The Moth Collector

‘This is so we can keep in touch better,’ she says. ‘We’ll be able to talk across the internet.’

Graham has never understood the point of computers and has even less interest in the internet. He’s managed to avoid it his entire life and doesn’t see the need for it now.

‘What’s wrong with the phone?’ he says.

He imagines talking over the internet as shouting across a large, indefinable chasm that would only make his throat hurt.

‘Nobody uses landlines anymore Dad,’ says Denise. ‘It’s not the same. You’ll be able to see Molly and Josh on video. I’ll set you up with an email account soon. Oh, and I’ve got a tablet for you too.’

‘I’ve got enough tablets, thank you very much!’ says Graham. ‘I’ve already got Warafin for my heart, Metformin for diabetes, and the Statins for cholesterol.’ He likes to ensure she remembers as tablets are all he has left to measure out his hours now Irene has passed away.

‘Not those kind of tablets Dad,’ says Denise. ‘This one’s for surfing.’

‘I’m in no condition for such a sport at my age!’

‘I’ve arranged all the important icons for easy access. Here’s Skype, this one’s for emails, this is the internet,’ says Denise opening up the web browser.

‘What am I meant to do with that?’ says Graham, staring at the blank page. Denise explains that you just search for things. ‘What kind of things?’ he says.

‘Anything,’ says Denise. ‘Whenever anything comes into your head, just “Google it”.’

‘I don’t see the point. Nothing much comes to my head anymore. What’s wrong with good old fashioned books and encyclopaedias anyway.’

Denise signed him up for a weekly magazine for over the 60s called The Senior Web, which featured articles on getting the most from the internet and how to be safe on it. He takes cursory glances over lunch before discarding it into the recycling bin.

And then something in the Easter issue catches his attention, an article on moth collecting. Moths had always fascinated Graham, but Irene couldn’t stand them in the house, not even dead ones. If there was a moth, he’d cup it in his hands, careful not to damage its delicate beauty; he’d admire it flitting in his palm before releasing and watching it flutter away into the night — leaving the light on and the window open in the hope it would find its way back.

Before he and Irene settled in the UK, Graham worked at the British Embassy in San José in the sixties and fell in love with the Costa Rican Automeris postalbida, he would watch the large black circles on their hindwings, like an extra pair of eyes as they flitted against the hot lights of the night time bars in the summer.

Irene would turn in her grave if she discovered he was about to keep a dead, boxed up moth in the house.

He visits one of the recommended moth collectors forums and registers himself as GrahamAutomeris1935. He spends all day browsing the various message boards where he learns about the best way to catch moths at night, about how it’s important to mount them soon after capture, discovers about the different types of display boxes, and learns that it’s possible to purchase moths over the internet.

The Senior Web likened the internet to a big city, and like any other city, it had its pleasant areas and bad areas, had its honest folks and thieves; it was full of shopping centres like Amazon; news agents with all the different kinds of papers you could imagine; social media sites, which were explained as private scrap books that people made public; but, the article had explained, if you turned the wrong corner you could end up bumping into drug dealers, strip clubs, brothels (he had no interest in such things anymore). The key, the magazine went on to explain, was knowing how to stay safe, and Graham stays safe by confining himself to his moth collector’s forum.

He sends Denise several emails but becomes concerned when she doesn’t reply. After several attempts in the evening, he finally reaches her on Skype.

‘What’s wrong Dad? Is everything okay?’ says Denise.

‘You didn’t reply to my emails,’ says Graham.

‘Oh! I was busy, sorry. Josh is poorly. He’s just been sick everywhere. What’s wrong? Are you okay?’

‘They have moths!’ he says. ‘Lots of moths!’

‘Moths?’ says Denise. ‘Josh! Honey, mommy’s coming. Who has moths dad?’

‘The internet! They have moths!’

‘That’s great Dad! Listen, I’ll have to call you later okay? Love you.’

Graham searches through the website’s classified section and decides to post an ad in the ‘wanted’ area.

Hello, my name is Graham, I am in my 80s and I’ve always wanted to collect moths ever since I watched the Automeris postalbidas back in San José in 1960s. I would like to start my collection so if you have any for sale, please contact me, I would be very interested. Thank you.

The next morning he receives a message from ViktorTineidae1938. Viktor says he has seen Graham’s advert and that he also loves the Automeris postalbidas and has many already pinned and mounted. And one originally caught in 1965 in San José and, for the right price, he will consider selling it.

Graham asks the price. Viktor wants to know it’s going to a good home and suggest they meet. Viktor says he lives in Northampton, not far from Graham in Banbury. But has trouble getting around these days. He asks Graham if he won’t mind coming to Northampton, he can show him the Automeris postalbida.

