I was at Scitech. I'd taken to "volunteering" to take a class around twice a week. The staff loved it — it was definitely not something an administrator was supposed to do. And I really enjoyed myself. I was trying to imagine my child in a group like this. Oh, Weena — who was decidedly convex — insisted on saying "he," but I'm not that certain that a Kullila healer knew everything.
I took the kids past the entomology display — actually "Insects" -- and mentioned that I had studied ants at University. "You know, there's a dreamtime story called 'The Meat Ants and Fire'," I said.
"Can you tell it?" asked a small boy.
"It tells the tale of how Meat Ants showed a tribe how to make fire.
The tribe known as the Meat Ants kept the secret to themselves until a young man from another tribe found out the secret and wanted to share the knowledge with all tribes. The young man having ignited a fire stick ran from the Meat Ant tribe, who gave chase. The young man climbed down a vine and cut it at the bottom. When the tribe followed they all fell to their death. The children of the tribe all turned into Meat Ants and into the same colour as fire.
That's why meat ants are red."
"What about bedbugs?"
"They aren't red. And I don't know a dreamtime story about them." I wanted to move them on. "Now, we've been looking at insects. What do you know about them?"
"They have shells!" "They have six legs." "They're all over."
"Does everything with a shell have six legs?"
"Clams don't!" "I don't know how many legs a yabbie has." "Scorpions have eight legs."
"That's pretty good. People who sort things are called taxonomists. Animals can be sorted in lots of ways. A good way is dividing the ones with backbones — like fish and goannas and birds and dogs and cattle — from the ones without backbones — like ants and spiders and clams and lobsters and worms. Clams and worms don't have any legs. But the others have stiff legs. We call those arthropods. It means 'jointed legs'. Some have very many legs, like centipedes — we call those myriapods; some have ten legs, like crayfish, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp — we call those decapods; spiders and scorpions have eight legs; and all the insects have six legs — we call them hexapods."
"Is a spider an octopod?"
"No. Long ago, folks used 'octopod' for squids and sea animals like them, even though they don't have eight legs — or eight arms. But that's enough for now. What I'd like you to do is walk around this room, look at the specimens, and draw a picture or two of an arthropod. OK? Make sure you put your names on them so I'll know whose picture I'm looking at."
They all scattered.
"That was pretty good," came a voice from behind me. It was Carole, one of the lecturers. "You could get a job teaching science in elementary school."
"It's too tough. Making it simple without perverting reality isn't easy."
"You did really well with the vocabulary. 'Taxonomist, ' 'arthropods, ' 'myriapods.' And getting out of 'octopods, ' too."
I laughed. "I thought that little girl was going to stump me. She'd asked several questions earlier."
"Yes. There's one or two in every group who might grow up to be a scientist or a teacher."
I looked at her. "And that's why you do it."
"Mr. Gordy?" It was the boy who'd asked for the story.
"Could you 'splain a picture?"
It was a large blow-up of a scorpion with her offspring on her back.
"Unlike other arachnids, scorpions don't lay eggs. The young, called scorplings, are born live, like most mammals, and the mothers carry them about for a while."
"As the scorplings grow, their shells get too small, so they shed them and grow new ones. That's called a 'moult.' Most scorplings stay with their mothers till their second moult."
"Gee. Thanks Mr. Gordy."
"Another future entomologist?"
"I doubt it." We both laughed.
There was no sign of Weena when I got home, so I looked in the fridge and began what I hoped was what she had intended for dinner. When she came in, she just plopped into a kitchen chair.
"Little Miss Nursie wanted to know why the folks in the bush didn't just keep drugs on hand. I tried to explain that there were stations and homesteads and bands that had little electricity and no refrigeration. I think she thought I was retarded. Then I pointed out that there were still sundowners, too."
"To say nothing of hikers, campers and idiots who go out in the desert without proper equipment and need help."
"One of the other girls wanted to know about snakebites. I told her to tie a tourniquet above the bite, cut where the fang marks were and suck. And spit. And suck. They didn't look happy, so I told them that venom wasn't what you suck and swallow. And about a third of them looked at me blankly. Most of them laughed. Goody Two-shoes looked disgusted. What a crop! Why are they doing bush medicine? They could be doing an extra in obstetrics or surgery!"
"Well, I'm glad you know when not to spit," I remarked. "There'll be a point when the guy in there will make standard methods awkward."
"At least another month or even two."
"Right. But you're definitely in control there."
"Oh, by the way, I'm getting another sonogram done tomorrow."
"Bring me a picture?"
"Of course." I put my arm around her and kissed the side of her neck. "'So doth the woodbine the sweet honeysuckle gently entwist; the female ivy so enrings the barky fingers of the elm'."
"Ooh! More Shakespeare!"
"Of course. That's what my girl likes."
The picture looked great. You could tell without much training that it was a boy, indeed. Only another six weeks or so.
"Could be any day. At this point they'd probably put him in an incubator. But he might not even need oxygen. But I'm planning on carrying to full term. No 'snatched untimely' from me."
"He looks fairly large."
"I'd guess 30 cm. and nearly three kilos."
"Can you tell?"
"I'm usually pretty good at it. But somehow it's different when it's your own." She picked up the phone and spoke to Mary; then my mum; then Michiko. She was really excited. I went into the spare room. We had a crib and a changing table and a small dresser and a fancy plastic trashcan. It was all in the centre of the room as this weekend was designated for painting. With acrylic paint, I could do the room in the morning and it would be aired out by mid-afternoon. Weena worried a lot about toxicity. It would be light blue with darker blue for the baseboards and the window and door frames. I had wanted green — to avoid blue or pink — but I lost. We had a supply of aboriginal stickers to put around the periphery. I might put some up on Sunday, to see how they looked.
"What about a name?"
"'A rose by any other... '"
"No, you idiot! Months ago you said it was too early and we didn't know the gender. Well, now you can be fairly certain it's a boy!"
"Moron! Do you want a 'junior'? Or should we name him after your dad ... or mine?"
"Certainly no junior. Do you want to use a family name? Or is there a name you'd like?"
"Patrick might be OK. We could call him Pat."
"Or Rick ... Patrick Scott Hollister."
"Really? Dad would burst."
"I hope not. Little bits of bloody meat all over the place. Messy. Very messy."
Weena punched me. "You are an idiot!"
"I think I like it: Patrick Scott Hollister. Is there a Patricia or a Patrick in your family?"
"None that I know of."
"Nor in mine. Well that settles things. Can we still play without Pat complaining?"
"I'm pretty sure we can. He's been very good." She giggled.