As I drove through town, the mantis scrabbled at the side of the cup. Steve peered in through the hole in the top of the lid.
“Is he OK?”
“He’s fine,” Steve said.
I drove faster anyway. I, for one, try to limit my amount of time in a week-old coffee cup, and I was certain it wasn’t all that exciting for the praying mantis. Well, perhaps it was exciting, but certainly not in the roller coaster sort of way. More in the Federal prison sort of way.
When we arrived at the house, I asked Steve to hang tight while I got the camera.
“Let’s just take him inside,” he said. “It’ll be easier to shoot his picture in the house.”
“Inside?” I had visions of the praying mantis taking up permanent residence in our closet.
“It’ll be fine. We’ll close the doors and keep him in the kitchen.”
Steve sat at the kitchen table, and I positioned myself with the camera.
“Ready?” he asked, before lifting off the lid. The mantis crawled out of the cup and rested on Steve’s hand.
It stretched its legs for a moment, then began cleaning his front feet.
“Uh oh,” said Steve. “He’s getting the coffee off. He’s going to be up all night.”
I shot pictures as fast as I could – close-ups, wider shots, hoping everything was in focus but not taking time to check. I repeated “It’s so cool!” ad infinitum. The mantis sat still, peering at the camera, occasionally reaching out one leg toward the lens if I got a little too close.
He began to crawl off Steve’s hand, and I put mine down to take him, still shooting the whole time. Then, in a blur, he dashed up my arm.
“Where is he?” I stood very still, afraid I’d scare him off me.
“He’s just on your shoulder,” Steve said. “Actually, now he’s playing with your hair.”
Steve shot photos until the mantis took a great leap and flew across the kitchen to the top of the toaster oven. I took the camera back as the mantis flew over to Steve and crawled up the front of his shirt, ending on top of Steve’s head.
“Excellent shot,” I said. “Good mantis.”
Eventually, the photo session had to end. It was getting late, and it was time to take the mantis outside.
“Are you just going to carry him outside?” I asked.
“I might try to put him back in the cup,” Steve said. “I think that’ll give me a better chance of actually getting him from the house to the garden.”
Steve picked up the coffee cup in one hand, let the mantis crawl onto his other hand, and tried to put the insect back in the cup.
The mantis had grown wise to us. Flash photography? No problem. Literal manhandling? A-OK. But a return to the coffee cup? No way, no day. The mantis spread its legs like a puppy who recognizes the car carrier means a trip to the vet, and blocked every attempt by Steve to re-cup him.
“I think I’m just going to have to carry him out,” Steve said.
And so he did. And I followed him, and there, at the edge of the garden, the praying mantis flew off Steve’s hand and into the squash plants, into the dark dirt below.
I missed him already.