In the early summer cicadas were serenading me from every window in my house.
They were loud. They were everywhere.
On the east side of Hamilton county they claimed their territory. Their husks all over the ground and the newly sprouted insects made their way up tree bark and plants. They will fly directly at you and land on you whether you stand still or run. They are dumb and I suspect they may also be blind with their vibrant red eyes. One landed on me and I flicked it off. Then I was mad at it so I kicked it and it screamed as it careened across the pavement. I felt remorse for being cruel to a lower level creature.
My husband J isn’t. “Just pull off the legs,” he told me. Two years ago when the big 17-year swarm came the took over the whole county I told him how my friend Grace tortured them in high school. If you pull off one leg it lets out a high pitch sound but when you pull off another leg the head pops off, Grace said back in 1987. I told J and he captured several of them to try out his pseudo Dr. Mengele experiments. After two successful decapitations he wanted me to watch the third but I coaxed him into releasing the other stupid insects.
The cicadas arrived this year right at the beginning of what I call our “Great Garden Experiment”. Two years ago we moved into a townhouse with a large backyard that the previous occupants’sdog digging and urine rendered to dirt with small patches of grass. Last spring/summer we didn’t do anything to the areas but watch the grass grow back in to where it could but this year we decided that with the rising gas and food prices we could make a garden. J would clear an area for a vegetable garden and the square foot that the dining room windows overlooked would be a shadegarden. In the dirt around the fence we would plant more shade perennials.
I decided to start with seeds. I don’t know why, especially considering how the last time I put some seeds in a few clay pots they didn’t even germinate. I’m not sure if I overwatered, underwatered, didn’t give them enough sun or maybe the birds used them for a snack. I don’t know. When I was younger I had a green thumb. Aside from growing mold on bread, I could pick up a spider plant or coleus and within a month or two I’d be taking cuttings and a few weeks later replanting those into their own pot. Now my bread just gets stale (if it isn’t eaten up first by the hungry men in the house) and so far the small pots sprouted a few seedlings and while in my head I was making plans, trying to figure out where to put them in J’s garden (he’s very territorial) they went away.
How can seedlings just go away?
Maybe it’s my fault and I haven’t been taking care of them like I should: hovering over, keeping track of the soil and making sure they didn’t get too much sun. Maybe I’m too distracted. Maybe I’ve lost my touch with age. Maybe these things just happen.
Whatever it is, I’m watching the plants that we’ve bought from the nursery dwarf the seeds that I’ve planted in pots. He waters them, gives them fertilizer and uses his little garden rake to keept he area weed free. Each day J gives me the garden report: the cucumber plant looks like it’s floundering. The squash is flowering and we’ll probably have a lot of those. The squash is beginning to dwarf the basil, he wants to move the basil, should he? The rosemary might be getting over watered. It’s not doing too well. He’s worried about one of the pepper plants, too. Why isnt’ it flowering.
And the tomato plant.
The tomato plant is his favorite. He lavishes water on it. “It needs lots of water,” he shrieks when one day that I’m off I fail to water it in the morning. “Tomatoes are mostly water. You have to water it a lot.” He runs outside with the water pail after filling it up to overflowing. I think I hear him talking to the plant.
After this I’ve become a bit disinterested in gardening.
“Are you pregnant?” J asks me while I’m working a sudoku puzzle in the garden. He had just come out with his second full watering can, ready to water the plants and drown cicadas at the same time.
I raise my eyebrows and glare at him. “No, are you?”
“When is the last time you had your period?”
It had been at least two months. Early April was the last time and when it came it was pretty light, which he had also noted. But I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t feel pregnant. It has been a little over 18 years since I was pregnant but I know what it feels like.
“I’m not pregnant,” I restate.
“Are you sure?”
“Are you sure you aren’t pregnant?” I eyed his stomach which has grown noticeably round since I’ve been on a cooking strike when the warm weather hit. His dietary intake has had an upswing in pizza and beer, two things he doesnt’ get a lot of in the winter.
The question soon became a mantra for him and he asked me repeatedly. Areyoupregnant?Areyoupregnant?Areyoupregnant?Areyoupregnant? I told him no each time. Finally to shut him up I took a home pregnancy test, early in the morning while he was at a wrestling match with J2. When he came home I threw it to him.
“You see it’s negative.” I said to him He examined it and looked satisfied and disappointed at the same time.
“We can’t have a baby right now,” he said to me. I nodded my head. He’s starting graduate school in the fall. Cricket’s leaving for college in the fall and J2 is starting high school. He’s worried about gas prices. He’s worried about food prices. He’s worried about school loans and fees; extracurricular activities and books. I assess everything that he sees but factor in my age as well.
“Then when?” I ask. He says the fall, as if its a magical time that will make everything alright.
