My daughter is fascinated with animal bites.
She knows exactly where the shark books and the snake books are in the library.
She knows which shark books are “too babyish” and which show the bloody, serrated line of a real shark bite on an Australian surfer. Her idea of a good bedtime story is for me to recount in detail how a shark swam upstream in New Jersey one afternoon early in the last century and attacked three people, including an eleven-year-old boy.
She requests that I look up brown recluse bites on Google. The bloodier and grosser, the better.
Tonight, while sitting on my lap in the simulated moonlight of the nightlight, her hair sweet-smelling and still damp from the shower, she asked me,
“Would you rather be bitten by a spider, a snake, a monster, a shark or a scorpion?”
“A spider,” says I.
“Okay, take away the spider.”
“What would a scorpion bite feel like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve ever been bitten by a scorpion. I think it would feel like a hammer smashing your finger.”
“I think it would feel like an elephant sitting on your hand.”
And she throws back her head and laughs at the thought.
It goes without saying she is interested in vampires.
If you ask a child, or most adults, how to make a battery out of a lemon, or how a internal combustion engine works, they would admit ignorance. We rely on these things every day; it would be nice to know how they work if we had to rebuild civilization from scratch.
And yet if you ask these same people, “How do you ward off a vampire?”
the answers are quick and confident:
“Well, of course, you need garlic.”
“Make the sign of the cross.”
“And then drive a wooden stake into his heart.”