The Cicadas

June 7, 2008 § 3 Comments

We watched you crouch on your grandmother’s patio, balancing on two tanned, calloused feet and squatting sturdily, feet flat on the floor, like only a young child can do.  You followed a shiny black ant as it struggled to find its way back to the gardens, its hill beneath the boxwood bush. Mulch filled with cocoa shells gave the garden an alluring smell that kept you beside it, looking for treasures like the shiny black ants, or chipmunk holes by the redwood fence. The poolside plants were perfectly sculpted, religiously groomed back then.  We watched your grandmother in the early mornings, her blue handled shears snipping away browned, sunburnt leaves and broken stems.  She hid all of those flaws in a brown paper lunch bag and threw them away before anyone came out to swim.  Each bush stood proud, a forced green sphere, all the same height, the same color, the same width.


It’s true that Nature favors symmetry.  You see it daily in the faces of those you deem beautiful, and the feather patterns of birds.  Look how the octopus is the same from every angle, the way a pine tree, unfettered, still grows into a soaring, majestic cone – a monolith in a field of pristine snow.


The shrubs.  They will find their own symmetry.  There’s no need for you to intervene.


You looked up when we sang out to you and your mother nodded from her poolside chair.


“You hear the hot bugs?” You said, one eye squinting into the sun, your head cocked to the side like a curious animal. 


“Mmm hmm.  Loud today.”


Your mother sat in an orange plastic chaise lounge that always looked dusty from its years of baking in the sun.  She was thin and golden tan, comfortable in a sun yellow bikini.  She was watching you as you soaked in the sun, but no worries about the pool only feet away.  You were an excellent swimmer, and even if you fell into the darker blue, deeper end of the water, she was confident that she could save you.  You’d been to the bottom when you were just a baby, your parents part of a ‘progressive’ generation that thought infants could swim by instinct.  You were gleefully tossed into the deep, sinking to the bottom and quickly bobbing to the top.  Is this why you love water now?  We don’t know.


We were loud that day, having finally been released from the cool, musty ground, our wings stretched out, while hot breezes raced across our backs.  Who wouldn’t sing?


And look at you now, still an excellent swimmer, although your swelling belly prevents you from diving or performing your kick turns at the end of a lap.  Instead, we crouch in the trees and watch you, slathered in sunscreen, floating, loose limbed in a bright pink inner tube while you talk to your mother.  Look how little you’ve changed in so long.  You assume the same postures, the tilted head and squinted eye.  It makes your mother nostalgic and a little bit sad.


“What about Downs Syndrome, have you been tested for that?” She asks, shading her eyes with one hand.  In seventeen years she hasn’t changed much, although it must seem to you that she has shrunk, since you’ve long surpassed her height by three inches.

“I guess.  They took all of the blood from my left arm.”


“All of the blood?” She asks, with a tone.


“Well, one tube.”


You are prone to exaggeration, and we think it’s to garner sympathy while retaining your sense of humor.  Our eyes are faceted, red, sharp.  It is not hard to see through you.  You laugh too often for someone so sad.  You laugh because it’s your weapon, a trick, slight of hand.


“They tested for EVERYTHING, and everything looks fine, but no one ever knows, do they?”


“It’s fine. I know it’s fine,” your mother says, just as easily as throwing you into the deep.


She knows you better than we do, of course.  She will not feed your fears like others will, like the books you read, the stories you hear.  She will not let you spiral out of control and play games of what if.  This has been her life’s work, to comfort and shelter you, to take the fear you radiate and absorb it.  It wasn’t until you were older that you wondered who took hers? 


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§ 3 Responses to The Cicadas

  • allison says:

    This is one of my favorites. I totally forgot about grandma trimming the bushes and putting the clippings in a paper lunchbag.. or maybe I just never took the time to stop- and notice how cute that was. Like I’ve said before.. you have quite the memory. I’m glad I have you to help remind me of these special times.

  • Ann says:

    You made me want to hug my mom. I love the way you write.

  • Meredith says:

    Just as I thought! The cicadas ARE watching. It concerns me that you have an insight to their buggy, evil minds.

    After reading this I called my mom just to hear her voice. Thanks for that. 🙂

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