By mid June my visit from Aunt Flo still hasn’t arrived. Tired of fielding questions from him even after a second negative home test I make an appointment to see my gynecologist.
He checks me out; I have a clean bill of health. I’m not pregnant, he tells me. But afterwards we sit down to discuss my options. My period will come, he assures. Maybe heavier than normal when it does. He projects that I could possibly have another 10-12 years of fertility without doing any fertility tests.
Just because I look young I know I’m not young, I grumble to myself.
Afterwards we sit down to discuss a new birth control method, if I wanted one. “Do you want to get pregnant?” he asks me. This simple question sounded existential coming from him. What is he, my doctor or my philosopher? Do I want to get pregnant? Do I want to get pregnant?
“I don’t know?” I say, sounding more like a teenager than a grown woman of nearly 40. Shouldn’t answers like this come easier at this point in my life? I have a daughter starting college and I tell him about that. A son beginning high school and I tell him about that. By most people’s standards I’m closing in on the finish line so why start over? And what should happen if I do? Will a baby be healthy? Will I be able to successfully carry one to full term? What are the odds considering I was high risk with my daughter when I was in my early 20s?
He wrote out a prescription for birth control and told me again that he didn’t see any reason why I couldn’t get pregnant, if I chose to. And, if I chose to he said just stop the pills and call him and he’d get me a prescription for vitamins.
“What about my period?” I asked.
“Do you need it?”
“Well, yeah… I guess.” I don’t really like it but after years of having it, it’s reassuring when it comes.
He said to give it some time, it will return. But in case it didn’t to give him a call and he would give me something that could jump start it.
I sound like a de-energized battery.
As I walk to my car I notice the border of flowers outside of the builings. I think something is missing. What is missing?
There are no cicadas on this side of town. Lucky for them.
When the cicadas were in full swing at the beginning of the summer he suspected they were eating on all our plants. “How can we get rid of the locusts?” he asks me. “You can’t get rid of them,” I tell him. “We just have to ride them out, but you can cover the plants with gauze.”
He doesn’t go for the gauze idea. Instead whenever he can he goes to flick them off the plants.
The mini cicada swarm was pretty bad. They were even in our living room, having burrowed their way up through the chimney somehow.
I’ve decided to blame the derf of seedling growing on the locust. Some of the seeds that I planted directly into the ground, not in pots had followed down the deep holes that released the nympal instars. There goes my columbines, I say to J. He sees it as no big loss. He doesn’t see the point of flowers or other plants that I have bedded. You can’t eat them.
“Everything doesn’t need to be eaten,” I tell him remembering how he wanted to pull up the hostas at our old place. He thought they were big weeds. When I went to get hostas for this garden he was surprised at the cost. “Pretty expensive weeds, aren’t they?” I asked. He frowns at me. Then he pulls me close and asks, “Did you get your period yet?”
I walk away exasperated.
He says that he wants a boy, when it does happen. At one time he wanted a girl but dealing with a new teen daughter who throws castigting looks as if we are all stupid and beneath her he has changed his mind and decided he just wants boys. Boys make sense, like an edible garden. Boys are sturdy and you can put them in football and wrestling, two of his favorite sports. If he had a girl he’d let her wrestle because he has seen one or two girls at a few wrestling meets. But she couldn’t play football.
“What if you had a son who wanted to go into ballet?” I asked bringing up my favorite extracurricular things I did with Cricket like dance and theater classes on Saturday mornings. There will be no more of those this fall now that she will be away. The last Saturday we were there I saw little girls of all colors carrying dance bags, wearing tights and scurrying off to class. I remember when Cricket was that young and dancing. She was born to dance and sing. Now I won’t have it and I wonder what it will be like to have another little girl. I wonder what I can do to ensure it?
J scoffs at the thought of any son of his in dance classes. Whose kid did I think I’d be carrying?
At the beginning of July, with no big fanfare my period finally arrives. I send J a text message as soon as I know. This will shut him up, I think.
The cicadas were gone, too. I didn’t notice their absence until one night walking home with Cricket from her job she said the neighborhood sounded deafly quiet with their disappearance. How could I not notice the silence of hundred of singing bugs? Even their shells were gone.
The last one I remembered vividly was one that had infiltrated our living room. We had heard it for hours till J finally discovered it behind the couch. He brought it into the kitchen to show me.
“Get it away from me,” I said. That made the kid in J come out and he chased me around the house with it. “Just put it out! Put it out!”
Tiring of his game he opened up the door and pitched the but outside into the night. He made sure it landed in the grass, far away from his garden. We heard it let out a high pitched scream.
“What did you do to it?”
“Nothing.” But we listened as the cicada continued to scream. It made me think of a primal plea a small, frightened woman would make; it sounded timid and meek but shrieking out for help as if her life depended on it.