kicked tent. He [shrank] before my eyes like a deflating football. I watched the taut, glistening skin on his shoulders ruck and rumple and fall. Soon, part of his skin, formless as a pricked balloon, lay in floating folds like bright scum on top of the water; it was a monstrous and terrifying thing.”
Soon, that ‘frog-skin-bag” sank into oblivion.
What caused it? A “giant water bug,” actually a brown beetle. The water bug’s “grasping forelegs are mighty and hooked inward. It seizes a victim with these legs, hugs it tight, and paralyzes it with enzymes injected during a vicious bite. That one bite is the only bite it ever takes. Through the puncture shoot the poisons that dissolve the victim’s muscles and bones and organs—all but the skin—and through it the giant water bug sucks out the victim’s body, reduced to a juice.”
As Dillard says in closing, “I couldn’t catch my breath.”
Breathlessly re-reading the essay, yet again, the analogy to our everyday, on-going, soul-wearying Kansas legislative/political plight, was inescapable as a waterbug bite. We need to pay Dillard-like attention.
Kansas’ own brown-backed water bug, a creature of radical extremist ideologues, has snuck up on us and done its work.
Below the surface, it has bit us from behind while we basked in our freedom’s warm waters. One brown-backed tax liberation bite was all it needed. Its venom continues to spread throughout our body politic, our muscles, bones, and organs all sucked out as one juice, our entire infrastructure now reduced to an amorphous slop to feed the monster. Listen. That giant sucking sound is the hallmark of our present state government.
Shakespeare and Thomas Frank told us. We wouldn’t listen. Are we now finally recognizing our death by a thousand cuts?
Our state-skinned bag rucks, rumples, and floats slowly to the bottom, dry and useless, dull and lifeless, its vitality drained by this at-first-seemingly-harmless little brown-backed bug.
But. There may be relief from the terror. Kansans’ well-placed November votes could bring us back to life.
Let’s jump at the chance.
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