The sun warmed my skin as I stood still, waiting, listening for the crunch slide, crunch slide of his steps on the gravel driveway. It would become my cicada song, sending my heart into dysrhythmic palpitations, stealing breath each time. He walked to me, crunching, sliding, and pressed me against the heat of my car, my hand brushing the bumps of his stick-and-poke tattoo, latching on as the cicadas hummed a low, piercing tone in the background.
“Calvin Klein! Looking sharp! Come on, son. He just got here. Let him breathe,” a voice boomed.
“Hi, Ned! I’ve always considered myself more of a Ben Sherman guy,” I answered.
Strong fingers pressed into my wrists. I could feel the ink transfer to my skin. A tattooed warning to keep my mouth shut. “Just about to check on the upper orchard, Dad,” my Cicada Song called over his shoulder. He shot me a look.
“My eyes were closed,” I defied.
“What a romantic.” The sarcasm dripped from his pores.
A cicada shed its skin at my feet.
The truck growled over the terrain. We rode along the road, enclosed in a fence to keep the deer from eating the fruit of the upper orchard. Going off road in an old pick-up truck was not a gentle ride. Lily the German Shepherd cooled off by breathing down my neck. I heard the cries of cicada nymphs crushed under the tires. Seventeen years underground and they never got to sing a song. The bees had a gift to give. Sugary puke to soothe allergies and sweeten tea.
My Cicada Song parked the truck a safe distance from the beehives dressed in white. He wore a veil over his head and vowed to make them sleep with a canister of smoke in his hand. I listened for our song in the grass. Squish slide, squish slide. Lily tailed behind while I searched the ground. My Cicada Song returned with honey in hand. I held up a cicada’s ghost shell. We drove back in silence.
We had to be quick. The river has a tide, and if it gets too low, we would be stuck in river weeds. The island wasn’t really an island. It was a grouping of rocks between the main orchard’s property and the Amtrack Hudson line heading north. We pushed the rowboat into the water, and I climbed to the bow. I sat and listened for the song: swoop splash, swoop splash; escorted to an island of bird shit rocks. Supposedly this was relaxing, in the blaring sun, as the commuters rumbled by only a few hundred feet away in the bay.
I didn’t complain, of course. I did not steal someone’s solace. I made the most of my time on the island of rocks, where the river lapped at the algae. A soothing sound. I even tried to spy a face as the train cars flew by. The water followed the tide, and we went back to shore. We were greeted by silence. A cicada’s ghost.
“Come out in five minutes,” my Cicada Song told me as he walked by with a towel over his shoulder. I closed my eyes and heard the swoosh slide, swoosh slide of his bare feet on the laminate wood floor. He went to shower under the full moon. The idea seemed cold, but I was up for an adventure. A shower under the night sky. The end of summer sounds. Soap. Steam. I kissed his neck and we had a ritual moon bath. The sky opened up. We scurried inside, both hot and cold.
Together, still naked, we slipped between stark white sheets. My heart bled that night. “I don’t love you,” he said. I didn’t sleep. A specter slipped my spine.
Fall came and the apples rotted, mealy slick littering the grounds. I sat on the ground at his feet listening for our cicada song. His feet moved along the floor in silence. It was getting close to Thanksgiving. We both had to travel. I stroked his stick-and-poke tattoo but nothing happened. No ink stain. No pin prick on my soul.
I boarded a plane to San Francisco, the cold air in the upper atmosphere chilled my skin. My Cicada stopped singing, driving south, stopping in Nashville, Savannah. I stood at the Pacific Ocean—the salt frothing at my feet, unpacified—and received a message from the waves that he was singing for someone new.
It was the summer of the cicadas when our story began. They lay dormant for seventeen years. Burrowed through the soil in search of romance, shedding their skin. The insects’ symphony buzzed the orchard. Little did they know how short-lived that summer would be. Nor did we.
We continued through the fall and winter, despite the death of our love. It died in the boughs of the trees. Its dried carcass corroded by the sun. Maybe it was eaten by wasp. A giant wasp called incompatibility. I sit here still, remembering December nights in a poorly insulated barn, accompanied by complacency, and the cold memory chills this room.
Ryan Norman is a writer from New York living in the Hudson Valley. Inspired by the landscape, he writes what he feels. His work has appeared in From Whispers to Roars, XRAY Literary Magazine, Black Bough Poetry, Storgy Magazine and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @RyanMGNorman and an updated list of his publications at Linktree: https://linktr.ee/RyanMGNorman