I had a pet caterpillar with no name.
Found him in the front yard. That deep into August, the front yard was nothing but a bunch of dry, burnt plants wherever the weeds didn’t grow. Then the weeds grew over the dead stuff. From the front yard to the side and back yards to the rest of East Side Drive, pricks poked your skin and Bear covered the carpets with burs that clumped together his retriever hair. The flowers in the garden didn’t show up again and for the second summer, we were the only ones with grass like straw on the street. I checked on the walk to get groceries from the corner store down the highway.
Julian and I watched Kristine dump out the insides of a jar onto Mom’s bed. Mom used the jar to collect change she found in the vacuum. A waterfall of red and silver copper chink- chinked out and covered the corner of the blanket. Kristine and Julian sorted the change into bigger piles, while I made smaller ones.
“Where are the quarters? The loonies?” Kristine pushed pennies out of the way, only to find more blanket.
“We already used them,” Julian said. “I’m not going to the corner store with pennies and dimes in my pockets again.”
“You want to eat? I need tampons when you go,” My sister Kristine said, and with that, she’d see us off on the stone porch with a lighter and a smoke in her hand. “Get bread.”
“What way we taking?” I asked.
“Same way, Cody.”
Take a right and walk down the highway for a bit with a pocketful of nickels and by the time your feet cramped up, there it was: a sunburnt shack bleached by the yard-killing sun and two gas pumps for those heading up north to Algonquin and the Cottage Country. My brother Julian got unlucky with Kristine and he mostly went in with the nickel pockets. He (which went back to ‘we’ after the first few trips), always came out with a bag of Wonder Bread and a bag of Doritos. Nothing went mouldy, except the walls.
Julian, Kristine and me stopped drinking the tap water and couldn’t flush the toilets. We couldn’t shower, but I didn’t need to shower because I was 9 and it was burn-your-butt summertime in Washago, so we stopped boiling tap water for baths altogether.
Water hated us. One day, I went out into the backyard and a puddle of grass and brown sop came up to my shoe. From our red porch to where the backyard met the forest, the backyard our family friends used to camp on, was all swamp. This is because the septic tank built under 2073 burst when we stopped paying and cursed our toilets sick by having them puke up whatever little food came out of the three of us and—if they were around at the time—Daniel and Lee. The ginger cousins.
When the cousins came over, the living room got a cleaning and Kristine’s bedroom filled with a pizza and my two cousins that come from a family of ginger Italians—a family who tell the loudest stories in Ontario—showed up swinging and banging pots on pans to get a laugh out of us.
One morning after the cousins left, I took a mason jar, a fat one Mom drank out of, and left it on the grass next to the caterpillar. Didn’t go in. I picked him up with my fingers and put him at the bottom of the jar with some leaves from the forest behind the backyard and off the trees lining the end of our property.
Even under the pile of green, the caterpillar looked naked in the glass. Old calcified spots of white dishwasher stopped him from climbing out. Made him carsick in the jar.
With the jar in my hand, I walked around the side yard and to the front of the house, near the driveway. Fluid leaked from a white vent between the kitchen windows and the peak of the roof. It left a dark stain that creeped below to the kitchen windows. The Drip stayed there all summer. The Drip stayed longer than we did. People could drive by it, mark our house with it. Took ten years and new owners to paint over it with Seabed Blue.
“What she say?”
“That she’ll be back soon.”
When it got dark that night, I brought the jar into a room with a working lightbulb and grabbed an end piece from the Wonder Bread and poked at the warts on my toe. The caterpillar fish-bobbed and pawed at the jar glass and didn’t stop for a week or something crazy like that.
The two of us ate together. In the mornings, I put the jar on the side and let him out onto the peeling red deck and put my finger in front of him when I wanted to go somewhere else. Took him to the edge of Eastside Drive and up to the 400, and down some back roads that went so far you could swear you were finally getting out of there, but always ended up at more 400. I started to end the caterpillar’s nights on an island in the kitchen, and finally had a reason to turn off the kitchen light.
I needed something I could watch grow and fly out of here. I wanted something that would grow out of the jar and along the living room wall like Mrs. Carpenter’s bean project in the first grade two years before. It was East Side Drive and it was 2003. I knew the people on Julian’s old paper route. We had the cousins and two-versus-one me-in-the-tank multiplayer games on the Xbox that Kristine’s ex-boyfriend left.
I was the happiest when I played Halo, with Julian and Daniel. The two of them had something in their souls that I didn’t have in mine, some jumps in their jokes I couldn’t make out but had me laughing anyways.
“It puts the lotion on its skin. Like Gollum, don’t you get it Cody? Silence of the lambs?”
Even though I was a little kid who wouldn’t leave them alone, they’d let me go in the tank during a multiplayer match and let me kick their butts. Doubt the two of them ever pulled that on purpose though. Two of them liked the game too much to ever let me win. But once, the three of us were playing and just when I was about to beat them, Julian started to complain about the light in his eyes from the sun outside the window. The caterpillar went full cocoon shortly after that.
Woke to a bed of webs with white blankets in the middle of the mason jar. It was evening and the kitchen had baked like an oven and all week it slept in the heat. The place was empty, except for Mom’s old jars of jam that were now orange, and decade old baby food in the cupboard. I saw him in there, ready to butterfly. I waited for the pizzas with a smile that week.
Julian and I spent our nights in Kristine’s room in the basement. It was the closest room to his and the laundry room, which could kill a nine-year-old like me with the mould on his TV stand and the mould that ate the drywall. Started making one big room. But we had one thing: a copy of a Family Guy episode on Kristine’s computer. It was about the end of the world. We watched it every night. Sometimes twice.
After a few days, August got hot and thirsty for some water. Going back with the cousins was a damn miracle. Julian spent more weekends with the cousins, lost in their backyard forest, underground in the basement with a Playstation 2, jokes for days, a Great Dane named Sausage, and a silver fridge full of I don’t even know what. As Kristine and me topped up Bear’s metal bowl with the bottom of Bear’s big bag of dog food and tossed it beside the stack of pizza boxes, the cocoon sat on the inside of the jar. We spent weeks with the windows open to the deadness of the green Washago night it got so hot, even breezy at times.
By the end of the month, Dad showed up with two dogs and a moving truck.
The caterpillar died in the cocoon shortly after that. I left the jar on the kitchen table when we left.
CODY CAETANO is a writing student in his graduating year. He served as the 2016-2017 editor-in-chief of Mindwaves, the University of Toronto at Mississauga’s Professional Writing and Communication program’s creative non-fiction journal. In the fall, Cody will begin his MA in Creative Writing at the University of Toronto.