Song of the Cicada (short story)

Matilda reached into the air and twiddled her green hat around her head in a counter-clockwise motion, sending her dandelion colored, lazy helmet bob haircut frizzily into different directions. Her hair covered her face so completely that if she wanted to scare a small child she would be able to do so with effortless ease. The wind gently blew and her hair returned to its normal residence. With the golden strands out of her face, and her field of vision returned, a pair of honest eyes was able to look out into the small park yet again.

Matilda was in the midst of middle school and on the weekends she came here, to the wooden bench in the small park behind the great big greenhouse at the bottom of the hill on the edge of town. The area was isolated from foot traffic and surrounded by dense wood. A single paved path from the front of the greenhouse was the only connection to the outside world. It was a private park of sorts. Many called it a lonely place but Matilda saw it differently, she saw it more as an opportunity to be alone. ‘People aren’t alone enough nowadays’, her grandmother would often say. Matilda agreed. She felt the her town was constantly connected, no matter where you were or what you did. But everyplace is like that, from what she heard.

Autumn was an exciting yet clam time for Matilda. It reminded her of a Russian Impressionist painting she once encountered. It depicted a Maundy Thursday afternoon. The astounding amount of warm colors and thick brushstrokes gave it that autumn-feel. It portrayed a boy being led down a cit street by his mother, a woman with a soft smile on her face. The boy seemed content and was simply walking along wherever he was led. They both had candles against their chest; small, blurry people with no faces, who were not important to the story, also held candles. Recalling the painting, Matilda remembered a particularly overwhelming sensation of clarity, or a trance, and felt she had the answers to many questions. Matilda had taken a photo of that holy painting and it hung above her bed.

But Autumn was near its end. Matilda was spending her last moments of the season in the park. She liked watching the leaves fall. ‘What would it be like’, she thought, ‘if leaves turned into ash when they died? Their molecules slowly turning to dust until all that was left was the petiole, valiantly holding onto the tree branch, awaiting its own death. I don’t believe that it would be sad. In fact, I think all of the ash on the ground would be pretty. Besides, leaves always grow back.’

The wind moved around the sides of the greenhouse and toward the woods. A rustling sound came from above Matilda’s head. She paid no mind but it quickly became louder. A small grunting sound was made, like somebody had been punched in the gut, and Matilda snapped her head around. Behind her was a young boy climbing upside down on a branch like a bug. He moved along it rather seamlessly and, when meeting the trunk of the tree, made his way down to a lower branch where he safely dismounted onto the earth. The scene caught Matilda by surprise. The young boy too had a look of shock on his face. Matilda didn’t know what to say. The wind blew the leaves around them in a cyclonic motion. The boy was short. His hair was brown and cut like a bowl.

“Strange,” Matilda said.

The boy dusted his hands.

“I could say the same about you.”

“How so?” Matilda replied. She shuffled around on the bench a little and sat upright, like she was conducting an interview.

“Well, look at your silly bag.”

Matilda looked down at the bag she had sitting besides her. It was colorful and polka dotted.

“What about my bag?”

“It’s strange.”

“It’s not.” She reached into the bag and showed him a piece of chocolate. “This is where I keep my candy.”

“Hmm. Then I guess you’re right. It’s not strange.”

The boy turned around and hit the palm of his hand against a tree, it was like a contractor trying to find a steel beam in dry wall. The boy was shorter than Matilda.

“Why did you say strange?”  The boy asked.

“I said strange because it isn’t every day that somebody falls out of a tree.”

“Well, I wouldn’t necessarily say fall.”

The wind blew leaves under Matilda’s bench.

“Were you watching me?”  she asked.

The let out a small laugh.

“No. I was actually…uh” he looked confused. “Sleeping.”

Matilda moved her head back. Her eyebrows came together momentarily. “Sleeping? Where were you sleeping?”

“On top of the…” He looked over to the greenhouse. “greenhouse. I like to climb things and I was walking around the woods when I saw this really big tree. I started to climb it and realized I could get to the top of the greenhouse from a branch. So I climbed the roof and just sort of fell asleep. I laid down to look at the clouds, initially, but…”

Matilda did not seem satisfied and had a skeptical look on her face.

“Interesting,” she asserted. “Why did you want to climb to the roof?”

The boy had a leaf in his hand. “Because nature told me to.”

“Is that so,” Matilda responded. “That reminds me of a story my grandma once told me. It was about a young boy, probably you’re age, who woke up in the middle of the night to a disembodied voice. It was calling out to him. He left his room and walked around the streets of his small city. The voice led him to a parking lot where he laid down and fell asleep. When he woke up it was the middle of a sunny day and he was in a graveyard, not far from his house. He could still hear something calling him and followed the voice to a tree. The voice got softer and softer until he could no longer hear it at all. He looked out into the forest and saw a tall woman standing between the trees. He started to feel sleepy again, but this time, before he fell asleep, tears came to his eyes. The woman spoke to him from a distance. ‘My name is Daylight,’ she said.”

The boy stood in silence. The wind swiftly moved in and out of the trees and the leaves trembled.

“Is that how the story ends?” The boy asked.

“Yes,” Matilda replied.

He sat down on the farther side of the bench and they waited in silence. A family of deer, not far off from the park, walked past them.

“I feel like a prisoner enjoying imaginary freedoms” the boy said. He looked at Matilda with half closed eyes.

“Where’d you get that from?”

“Descartes.”

She looked at him in a playfully dismissive manner.

“Fancy.”

The sun started to peter through the trees.

“Do you like bugs?” the boy asked.

Matilda’s eyes widened. “I do like bugs.”

“Do you know how the cicada hatches?”

“No.”

“When the cicada is born, it has to dig its way out of the earth. But, before doing so, it makes sure that the hole it was born in stays stable enough so that if the weather is bad it has a place to retreat to. So the cicada uses its urine to structure the walls, like a miner putting up wooden support beams. Upon leaving the hole, the cicada finds a blade of grass, or something similar, to perch on while it sheds its shell.”

Matilda examined the boy’s face.

“What does a cicada’s song sound like?” he asked her.

“I’m not sure.”

The boy jumped on the bench. He put his hands to his side and started flapping them like wings.

“Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!”

He sat down again.

“Oh, sorry,” he continued, “I guess I got my bird sounds mixed up with my cicada sounds.”

Matilda laughed.

“You’re a maniac,” she said.

The boy sat down, a small smile on his face.

“I have to get going. I’m sure my mother is very worried about me. She said not to be out for too long. Who knows how long I was sleeping for.”

Matilda gave a short sigh.

“What’s your name? she asked.

“Ashley.”

“Ashley? Strange name for a boy isn’t it?”

“Yeah. My mom said that in the 70’s every boy and his uncle was named Ashely.”

“Hm. Sounds like something someone from the 70’s would say.”

Ashley laughed. He stood up, said good-bye, and walked around the greenhouse. Matilda continued to sit on the bench. She took a small piece of chocolate out of her bag and nibbled on it. ‘How can someone just fall asleep like that?’ she thought to herself. She looked up at the sun. Its warmth was calming.

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