Goodbye beetle
by d. K. mok


She said goodbye with a beetle.

No note on the dresser, no message on my phone. Just her toothbrush gone, and a dried up Christmas beetle placed carefully on the windowsill, staring bleakly at the humid Sydney morning.

Sophie and I had been together for almost a year — we'd met on the lawn outside the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I'd escaped the concrete hive of AMP Plaza for an apple danish break, and she was taking photos of dead seagulls.

We hadn't talked about settling down, but I thought we were happy. I was thirty seven, and dating had stopped being fun years ago. I was tired of starting over, tired of the dwindling procession of new faces asking the same questions.

I stared at the rotund, butterscotch beetle, its iridescent green tarsi like long, furry socks. I remembered Christmas beetles from childhood summers, when they buzzed clumsily around the fairy lights. In my second year of primary school, one of them nailed me between the eyes like a chitin bullet. I swear it left a bruise.

I didn't know much about bugs, but I knew Sophie. And the beetle was a message.


I met up with Tate over a bowl of cheap pho. Tate was my best friend from university, and she'd studied conservation. She was a childcare assistant now, but she preferred the term Human Larvae Wrangler. She saw her job as rescuing skinks, snails, and bugs from the mouths of children.

I showed her the forlorn Christmas beetle, its glossy shell already losing its lustre. After an evening of too much beer and Jeff Buckley, I'd put the beetle in a matchbox, and sewed it a tiny pillow using the kit I reserved for button emergencies.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out, Ryan," said Tate. "Sophie was always a bit flighty."

"Free spirited," I said.

"Yeah, that," said Tate. "Are you sure the beetle didn't just die there? Windowsills are like the insect equivalent of nursing homes."

"Anoplognathus chloropyrus," I said. "I haven't seen one of these since I was a kid."

No, the beetle was Sophie's way of telling me why she left. Why I was still alone.

"You're not carrying that around, are you?" said Tate.

I tucked the matchbox into my pocket, and maintained a dignified silence.

"You know, Ryan," said Tate. "Being single doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you. Some of us find the right person. And some of us die alone. It doesn't have to be a three act tragedy."

The tragedy was never knowing why. But Sophie had left me a six legged cipher, and in this at least, I wouldn't fail.


Beetles had been the tanks of the Permian, invincible when the world was half an inch high. Now, they were crunched by kittens or immolated on chai scented tea lights.

Maybe I was an outdated relic of a forgotten era. The more I pored over entomological texts, the more I realised that just as flowers and gemstones had their cultural codes, beetles were also rich with meaning.

The spiny leaf beetle — Hispellinus Multispinosus — could easily mean 'You're too prickly.' Ladybugs, with their promiscuous habits, meant 'You get around too much.' And Khapra beetles — Trogoderma granarium — were clearly the mascot for teenagers, with their tendency to eat everything, live anywhere, and shed hair and skin with oblivious abandon.

As summer crept towards autumn, I reluctantly started dating again. I changed my introductory line from 'I like your shoes' to 'What's your favourite beetle, and why?' My callback rate nosedived, but the conversations I had were far more interesting.

I stuck a picture of a bombardier beetle on my office thermos: the propensity of Pheropsophus verticalis to emit boiling chemical explosions from its rear clearly meant 'Don't Touch'.

I started signing my reports with a sketch of a conscientious scarab rolling a wad of paperwork, and I urgently improved my technical drawing when Peony from IT took offence at an ambiguously scribbled rhinoceros beetle on my 'Thank You' note.

Still, the meaning of the Christmas beetle eluded me. They were sociable, docile, and festive. They were occasionally implicated in the destruction of crops, but that was beetles for you.

Eventually, I ended up demoted to data entry when my feedback memo to Human Resources, decorated with tersely inked pie dish beetles, didn't go down too well.

"Talk about hypersensitive," I complained to Tate. "Malcolm's such a radar beetle."

"Don't you think you're taking this beetle thing too seriously?" said Tate.

"What am I supposed to do?" I said. "Curl up like a Clambus simsoni and roll away from the truth? I'm getting close. I'm getting into the beetle brain."

"Beetles don't have brains."

"I'm getting into the beetle ganglia."

Tate paused thoughtfully.

"You're a nice guy, Ryan," said Tate. "But you're getting kind of creepy."

From someone whose job was thirty percent mucous management, that stung.

"It's getting cold," I said. "I'll see you later."


My matchbox interred friend was becoming brittle. Its elytra were dull and wrinkled now.

When I was moving from my last apartment, I found behind my couch several tiny piles of brown powder, each perfectly shaped like a cockroach in repose. Their bodies hadn't rotted into maggoty goo, like ours did. It was as though they'd just sighed out of existence.

I looked around at my walls, pinned with photos of raspberry gold stag beetles, grey black whirligigs, and diamond speckled weevils.

Perhaps Sophie had meant that of the millions of species of Coleoptera, of the trillions upon trillions that had lived since the Permian, perhaps I just wasn't the beetle she was looking for.


Tate was working through a plate of free range fries at Happy Carbs when I slid onto the bench across from her.

"How was your day?" I said.

"I had to pull a gecko from Susie's nose this morning," began Tate. "Don't know where she got the gecko. Don't know how she got it up her nose."

A pair of traumatised reptilian eyes peered out from Tate's cotton jacket.

"Just out of curiosity," I said. "What's your favourite beetle, and why?"

"I prefer the larvae," said Tate. "They're disgusting and often parasitic, but it's what you experience as a larva that defines the kind of beetle you'll become. Not the species, but the kind of beetle. You only moult as a larva. Once you become a beetle, you stop growing."

I mulled over this for a moment.

"Feel like going for a walk?" I said.

Tate polished off the last of the fries.



We buried the Christmas beetle in the shallot scented community gardens, beneath rows of butter lettuce.

"Summer's almost over," I said.

"Autumn's not so bad," said Tate. "It'll be guava season."

Sophie's beetle may have been a parting shot, or a parting gift, but her disconnected phone line said more than the beetle ever could.

In the end, it had meant 'Goodbye'.

"You know," said Tate. "They're discovering new species of beetle every day."

I shrugged.

"I hope Sophie finds what she's looking for," I said.

"And you?" said Tate.

I took a breath of damp, earthy air, and tossed the empty matchbox into a recycling bin.

"I guess I'm not done growing," I said.


Goodbye Beetle © 2012 D. K. Mok