by M. Thomas
They said the African bees were gonna swarm soon as they came up from Mexico, and I thought wouldn’t it be funny if they were all wearing sombreros and dashikis, which I knew better than to say to Jonathan but did anyway. He looked at me funny in that way that said I wasn’t funny at all, and waved his hand. Yeah, yeah, said that hand, same way it said shut up, and where’s my dinner, and answer the phone, and iron my shirt, only after twenty-two years it didn’t need to connect to my face for me to hear it.
You figure after twenty-two years, and the babies grown, a man would settle down, but he's always been high strung that way. I think sometimes his hand works without him, maybe it has a brain of its own down in the fleshy part at the base of his thumb. And he's learned to hear it before it lashes out, gives me the yeah, yeah wave as a warning. I learned to read him when we were young, but it's always been a fast hand.
The bees never swarmed as promised, except for Henry Miners who found a clump of ‘em up tight against the back left eave of his house, so tight a clump he thought it was some old birds’ nest and poked a stick at it, if you can believe it, which you probably can if you know Henry Miners. By the time we got to him with a hose he was swelled up and black-blotchy as old summer tomatoes and only a “sgh, sgh, sgh” came out his throat before his windpipe closed up. His belly pooched out and buzzed and I knew he’d swallowed more than a few bees before he went down.
I told Jonathan funny, but I ain’t seen no queen yet, and he sniffed and went on back inside to watch the Mormon boy clean up the Jeopardy board another time while the rest of us waited on the ambulance. But I was wrong that time, I can admit it, never minded owing up to my faults. The bees didn’t have no queen. It was the cicadas.
So, next we heard the cicadas were gonna swarm, and the Mormon boy was on top of his game, and smiled his chilly little smile each time one of those heathens beat him to the buzzer, and the cat was batting something around on the floor that looked like a humongous button only I hadn’t done any mending lately. I picked it up and it crackled in my hand and I saw it was a big sikayda like my momma and hers before her called ‘em. I told Jonathan of course, but he’d had his beers and was into the hand waving that was the way he talked when the TV was on and the beers had been drunk.
Cicadas are the Quasimodo of dragonflies momma always said, and she liked ‘em fine. When we were kids, we used to find their baby carcasses stuck to fence posts, the backs ripped open from where they burst out all new and glimmery, and we’d make a wish and blow it into those crunchy brown body scabs through the exit tear, and throw their corpses over our shoulders. Once I whispered wish I get me a reliable man with a reliable job, who don’t wander nor stray nor go away like my daddy does, and damn if I didn’t get my wish, cuz Jonathan never once strayed away from home at night, not once for all the cicada baby-bodies I picked up and wished on since.
The cat followed me to the back door because she wasn’t finished with the cicada yet, even if it was dead in my hand, and I went through the screened porch and out into the night and oh, oh, oh, the cicadas had come, yes they had, like promised, and I maybe should have announced myself because at first they all crashed into me as they zigged around the yard. Then they got used to me being in their fly-space and zipped around me and the cat leapt around like she was young again and not about twelve years old.
They were singing, all those cicadas, sounded like static on the TV when we couldn’t get cable, but I listened real close as they skimmed past my face and hands, close enough to feel the papery edges of their wings, and I heard them say hey, we know you, you’re the queen and we been waiting, came all this way for you, buried ourselves in the muck and shit all this time for you and we was waiting for you to say 'come on out.'
I said well hell, how was I supposed to know?
And they laughed, because they knew I was being funny just then. They lit on me and pressed me down and said hey, how come you got this old brown scab all over you?
I lay on the ground and felt their weight and their wings and their legs and said, I never known how to shed it.
They said we’ll show you, and they helped me with my skin.
I split my back open, pushing out with what was inside me, that thick part with all the juicy sacs in place of heart and lungs, and the six long legs and the crispy wings folded tight with mucus until the night air dried me out, and I was huge beyond measuring. The cat took a swipe at me, hungry like, and I batted her away across the yard and up against a fence post. Bad kitty. She slid away underneath the fence and I never saw her again.
Then I went inside, through the screen porch door. Jonathan dragged himself up in his recliner when he saw me, said the fuckshit?
The cicadas pooled around my feet, swept over the furniture, hissed around the light fixtures and over the dinner I hadn’t yet put away, got into the laundry, the cat food, liked the light from the TV, peered into Jonathan’s open-wide mouth, and a few went spelunking down in his craw.
I tried to show Jonathan how to get out of his skin-scab, but when it was all over he was not a cicada inside and that was a shame, because he mighta flown off somewhere nice, maybe Mexico, maybe Africa. His hand waved for a while afterward.
"Cicada" copyright © 2005 by M. Thomas
About the Author:
M. Thomas is a writer and teacher whose stories have appeared in Abyss & Apex, Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, and are forthcoming in Aeon. Her website can be found at www.found-things.com.
Lone Star Stories * Speculative Fiction and Poetry * Copyright © 2003-2005