Can I Tell You Something About Crickets?

by Mark Dvorak

One week ago I received notice that two more friends had passed away and that two others were now in decline. Last evening I turned on the television to distract myself with the ball game and the home team wound up losing in miserable fashion. In my blue funk the news program that followed appeared pumped up and corporate and fake. The comedy show after that didn’t make me laugh either.

I turned the damned thing off and just sat there in my chair feeling like I had just been cheated out of something. There are good books within reach and instrument cases leaning in this corner and that, but I didn’t feel like reading and I didn’t feel like playing.

I checked the internet. Sifting through the abyss of my inbox, I heard the yapping of a pack of coyotes in the woods across the river. I closed my laptop and listened to them in the half-light of the room. The yelping gained intensity then grew to a fever pitch and the notion struck that a yearling deer had gotten herself surrounded and was now in very serious trouble. Then came the shrill, final squawk. And silence. I walked across the street to the place on the riverbank where I check the level of the Des Plaines during rainy times. I peered into the night toward the spot across the river from where the muffled skirmish seemed to be coming but I couldn’t see anything. The moon had yet to rise and the usual faint smatter of stars shimmered above. I headed back to the house.

The porch was dark and my reading lamp glowed through the front window. I grabbed the door handle and that’s when I noticed the crickets. Their chirping was at once soft and familiar, pulsing in delicate waves like ten-thousand distant tambourines. Many years ago I first heard them after playing with the older boys in the neighborhood, when one of the moms handed each of us an old pickle jar with holes punched in the lid. “Catch some fireflies,” she said. “They bring good luck.”

While daylight faded we boys went about our task giggling the whole while, stuffing blades of grass and weeds into our jars then grasping one after another, a precious, glowing firefly. I had a half-dozen or so in my jar by the time I heard my mother’s voice call from down the block. And then other moms’ voices joined the chorus and it was time for us all to go back home.

My brother and I were happy with our jars and fireflies. I held my jar up in the air and pondered their green-golden bottoms that blinked off and on like some magical beacon to a young lad’s eye his first summer out on his own, able to stay out late with the older kids.

My brother had lost a few teeth that summer and as he grinned I could see the spaces in his smile. I could see the beginnings of his adult teeth coming in. We were headed home with sweat on our brows and backs, and green stains all over our pants. We held hands as we neared the gate to the side door of our house. And I heard the crickets, soft and lovely, a comforting patchwork quilt of summer sound. Mom held the side door open and she was happy too.

“What have you got?” she asked. My brother and I assumed that she had never seen a firefly before and we recounted the entire adventure with pure excitement.

“Hand me your jars,” she said. “But before you come in, turn out your cuffs.” We handed over the jars and I looked at my brother and he was smiling again. “I’ll put them on the window sill,” she said. “They’ll be safe there.”

We turned out the cuffs of our jeans where another summer's day worth of dirt and sand had collected. We unbuttoned and unzipped and pulled off our pants and handed them over to my mom. As we entered the kitchen my brother ran through to the dining room toward the bathroom upstairs where my father was filling the tub with clean, hot water. I headed the other way.

“Hey mister, where’re you going?” my mom called. I was already out the kitchen door and back on my way toward the front sidewalk where I could hear the crickets again.

Their jingle-jangle was music pure and simple, my most favorite song. I stood there in front of our house in my underpants watching traffic zoom by under the streetlamp, listening for the summer crickets.

I felt a hand touch my shoulder.

“Time to go in now.” It was my father’s voice.

I turned to look up at him and he smiled. He took my hand and we walked back through the kitchen door, and he patted my behind as I climbed upstairs to the bathroom. Mom was kneeling by the tub squishing water from a sponge over my brother’s head and toothless grin. My brother and I looked at each other knowing, and my mom pulled the t-shirt over my arms. I dropped my underpants to the floor and climbed into the tub.

The cycles of living and loss keep on. Night and birth. Death and stars. Kindness. I opened the window and night air moist and cool, filled the room. The south wind jostled the curtains and I laid awake thinking about friends who are now gone and the ones who aren’t doing so well. I spent a long time listening to the crickets sending up their old same lesson. They've been there all along. They’ve been there always. After a time the moon rose above the rooftops and the trees outside the window. There was a ring of gold around it, and the moon kept its circle until at last my eyelids grew heavy, and sleep had finally come.


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