Saturday, June 4, 2016

17 years

17 year cicada, newly hatched

The cicadas were everywhere. She couldn't take a step without squashing one or having a bug fly at her, often just missing a collision—other times landing on her chest, neck, or shoe, content with being there until she hurriedly brushed it away, heart pounding. One time, she watched a sparrow snatch one out of the air, with a fly-and-chopsticks precision she applauded. The birds and squirrels were the triumphant gluttons of that summer. Even her dog snacked on the bizarre backyard intruders, when there was nothing better for him to do.

The invasion of cicadas happened every seventeen years, for as long as six weeks per brood and region. It took them that long to molt from their nymph state, to woo and mate, before the entire lifecycle turned over, and their progeny spent the next seventeen years in a dark dormancy beneath the earth, sucking on the paltry nutrition of tree roots to sustain them during the births, deaths, retirements and divorces up above.

And, for some reason she couldn't articulate, she found the whole thing electrifying.

It could just as easily been scary. Or at the very least, gross. These bugs were big, with red, alien-like eyes and erratic, whirring wings. Back in the summer of '99, when she had been in her twenties, she'd avoided them. She remembered a vague alarm surrounding that June. The racket they made was almost deafening, especially in certain spots uptown, and on the university's campus, where they took the place of vacationing students rather naturally, and with less destructive results, in whole.

But for her—and for this brood—the insects' buzz built a frisson in the blood. She felt some new excitement pounding within. She wanted to write like she had, before. She wanted to take the chances she hadn't taken, then.

She wanted to know that in another seventeen years, when she was deep into her fifties, she wouldn't regret a thing from that summer.

And that meant him.

When next she saw him, he was smiling at her. He was always smiling at her, but she didn't know what it meant, not for sure. As she drew nearer, a cicada flew blindly at their faces, coming to rest on his right shoulder, where it stayed.

"You have a friend," she said, pointing to it.

He looked down. "So I do."

He didn't brush it off, but let it stay. They watched, without moving, to see what it would do.

And as their eyes met, it stayed.

And when he leaned in to kiss her, it stayed.

And when she pulled back to look at him, it stayed.

It stayed.

For seventeen years, she thought. It might just—stay.


the walking man said...

Odd how certain cyclical events can trigger desires long held by the roots of trees.

Sarah Hina said...

Well said, Mark.

Charles Gramlich said...

I have been used as a resting post for a cicada. It was a good few minutes at least.

Naquillity said...

what a beautiful story. i can remember one year we had lots of cicadas around and as i was getting ready to order popcorn at the movies a cicada landed on me. oh, it scared me half to death because i hadn't seen it arriving. i instinctively brushed it away. it landed on the floor safely. hope all is well. have a great night~