Kelle Schillaci Clarke: How Loud the Cicadas

The thing about cicadas is that their arrival makes you think about where you were the last time they showed up—on the roof of your cousin’s house with your cousin’s best friend— versus where you are now—in a lukewarm bathtub beside a flickering vanilla-lavender scented candle and a half eaten bowl of 3-D Doritos, yacht rock smooth-streaming on Bluetooth, your tightly rounded stomach cresting the bubbles like a blunt iceberg. Maybe you’ll name her Cicada, you think, because stupid hormones, but also because the name is prettier than the sound they make, which makes you think, once again, about your cousin, his threadbare vintage Def Leppard T-shirts with the sleeves cut off, the sweet-smelling chewing tobacco he spit into a Subway cup left in the center console of the silver Camry his mom let him drive and he quickly trashed with fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, and sweaty ribbed undershirts. When he was a kid, he wanted to be a race car driver, but now he’s dead. You wanted to be a dancer, but your body said: fuck you. 

You flip the hot water on with your toe, add more Mr. Bubble, and think about your cousin’s best friend, the one you haven’t seen since that summer seventeen years ago, when you were seventeen, too, having been born in a summer of cicadas. His name was Tony or Frank or Carl, you can’t remember, but you remember the smell that night, that mid-summer Ohio mix of grass and humidity, cloying lilac, slabs of bacon frying over a nearby barbecue. You think of earlier childhood summers, in grade school, chasing fireflies with your cousin, how he’d catch them, pull off the part of them that glowed, smear it below his eyes. He loved telling you lies—like how you could get pregnant from open mouth kissing, or having a man’s hands down your pants—and watching your face react. “You’re so gullible,” he’d laugh.  And here you are, pregnant a third time, and he’s been dead so long he’ll never  know you figured out how it all works, and then some. 

You think of your cousin as the cicadas click and hiss outside—spread like an invisible blanket of sound across your suburban yard—he’d died shortly after that summer, upright in the driver’s seat of his mom’s car with the engine running, so no one was ever sure if it was on purpose or if he simply came home drunk and passed out listening to Van Halen 1984, which was the tape in the Camry’s cassette player, because the car was that old. The cousin who left behind no note, the cousin who left you with his best friend on the roof of his house that summer, while his parents were away, so he could fuck your best friend in the tool shed. Your best friend had told him coyly it was her first time when it most definitely was not, and you wanted so badly to be touched in the same way by your cousin’s best friend, so you could talk about it with her later, having finally caught up with her. But, instead, he just kept pointing up at stars and naming them: Polaris, Canopus, Altair, as if you cared.  You scooted closer to him, both of you laying on your backs on the blanket your cousin had left on the roof, nearly touching his shoulder, pretending you were cold, as if 70 degree nights weren’t a Midwest heat wave. Sirius, Pleiades, how loud the cicadas roared as he refused to recognize the warmth of your body near his.     

“It’s a good thing they’re so loud,” he’d finally said, referring to the cicadas. “Or we’d have to hear them doing it.”  You didn’t believe him, because you were less gullible by then and it was obvious he wished he could hear them, wished he could trade places with your cousin. You saw how they both looked at your best friend as if she weren’t a person at all, just a collection of parts, how much they loved her parts, how you knew even back then that your parts would never measure up to hers, even now that both of you have filled your bellies with babies by men you met years later, fed those babies from very different breasts; yours built as if for the sole task of feeding, hers for anything but, so she’d moved quickly to formula and stopped after her first baby, a boy. You moved on to baby two and are growing number three.

You can feel her beneath your skin while you glide your hands over your smooth belly, thinking about your dead cousin and your cousin’s best friend, who bristled at your touch when your shoulder made contact, how you imagined him taking advantage of your mouth, your breasts, your inner thighs, claiming your parts as his own while you stared up at the stars, Betelgeuse, Vega, Electra, the overwhelming smell of the grass and the sky and the sound of a billion tiny insects coming up through the earth’s layers, as you stared upward, like you are now, head tilted back in the tub, the flickering candlelight reflecting on your round, wet belly. Later, your best friend told you that your cousin had done things to her that she hadn’t really wanted but couldn’t really stop, and you told her that his best friend had done the same to you, even though he hadn’t even touched you. You’d wanted him to so badly, you wanted to be less than the sum of your parts, for once, but instead, he’d just kept naming stars, entire constellations, Perseus, Hydra, Orion ….


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