I don’t want to put away my white jeans. It’s still too miserable outside for faux fur jackets or anything black. In San Antonio, the heat persists into the fall, stubbornly radiating off the blacktop and beaming straight through hunting season. The calendar marches us through fall like a school proctor, forcing us to leave summer behind, even as the pool beckons. Bouganvillas bloom. Our trees stay green. Fall’s only harbingers are sounds.
“Ugh, the lotuses!” complains Ally.
“You mean locusts?” Her word scramble evokes an endless pond of pink lotus flowers, rising out of the murk into sublimity.
Billy, Ally and I are sitting around the dinner table, which feels barren with our two oldest daughters away at college. Their vacancy leaves holes in the conversation, spaces which, at the moment, are being filled with the blaring, relentless songs of the cicadas.
Ally has always hated repetitive sounds. If someone wanted to torture her, they would play electronic dance music. Nature’s version, the cicadas’ loud drone, sounds like an unmanned synthesizer fully amped. This harasses her to the point of distraction. I feel the same way about the leaf blower. I can’t rest until I drown it out or stop it. These noises trigger something bigger than the irritation they cause, what I have since learned to call anxiety.
“The bugs we’re hearing are locusts. Actually, they are cicadas, but we always called them locusts, growing up,” I say.
“I love that sound,” says my husband, “it reminds me of fall.”
“Ughh, it makes me nostalgic.”
“Me too,” says Ally, who’s only twelve but appears to have inherited my melancholy sensibility, which I can trace directly to my German heritage via my own mother.
As the day’s light begins to dim, I turn on our kitchen lights, but no amount of electricity can erase the sorrow that overcomes me when the cicadas sing. They make me remember all the time that has passed, and what has passed with it. It is the sound of time lost.
Their soundtrack makes me flash back to high school days. High school is, after all, another sound of fall, football season, indicated by the distant sounds of the marching band’s horns and drums. I don’t remember a specific scene; just a particular place: I’m driving up the hill. It’s twilight and an unruly flock of black birds is flying overhead, on their way to roost for the night. My parents are back at home. I’m old enough to drive on my own, emerged from my own safe cocoon of childhood.
Locusts live in the strange limbo before seasons change. Like the doldrums, this feels static, it is something I want to escape, like the sticky heat I feel after exercising outside, or when our girls were babies, and we were trapped into the late, never-ending dull afternoons.
“Did you know they live underground for seven years, and then only live for a month?” Ally says. “I would hate to be a locust. I’d rather be above ground for seven years, and underground for a month.”
“Me too. I never knew that. You guys learn so much more than we did.”
It’s not just the cicadas’ sound that bothers Ally. Bugs have always freaked her out. She reviles the cicadas’ abandoned shells, found still clasping onto tree branches or fences. It doesn’t matter to her that there’s no longer a bug inside; the ghostly shell is horrific enough. She’d never get close enough to approach these bugs as toys, like we did, marveling at their translucent fairy wings, inspecting their bodies for clues of how they made such loud sounds, imagining they huge meal they make for birds. If she did, like I used to, she’d be aghast at the sharpness of their shell’s empty feet, their crispy dryness, the ornate, detailed traces of the bug now loosened into the sky.
“Do you miss your sisters?” Billy asks her.
“I get asked that question like six times a day,” says Ally. “I mean, I miss them, but I don’t feel like they’re really gone.”
“They are, though,” says her father, almost to reinforce it to himself as much as to her. “There’s one thing you can always count on, and that’s change,” he tells her as we move into the kitchen with our plates. When I think of the implications this has had for me personally, this sounds sort of cruel, but I know it to be his form of toughening, a stretching of her perspective, like he’s attaching a landscape lens.
Meanwhile, our two labs wait outside the patio doors. Karma breathes a huge foggy cloud onto the glass; Josie barks lightly, her demand to be let back in. It’s time for their walk, something I used to do with the girls when they weren’t overwhelmed with homework.
Now I walk with Karma and Josie instead. They’re bounding down the street with huge smiles on their faces. The light has changed and the cicadas have faded into the twilight, that ethereal part of the day when everything turns slightly magical before disappearing into the black of night. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a spark, then another, little flashes of light surprising me from random places all around, the lightning bugs, glimmering, offering so many possibilities, where there once appeared to be none.