Mary Soon Lee
Uplifted Caterpillar Number 131 was the first to survive hatching. She had no companions in her carefully curated laboratory enclosure. The one-way glass did not permit her to view the humans who so eagerly viewed her.
Alone, she ate leaf. She grew. She ate more leaf.
World slowly cycled from light to dark to light. Number 131 ate leaf and grew.
The first time her cuticle split as she outgrew it, Number 131 barely understood enough to be bemused. By her third moult, bemusement had become fascination. What a marvellous world that encompassed such strangeness!
By her fourth moult, Number 131 concluded that this was the way of things. One ate leaf; one grew; one moulted. Leaves appeared in World because otherwise one could not eat and would not grow. It was a most excellent, if rather solitary existence. Number 131 would not admit to any discontent. What good would it do to wish for more than the much she had been allotted?
Yet soon after Number 131 reached these conclusions, a puzzling thing occurred. Leaf no longer appealed. Though leaf tasted the same as ever, she did not want it. Number 131 would not admit to alarm, but she was disconcerted. She attached herself to the underside of the biggest leaf currently in World, so that she might consider the situation. Leaf unquestionably remained leaf, but she no longer cared for leaf. A conundrum indeed.
As she hung from the leaf, matters deteriorated. Discomfort spread through her, sharp enough that she could hardly keep her thoughts together. Is this what it felt like to come apart from the inside? Had she done something wrong? Had World punished her for eating too freely of its leaves?
Wretched, she hung there. She cried out an apology to World, but World said nothing.
How long could she continue to disintegrate before there was nothing of her left at all? Light gave way to dark, dark gave way to light, and still she continued to disintegrate. After three further cycles of light, Number 131 conjectured that her body was being remade even as it disintegrated, remade in order that it might disintegrate again. Dark yielded to light, light to dark, and Number 131 disintegrated, as she would surely do forevermore.
Yet she was mistaken. In due course, World relented. Number 131 found herself whole again. Whole but altered.
She unfolded the new parts of herself and they were fine, more marvellous than anything that had come before. In wonder, Number 131 spread wide her wings. She flew from one end of world to the other. Perhaps it would be unwise to assume this glory would last, a thought that tempered but didn’t quash her delight.
As she flew, she called her thanks to World for its mercy and very great benevolence. ∎
Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for over twenty years. Her latest books are from opposite ends of the poetry spectrum: Elemental Haiku, containing haiku for the periodic table, and The Sign of the Dragon, an epic fantasy with Chinese elements, winner of the 2021 Elgin Award. She hides her online presence with a cryptically named website (marysoonlee.com) and an equally cryptic Twitter account (@MarySoonLee).
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