Marta and the Bug (5-6)
At breakfast Marta’s mom explained about Anthony. Things were serious between them, she said – so serious that she’d asked Anthony to move into the house. Anthony didn’t have any children of his own but he did have a very nice dog named Mr Bumble – a basset hound - who had long ears and who, she was sure, Marta would absolutely love. And oh yes, Anthony was very good at decorating and said he’d be willing to re-decorate Marta’s room if she wanted. What’s more, Anthony was always visiting the seaside. In fact, he was thinking about buying a little boat. If so, they could go to the
seaside every weekend, or at least the weekends when Marta wasn’t visiting her father. What did she think about that ? Wasn’t it all exciting ?
While her mother spoke Marta sat quietly eating her breakfast cereal. She wasn’t particularly interested about Anthony or Mr Bumble or her room being re-decorated. She was thinking about Bug. Before coming down
for breakfast she’d unscrewed the lid of the glass jar and left her bedroom
window open so he could fly out into the garden. She’d considered taking Bug to school but had decided against it. School was far too noisy for him and some of the rougher boys would try and pick him up. If they did then anything might happen, although she was sure Bug would scare them with his wings that looked like angry eyes. No. She would keep Bug for herself and he would live in her room. And if one day he decided to leave then that was fine – Marta would understand. Because bugs weren’t like humans. Their situation was different.
‘Are you listening to me ?’ Marta’s mom said sharply. Then, softer: ‘Look, sweetheart - I know it’s difficult for you to understand but can’t you just think about me for a change ? Your dad has got a new family now and I’d
like to have somebody in my life – in our lives. That’s what happens when
people separate. I just think it’s time I began to think about my future, Marta.
I’m not getting any younger. And Anthony is a very nice man. Once you get to know him you’ll see. Marta ? Marta ? Are you listening ?’
No, Marta wasn’t listening. She’d finished her breakfast and was now putting on her coat. She was going to brush her teeth, pack her rucksack and then walk to school by herself. And later, when she got home, she was going to go straight up to her room and spend some quality time with Bug.
But Marta was disappointed when she returned home from school and went up to her room. Bug wasn’t in his glass jar. That afternoon the warm weather had turned. The temperature had dropped; it had started to rain. Marta sat by her window looking out onto the garden. She kept the window open, even
though the room was cold and raindrops spattered onto the sill. Maybe Bug had returned to his nest or was sheltering beneath a leaf. Or maybe he’d got mixed up and found another glass jar to hide away in.
When darkness fell she changed into her pyjamas and prepared herself for bed. She lay for a long time listening to the rain. Perhaps something bad had happened and Bug was never going to return. She turned off her bedside light and fell asleep.
She woke after midnight. She could hear the strange humming sound again. Even against the noise of the rain - which was a lot heavier now - she could hear it, a low pulsing sound like an electrical appliance that needed to be switched off. She got out of bed and checked the jar. It was still empty so she closed the window. Now the humming sound was even louder. It was coming from somewhere in her room. She turned on the torch she kept in her desk drawer and began to search – under the bed, inside her book box, through all her clothes hanging in the wardrobe. Just as she began to think she was wrong she saw something in that place where the walls and ceiling join together – a luminous bubble affixed to the corner of her room. She took hold of her magnifying glass and pushed her chair into position. Then she climbed up, balancing the torch and magnifying glass in her hands.
The light illuminated what looked to be a strange rubbery substance – a yellowy, translucent sac. Marta stood on her tip toes. The humming became more and more distinct the closer she got to it – an eerie thrumming in her ears. She tried to gently poke the sac with her torch but couldn’t reach. Then, after placing two pillows on her chair to give more height, she was able to better see what was inside: the pulsing embryos of six tiny bugs.
The following weekend it was decided that Marta would visit her father for the third weekend in a row. That way, her mother said, their normal routine would be re-established. ‘Gillian has complained that her diary needs to be kept on schedule’ she said. What’s more, Anthony was moving in and there
would be lots of boxes to unpack. ‘And it will be easier for Mr Bumble to settle if there aren’t so many people in the house.’
Marta listened to her mother’s excuses but said nothing.
Her dad picked her up on Friday evening and made a point of handing her the remote control button to open the gate. They wriggled their fingers but really Marta’s heart wasn’t in it. She felt she was beyond such childish games. Pretend magic didn’t interest her anymore.
Inside the house Gillian was sitting at the kitchen table working on her laptop; the twins were in the garden, chasing each other on the lawn. ‘It’s going to be a lovely weekend, Marta’ her dad said, carrying her rucksack up the varnished stairs to her box room. ‘Unfortunately, though, we won’t be able to go to the seaside. James is in bed with a poorly tummy.’
‘Look in and see if he wants anything’ Gillian shouted. Marta and her dad turned right at the top of the stairs and stood outside James’ room. Her dad knocked the door: ‘Do you need anything James ?’ but there was no answer. He quickly peered in, then gently closed the door. ‘James is sleeping’ he said in a whisper but Marta knew James was lying about his tummy so they wouldn’t be able to go to the sea.
Marta’s dad placed her rucksack on her bed and said: ‘I hope you haven’t bought any more little bugs with you.’
