Summer of the Cicadas
by Leah Rogin
The last summer of the cicadas we lay together in the too-long grass of my backyard feeling like the sky was falling, the rhythms of the droning seventeen-year bugs made everything seem like an illusion.
Then there was silence, and we found their discarded exoskeletons clinging to the branches. They looked like a prehistoric infestation, and you pelted me with them until we collapsed together in the grass.
I haven’t thought about that time in years, but when I start to hear their voices again, I start thinking about you at night, remembering as I listen to the rhythms of their drone.
I call you and ask if I can come over. You don’t ask why I want to see you or even sound surprised to hear from me. I can’t remember the last time our paths crossed, you live on one side of the county and I live on the other. It seems like we saw each other at a kid’s party or the grocery store, but the more I try to remember, the more I can only think of you as a teenager.
I drive up to your house, when your wife’s not home, when my only reason, my only excuse is to ask if you remember their voices and the way they rose and fell in waves around us that hot humid summer, the last summer either of us were kids.
“Did you know that they lay eggs that sit in the roots of the trees for 17 years, but they only live for four weeks or so?” I ask after you invite me in. Your young daughter is in the playpen. She looks just like you, but with your wife’s eyes as we slip into bedroom. The sheets are soft, not like the prickle of the grass. Our bodies are not as smooth as they used to be, but we have learned a lot.
“Do you think desire can be like a cicada?” I ask as you zip up my dress.
You are quiet, focused on keeping my hair clear of the zipper’s threads.
“You know the stock market goes up every year the cicadas are out, right? For almost a hundred years now. Twenty percent above average, and this year’s right on track,” you tell me as you walk me out. I can’t look at your daughter.
“I heard on the radio that the male cicadas all sing a little different, and the female hears them and comes and sits next to them for an hour or so, then sometimes stays and mates. That’s what they do, their whole lives, just listening for the right song.”
“Which song are you listening for, Joan?” you ask, and I like the way my name sounds in your mouth.
“I’ll know it when I hear it,” I say, hoping I haven’t wasted all these years.
You close the door to my car and don’t risk kissing me, even on the forehead, though my window is open and I lean toward you a bit.
“So, you’re not coming back for another seventeen years?” you ask.
I nod. “Maybe. Sometimes they come out in thirteen.”
“That’ll give me something to look forward to,” you say.
As I drive back down the hill, low clouds of cicadas are sweeping up from the grasses, headed for the trees. I think about turning around, asking you to come with me, to abandon our childhood home and everyone in it, to explore the world together, but I remember the crumbling exoskeletons and the way they turn to dust when you hold them in your hand.
Leah Rogin-Roper grew up in Virginia during a summer of the cicadas. She currently lives in Colorado. Her fiction has been published by Connotation Press, Blood Lotus Review and Fast Forward, among other literary journals, while her nonfiction has been published in Colorado Serenity, Mountain Gazette and Powder Magazine.