Ariel M. Goldenthal

Cicada Love

Archaeology of Solitude, series by Bernard Mattox

1991: The year you were born, the cicadas raged through the sticky July nights; voices too loud for us to sleep peacefully. We awoke to carcasses hidden beneath tall grasses and stuck on the bark of the old maple tree. I was three years old and my mother wouldn’t let me play outside until she’d collected all the locust shells from the yard.

1996: When you started kindergarten, my mother asked me to sit with you on the bus. I whined that I didn’t want to be seen with a baby, but she insisted. You gave me a monarch caterpillar in a jar. I knew it was your favorite, but in the heat of late summer, I left the jar in my math classroom.

2002: The locusts returned this summer. You wrote me a letter before you went to camp and asked me to capture one for you. A live one, you wrote, not the skin of one long gone. “It’s not skin,” I hissed, but far away in your cabin, you could not hear me. I memorized the letter and in the early hours of the morning when the locusts’ chirps rattled the windows, I recited it to myself.

2004: You gave me a letter that you’d written at camp but never sent and you waited on my porch while I read it. “Don’t look at me,” you said. “It’s embarrassing.” We kissed under the big oak tree. Old Lady, you called her. In winter, the insects fell silent so I didn’t need to memorize your second letter to help me sleep. I did anyway.

2006: You told me the brood this year was the swarmiest you’d ever seen. I told you it would be hard when I went to college, but you made me promise that I wouldn’t forget you. I pretended not to read your email so I wouldn’t have to tell my friends about the high school sophomore I was in love with.

2013: This summer the cicadas visited only briefly, which was more than you did. I stayed with my parents for the summer and helped your mother pack away your father’s things. I know you want to be here, but when we broke up, I got the town.

2019: You came home for your high school reunion, a newly minted PhD filled with ambition. I waved to you from my window and pretended not to care that you waved back. But you slipped a letter under the door of my parents’ house and told me you wanted to catch up and now I have a new memory to distract me from the silence of my loneliness.

2021: I haven’t told you this. Next year the locusts will come and we will watch them stick to the trees and fall between the blades of grass in our yard.


About the writer:
Ariel M. Goldenthal is an Assistant Professor of English at George Mason University. Her work has appeared in Emerge Literary Journal, MoonPark Review, and Fiction Southeast.

Image: Archaeology of Solitude, series by Bernard Mattox (1954- ). (Cropped to remove extraneous background). No medium specified. 48 x 54 inches. No completion date specified. By free license via Scott Harbison.