It started as perhaps many things did, on a breezy autumn night. The stars had yet to come out and shine, but the moon already beamed in pearl luster against the twilight skyscape. It was Saturday, and taking leave for fresh air from my fourth floor apartment downtown, I strolled down first avenue, then fifth, until I found myself finally at the park on fifth and Amsterdam. I had not expected, for these days this park was rather forlorn of any visitors, to see her on the bench I usually frequented on my visits here; it at first filled me with vague apprehension, as I'm not as good with people as I ought to be, no less women, but the striking, iridescent waves of her red-orange hair soothed me to a certain degree, enough so that I finally found myself the courage, after standing quite still for a moment (which, by all means, by any bystander perspective must have seemed very odd) to approach the bench and say my hellos and seat myself beside her.
I rattled through some canned small-talk phrases of the weather and such, followed by an awkward but brief silence as I searched for what else to say in my mind.
"Don't see any saturnbugs out tonight, huh?"
She gave me a queer look.
"Yes, they don't seem to be fluttering about tonight. They usually are."
"What on earth is a saturnbug?"
Incredulously I retorted "You don't know what a saturnbug is?"
"Why, I've never heard of such a thing."
"Am I ought to know?"
"Well, it's like saying you don't know what a horse or a cat or a butterfly is. Everyone knows what a saturnbug is! Have you never read a picture book as a child? I hardly know of any that wouldn't have a saturnbug in it somewhere."
"I.." she paused. "I've never even heard the word until you just mentioned it."
I was bewildered. To not know of something as common as a saturnbug! I thought this woman either in jest or perhaps dim. Not knowing what to say, she spoke up.
What do these saturnbugs look like?"
"You know, they're quite small, eight wings, purple lights on their antennae..."
"Are you making fun of me sir?"
"No, not at all. You really have never seen a saturnbug?"
"I have not."
I went home that night quite sooner than usual, as the conversation died quickly thereafter and the atmosphere was strange and uncomfortable. I sat down at my desk, poured a glass of scotch, and reclined with a small gulp. Thinking back to the incident at the park, I searched the bookshelf with my eyes until I found, finally, a picture book entitled "Insects From A-Z". I rifled through the pages until I finally landed at S, knowing that the saturnbug would be there in full glory.
I was visibly confused for a moment. I was sure saturnbug was in this particular book.
I found another children's book, flipping through pages until I caught sight of the familiar creature. I had not noticed half a bottle of scotch and more than two dozen books go by when I found myself at the dictionary desperately searching the pages for the word saturnbug. It was no-where to be found in my astonishment: no-where at all.
Drunkenly I telephoned a friend deep into the night asking "John, you remember saturnbugs, right?"
"Saturnbugs? What the hell are you talking about at this hour?"
I drank myself into a stupor that night, and arrived at the office late. Visibly hungover I asked my coworkers about the saturnbugs and they, smelling the alcohol on my breath, thought me quite mad. None of them had the slightest idea what I was on about.
Weeks went on, and my alcoholicness deepened with my search for the now-elusive saturnbug. Countless libraries tossed, innumerable passersby questioned, but all in vain. I had never even liked the damned bugs that much, but I held firm to my conviction that they were real.
One day, I got far too drunk and, clamoring down the way, disheveled and with a cardboard sign on which read "WHERE HAVE ALL THE SATURNBUGS GONE?", I was dragged off to the sanitarium, screaming all the while about the the lost purple glow of the saturnbugs.
* * * * *
She had not been to this park in quite some time, and found herself wandering about here and there, enjoying the morning air, when she came across a ghastly yet, familiar looking man. She was cautious to approach, fearing him to be a lunatic, but, for some unnamed reason found herself compelled towards him.
"Hello!" she chimed.
He did not reply for a second and looked at her with a stare that was not looking at her. He seemed quite out of it.
Feeling pressured by his bizzareness, she added "Lots of saturnbugs out tonight, isn't there?"
His face, blank, replied at once:
"What's a saturnbug?"