Graham isn’t sure how he will make it there. He doesn’t want to ask Denise, he doesn’t want any lectures to scupper his chance of possessing his lifelong prize. He had read that it was important to meet somewhere public and safe, and even though he doesn’t drink coffee, he doesn’t mind meeting at Viktor’s suggested coffee shop.

Graham calls for a taxi to take him to Banbury station. By the time he gets to Viktor’s suggested rendezvous, Graham is already half an hour late and realises he had no idea what Viktor looks like.

The coffee shop is small, it has ten, small round tables with very little space to move between them. As soon as he enters a large, tall man in a black trench coat and a Russian accent stands up in the corner and calls him over.

‘I knew it was you. You have stranger’s look. Sit, sit!’ Viktor has a firm grip and shakes Graham’s hand more times than he cares for. ‘Nice to meet you, nice to meet you. Come, come. I have coffee. You have coffee too.’

Graham explains how the doctors have said coffee is not good for his heart, but Viktor insists.

‘Ha! That is bullshit my friend! These “experts” they keep changing mind. Two years? They say: drink coffee, drink every day.’

They discuss the old days, how in another era they could have been enemies, but Viktor tells Graham he hated the Cold War, it had split his family, but pleasures in reminding Graham that the first man in space was a Russian.

‘I don’t have it. Not with me,’ says Viktor as he brings another cup of coffee over to Graham. Graham declines but Viktor insists, ‘Come, come. I will show you picture. Drink.’ Viktor pulls out some photographs from his bag, ‘This,’ he points at a faded colour picture of a pinned and mounted Automeris postalbidas. ‘This I buy in ’85 from man in San José, it is, how you say? Prize possession.’

‘But where is it?’ says Graham.

‘In good time, my friend. This is special moth. I wanted to know it will have special home. I needed to know you are serious. We meet again yes?’

‘I thought I was buying it today?’ says Graham.

‘Next week, same time. I promise. It was good to meet you Graham. I will send message.’

Graham gets the feeling he’s being fleeced, like the old man’s having a laugh; mocking him from behind his rusted iron curtain. He’s getting worked up and he knows he shouldn’t; he feels foolish for using the internet, foolish for having followed his dream. He’s about to leave when the waitress reminds him that his friend said he would pay for the coffees.

Viktor sends Graham more messages every day with pictures from different angles of the Automeris postalbidas. Graham’s still unhappy he had to pay for the coffees and considers looking elsewhere, but he wants Viktor’s that was caught in 1965 in San José, that was the year he spent falling in and out of love with Francini his maid, before he met Irene at the 4th July Picnic where the whole of San José had come out. She spoke very little English but looked beautiful in her white floral dress.

Graham meets Viktor again at the same coffee shop a week later.

‘How much then? Whatever you want for it. Just tell me,’ says Graham.

‘Coffee is on me this time, I’m sorry I forgot wallet last time,’ says Viktor.

‘Where’s the moth?’ says Graham.

‘Oh! It is at house,’ says Viktor. ‘I wasn’t happy walking with precious prize. Some people you cannot trust Graham. But I trust you! And I see you want this very much! Come, come, let’s celebrate our deal with more coffee. I insist!’

‘My tablets.’ Graham pats his pockets. ‘I should take my tablets now. Is that the time?’

‘Drink, drink my friend,’ Viktor encourages. ‘But there is something I need to tell my friend. I’ve never had moths. I don’t collect them. These pictures I print from internet! But it has been pleasure meeting you. You are nice guy. Don’t forget to pay for the drinks.’

Denise is at his bedside sitting in an orange plastic chair. Graham looks over as a nurse fumbles at his drip and asks if he’s hungry. He shakes his head.
‘What are you doing all the way over in Northampton Dad? I had a call at work, they said you’d collapsed in a coffee shop.’
‘I was meeting an old friend,’ says Graham as a moth flit about the window sill behind Denise.

After a couple of days in hospital he is cleared to go home and told to be careful and to stay away from coffee. He travels home in silence in Denise’s car determined not to go near the internet again.

A couple of days later, he receives a delivery. Graham sits down at the table, flings his copy of The Senior Web in the bin and opens up the box. The box is stuffed with pink, foam peanuts, and as he digs in, he finds a small picture frame with a Automeris postalbidas mounted on it along a handwritten note: I don’t normally do this, but you seemed like a nice guy. Viktor. P.S. don’t drink coffee, it’s bad for you and be careful who you meet on the internet.

© 2016 Occasional Dreams
In response to daily prompt: Relish
Image: Moths of Costa Rica by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren / CC BY

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