Alison Fraser


     In 1998, Magicicada Broods XIX and IV emerged from the earth at the same time. They had spent their time underground (13 and 17 years, respectively) soaking up the juices of plant roots, only to dig their way out, molt, sing, mate, and die. Thirteen years later, XIX emerged again.

     The fits started with the teeth sucking, clicking between lips at an annoyance, nothing would break, but it felt as though the house could come down around us, burying us, and that would suit him, because then we couldn’t leave.

     My mother sat across from me at the plastic booth, eating her stomach ache sauce burger. She always regretted it. I ate mine without tasting. Each gulp left that lump, the lump everyone feels when they are scared, but more scared to show it. Eating was supposed to make us feel better.

     In 1998 almost everyone’s major trauma was divorced parents, and all my friends were getting wet and bothered about it in the bathroom. Not me. I was ducked under the dining table before dinner, listening. At how much salt there already was in the food, in her wounds, in his head, the facts spiraling out of his control. The time he threw things in a rage and we left for the night. It’s more dangerous to leave than to stay sometimes. At least that is what they say.

     It was June, 2011. Quieter with just Brood XIX. A Cicada sat in the wet muck, hands digging on either side of his hips, scratching. He reached a hand up, producing a clump of soil creeping, detached roots. Through the smudge on the windowpane, I saw him look straight at me, eyes unblinking.

     He crawled on six limbs, his back arched, carrying a molting exoskeleton across the yard to the brick foundation of the house where he wiped his palms on the wall. The Cicada gripped the cracks between each brick, the cream cement untarnished by pollen, legs tensed, poised to haul his weight up. His head hung backwards as he braced his feet flat on the wall, leaving his mouth open in a grin. Upside down it was a frown disappointed at how high he would have to claw to reach me, (my eggs).

     Before we left in the night, long before I was alone with my own Cicada, I’d try to hold my breath for the length of tunnels to feel as though I didn’t exist. I’d try to hate both my parents equally, to be drenched in sobs the same way my friends were, their families broken, claiming it’s all their fault, sympathetic musings in the mirror I tried to understand. Each time we left the house I pretended it was really going away forever. We left against my father’s wishes, to put it gently; wishes. It slowly caused the house to fall into disarray. He wouldn’t fix it anymore, not if we were never home. He fixed other people’s homes instead.

     The Cicada began to climb. His body slithered up the metal siding and his spine contorted, cracking in places, changing. The transparent shell flaked off his back, dead skin, sinewy, revealing wings, eyes, veins. I backed away from the window, the sill crumbling under the weight of my fingers. Two legs grasped either side of the window frame. For a moment neither of us moved, me, frozen, he, gathering the strength to pry the screen apart, his desperation propelling him to move upwards, claim me with his song. A baseball bat stood propped by the bed. I gripped it and with two swift motions, unlatched the window lock as the remains of the sill fell away, leaving a gap where the Cicada’s orange belly pulsated. As the Cicada crawled through the mesh screen, I clobbered him with the bat.

     My mother looked at me despondently as I stuffed the last morsel of food into my mouth, swallowed it. The house beckoned us back, a pile of stone, metal, wood. It sang to us a high-pitched twinging, shrieking as its bones vibrated.

     If I could see the violence, then I would have proof that it was happening, because even as I watched the relentless muttering of foul language and misery, I could never put to words what I saw and the following days it was as though it had never happened, until it happened anew. Claws drumming beneath the dining table, waiting, his song calling. I’d go to school, easily ticked off, clingy to teachers, overly excitable.

     The Cicada’s body, light and frail, carried him down like a parachute. Without his shell, he landed with a ruptured thud in the garden. The fragile plants burst to confetti around his broken frame. I ran down the stairs, each step falling away from under me, the walls peeling of paint and paper. Out in the yard I still had the bat. The Cicada’s warped corpse lay hidden behind the strawberry plants. The smashed fruit flesh glazed his fresh skin, like slip on a clay bowl.

     It’s time to put you back in the ground. I dropped the bat. My hands burrowed into the earth, and as they did so I felt my belly begin to pulsate with the lowest of murmurs inside an exoskeleton.

9 March, 2022

Alison is a Guyanese-French-Indian-American writer existing in Massachusetts. They follow their dead grandmother’s odd superstitions just in case. Twitter: @catholicked