“Daddy what’s that sound?” my daughter Darcy asks.
“Crickets,” I respond in the clipped manner of a father who just wants his child to go to bed.
“I don’t like them,” she answers with the certainty that only a six year old can muster. It’s a new and strange sound and one with which she’s unfamiliar. The din of the cicada’s song has waned and as summer closes the crickets have taken up the call with their overt and erratic chirps.
“It’s still light out,” Darcy protests.
I remember making the same complaints when I was her age and bristling at the unfairness of being put to bed while the sun had yet to set. The arbitrary goings on of daylight savings time on the motions of the planet as it revolved around the sun made little sense to me then. To this day there are times when it still doesn’t.
“What were those other ones?” Darcy asks, “the other bugs I didn’t like?”
“They are called cicadas,” I said. Darcy never liked their din but I found peace in them many years ago when I was a boy.
“Cicadas live underground for years waiting for the right time to climb out,” I say.
“Like butterflies?” Darcy asks.
“Close,” I respond and consider mentioning that they’re not as pretty but who am I to pass judgement?
I didn’t always love cicadas or their song. At first I found them to be the very personification of panic as it cycled and rose before crashing over me only to cycle up again. When I was Darcy’s age I recall laying awake in bed as the thunderous silence of my home was filled with nothing more than the cicada’s din.
After years I came to peace with one but not the other. I loathed the unsound of our home but over time came to understand and take solace in the cicada’s song and then the whine of the cricket that heralded the end of summer. I made them both my own.
“Let me tell you why I love cicadas,” I tell Darcy. Her eyes are heavy and her breath is slow and tired, “I grew up in a quiet home you see,” I begin because it’s the simplest way to start.
My father built the house for my mother because he thought it would make her happy and because she thought it might make her happy as well. It didn’t of course. Even at the age of seven or eight I knew that my parents were doomed to part and that no piece of real estate could keep them together.
They divorced a few years later. My old man worked long hours to pay for the house and I suppose that his work, at some point, became an excuse of sorts for him to stay away. My father wasn’t often around and my mother…
“My mother was more of a ghost you see,” I tell Darcy as she plunks her thumb in her mouth and wedges against me, “She kept to herself when I was your age. I don’t recall seeing her much of her at all.”
My mother was a quiet woman and one rarely saw. Although her presence was felt throughout the home my mother regulated herself largely to my parent’s bedroom. At times her lack of presence was so pronounced that I would be startled on the few occasions she would enter a room. This of course is merely my perception and one I’m almost certain isn’t altogether true.
My mother and father rarely argued but when they did it was swift and cutting. The old man would plead his case and, being an attorney, he would always plead it well. My mother would respond in cold clipped words and then she would disappear inside the place I thought of as her room and waves of silence would radiate throughout the home. At an early age I came to understand that there were many kinds of silence.
On the outskirts of our acre and a half stood an apple tree. When I first began to climb it’s branches I would test each and every one but as I grew older I would scramble to the top of its thinnest boughs before settling in the highest fork. I spent hours in the apple tree and rested in its branches for summers. The wind would rustle through its leaves and sweep through its boughs and I would sway back and forth with them.
“…and soemtimes as I climbed down from the apple tree I would find the husk of a cicada, brittle and cracked where the creature within managed to break through its shell.”
“Like butterflies,” Darcy says again and surprises me because I thought that she’d fallen asleep.
“Just like butterflies,” I agree, pat her leg until her eyes close again and resolve to keep the rest of the story to myself.
“I love you dadda,” Darcy tells me. I look into her eyes, respond in kind and then watch her fall back into sleep.
As time passed and the distance between my parents became more pronounced my understanding of silence changed. Instead of finding solace in the old apple tree I found a different kind of peace.
Autumn came early one year. It was blustery and cold and I’d taken to digging holes. I’d tested the ground carefully throughout our plot of land and finally picked a spot opposite from the apple tree some hundred yards or maybe even miles away and then I began to dig.
It may have been a few weeks, perhaps a month or two but when I was done I had a hole some four feet down, six feet long and three feet wide. When I was done I laid down inside the grave and felt the cold and dead earth seep into my bones. Some days would sleep for hours and when I came to I heard the autumn winds roar through the fallowed fields with the force of an old diesel train and hiss the tall brown grasses that bent and tumbled to its force.
One day I woke to the gray fat bellied clouds cruise through the darkening section of sky I’d carved for myself and, just as I rose to leave a cicada, one of the last of the season, tumbled into my grave. It fluttered and stumbled by my feet and I waited until it crawled upon my chest before taking it carefully in both of my hands and then crushing it against my breast until it was dead.