Marta said she hadn’t. Even so, her father unzipped her rucksack and looked inside for the jam-jar. It wasn’t there, so instead he pulled out Marta’s magnifying glass and torch.
‘Why have you brought these ?’ he asked. ‘Is the bedside light not working ?’ He switched the box room’s lamp on and off several times.
‘It’s so I can make my eyes more powerful. Then I can see things more clearly.’
Marta’s dad looked at his daughter with a puzzled expression. Then he said: ‘Gillian and I are not in the mood to cook this evening, so we thought we’d order pizza. You like pizza, don’t you ?’
Marta said yes, of course – she’d always liked pizza, ever since she was a little girl. He’d seen her eat pizza a hundred times! She wondered if her father was having problems with his memory.
‘Oh ok. I couldn’t remember, that’s all. That’s fine then…’ he said and they went downstairs.
While they waited for the pizza delivery Marta sat in the garden with the twins. They were wearing identical summer dresses – pink with yellow and orange flowers. ‘A dog is going to be living at my house’ Marta said but the twins didn’t seem very interested so Marta got up and looked around the garden, hoping she would see Bug.
As they ate Gillian told her daughters they were going to have an early night. ‘The twins haven’t been sleeping very well’ she said, tapping at her phone, whereupon it pinged with a new message.
Sometimes Marta was never quite sure who Gillian was talking to. She rarely looked at Marta when she was speaking and now Marta wanted to know why the twins were unable to sleep. She asked her father. ‘Oh, I’m not sure’ he said. ‘Something about a strange noise, I think.’
The twins looked across the table with serious faces. ‘We hear humming noises’ one of them said.
‘Like this…’ said the other: ‘Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.’
Gillian covered her ears and told her daughter to stop. Then, when the dinner table was quiet, she took another slice of pizza and said: ‘Well, I certainly haven’t heard any humming noises. I think you’re both imagining it.’
After dinner Marta searched the box room for translucent bubbles. She knew they must be somewhere. She switched on her torch and peered under the bed; then she took up her magnifying glass and investigated her wardrobe – the hangars, the dark corners, the deep recesses of the drawers.
As she did so she became aware of someone behind her: it was James, standing with his arms folded. ‘Why are you looking at things with a magnifying glass ?’ he said. Marta didn’t answer his question. Instead she said: ‘I know you’re not ill, James. You’re just pretending to be ill so we
won’t go to the sea.’
He was wearing his crimson bathrobe and Batman pyjamas. ‘I don’t like it when you’re here, Marta. I don’t like it at all. Neither does my mom.’
Marta, in an effort to look scary, placed the magnifying glass over her right eye and said: ‘The feeling’s mutual.’
But James became more and more angry. ‘And I don’t like your dad either. He’s weird, just like you. I hope you both go away and never come back.’
James turned round and stomped downstairs and Marta knew he was going to tell Gillian about the torch and the magnifying glass and everything she’d said.
That night Marta lay in bed with the duvet pulled tightly around her. She’d cried for a while before drifting to a place beyond tears – an empty place in which she felt totally and utterly alone. She thought of her mom and Anthony sleeping together in the house. She thought of the basset hound leaving its hairs all over the furniture; and she thought of Anthony’s stupid
possessions cluttering up the hallway. She felt stuck in the middle of two
different places – places she didn’t want to be. And she thought of what James had said: She wasn’t wanted here; soon it would be the same at home.
She woke again at midnight - the humming sound had returned. She jumped out of bed and turned on her torch. She’d left the window slightly open, just in case Bug decided to return. But, despite searching for a second time, she couldn’t find any embryos in the box room. Nor was Bug sitting on the wall.
After a while Marta was sure the humming noise was coming from outside. She opened the door of the box room and crept down the stairs. Then she unlocked the sliding doors which led to the garden.
It was warm again. The sky was clear and studded with stars. The torchlight illuminated shrubs and trees. Something behind her scuttled into the undergrowth.
She walked across the lawn, towards the windowless shed. The humming sound got louder.
The shed door was secured by a small silver padlock. She pulled at it several times. The wood was so soft and old that the small rusty screws fixing the latch began to loosen. She pulled again. The humming noise seemed like a message, inviting Marta to enter. She used more and more force. Now the door was slightly ajar. Clouds of luminous yellow mist swirled in the atmosphere. Unable to force the lock she searched behind the shed for something to prise the latch and, in amongst the old planks and empty paint tins lying against the fence, found a screwdriver. Marta inserted the rod behind the metal plate and with an almighty heave eased the latch free.
The door slowly opened. Marta gasped.
Inside was a treasure trove of translucent bubbles – hundreds of them attached to every inch of the shed’s wooden panels and shelves. Even the lawn mower that sat in the middle of the shed floor was covered. The mist was eventhicker than she’d thought - a swirling yellow blanket protecting the tiny insects. She looked closer, saw the shapes of the bugs throbbing with life. Marta stood inside the doorway inhaling the air. It tasted sweet, like a strange, amorphous nectar. Filled with golden treasure, the shed was a grotto - a place that Marta felt was her own true home.
Go to parts 7-8: https://www.abctales.com/story/kilb50/marta-and-bug-7-8