The Scorpion Summary
by Paul Bowles

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The Scorpion Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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An old woman lives in a tiny cave that was carved out of a cliff by her sons long ago. Her existence is animal-like. Neither happy nor unhappy, she does not have to argue with or share her meager existence with anyone else. She realizes that she will soon die and assumes that her sons, who now live far away in the town, have forgotten her.

Occasionally an old man from a nearby village passes by, always resting on a rock within sight of the entrance to the cave, but he never acknowledges the woman’s existence. The old woman suspects that he does this to annoy her and plots ways to annoy him in return, but never acts on her ideas. The only other creatures the woman encounters are the occasional small animals that blunder into her cave but which she can never catch and the scorpions that live there, which she brushes off the walls with rags and smashes with her bare heel.

One day one of her sons appears. The day is becoming dark, and she is annoyed that her son’s shadow darkens her tiny abode even more. When she reluctantly allows him to enter the cave, he tells her that she must come with him. The son refuses to let her postpone the trip a day, but does allow her to sleep while he waits outside.

The old woman dreams that she is in the large town her son plans to take her to. The bells of its churches ring all the time, and she thinks that the people in the streets might be her sons, although they are unable to respond to her. At nightfall, she finds herself at a house whose women rise to meet her, assuring her that she has a room there.

At this point in her dream, she becomes a little girl who is crying. Then she sees a scorpion crawling down from the ceiling. Because she has nothing to brush it away with, she uses her hand, but the scorpion nimbly grabs her fingers and refuses to be shaken off. When she realizes that it is not going to sting, she is overwhelmed with happiness. She lifts the scorpion to her lips, and it crawls into her mouth and down her throat and becomes hers.

The old woman wakes up and announces to her son that she is ready to go. As they set out, her son tells her that their destination is three days away, noticing, as he does so, her feeble condition. The old man sitting on his rock seems surprised to see them leaving. The son asks who the man is, but when the woman claims she does not know, her son responds that she is lying.