I’m just a regular sort of guy. I grew up in a small, Midwest town. Where doesn’t really matter — they’re all the same. Now I live in the city, and I couldn’t be more content with my life. I mean, sure I’ve got my problems. My boss is merciless and Dave keeps taking my yogurt out of the fridge in the breakroom. But I’m seeing a nice girl, one that’s way out of my league. I make enough money to do what I want on the weekends and to take Molly out once in a while.
It’s a good life.
Wasn’t always good. We were dirt poor when I was growing up. Not ‘digging in a trash heap’ poor, but welfare poor. Mama got food stamps and daddy sold some of ‘em to go to the bar. But we ate. We had clean clothes, and shoes on our feet and a roof over our heads, which is more than some have.
But we were poor and it was a little town. The thing about small towns is they’re old. Old people. Old money. Old families and old houses.
Even the nice places in the center of town had their mice and roaches. Flies in the summertime like you’ve never seen. And crickets.
We all had crickets.
Indoors or out, you’d hear them, night and day, chirping away.
Chir-rup. Chir-rup. Chir-up.
You don’t notice them, usually. You go about your day, mostly in silence, with only that chirrup to keep you company and you don’t even know it’s there. Until it isn’t.
When the crickets are silent, you know something’s going to happen. There might be a storm coming, or a fire out in the fields. Once we had wolves make it into town and the crickets were silent then. Couple of guys went after them with shotguns. Wolves might be pretty, but they can destroy a town. They kill the livestock. Daddy was with the men and brought me home a wolf-tail to hang on my wall.
Anyways, the crickets were always there and you never bothered them and they never bothered you. Mama said they were good luck. Told us over in Japan they’d keep crickets in cages and the more you had, the richer you was.
Maybe she was right. But one day I was sweeping in the kitchen, and this big ole black cricket jumps out at me. I’d never stopped to look at one up close. Ugly, alien looking things. This one jumped and landed on the broom and stared at me.
I stared back for a minute then got a fear like I ain’t never felt before.
It was instinct. Whatever that primal revulsion is that mankind has for things that crawl on six legs. Pure instinct. It took hold of my hands and made me start whacking that cricket.
The bug hopped around, evading my blows, for a good long while.
I kept swinging and missing and swinging again. Finally I hit him.
I couldn’t have been more than about 8 years old. I was curious. I knelt down and stared at the cricket, and I swear it stared right back. Thing looked through my eyes, straight into my soul, and branded me a murderer before it died.
I stood there a minute, frozen, before screaming for Mama and running through the house to climb up on the sofa.
Mama came running too, and calmed me down enough to find out what happened. She looked at the cricket all sorrowful, and told me that’d be bad luck. Then she whipped me for killing it.
It seemed real important at the time, but nothing ever came of it. That was long ago and far away. I wouldn’t have even remembered it.
There’s no crickets in the city. At night there’s cars buzzing back and forth and horns honking all night. Every once in a while, a train rumbles past. People shout. And silence doesn’t warn of danger, a siren does. They test it every Thursday, and it blasts through the city, drowning out everything else for a few minutes.
Makes you feel safe, when you bother to notice it. The siren is working. All is well.
A couple weeks ago, though, I was sitting in the living room, browsing videos on YouTube when the phone rings.
My girlfriend’s calling me up, fussing about her smoke detectors and I go over to check it out.
I know as soon as I walk in, it ain’t the smoke detector. Oh, it’s a similar sound, and I suppose if you’ve only ever heard one, you wouldn’t know the difference. But I know them both. And I could tell.
Only one thing in the world makes a sound exactly like that.
“Cricket,” I say and my girl, she looks at me like I lost my mind.
It takes a while to convince her. I gotta go through all the motions of checking each smoke detector – changing batteries and pushing buttons to show her they’re working.
Then I start moving things around, shifting furniture, looking for the bug.
The thing about a cricket chirping is the sound echoes. It comes from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The sound is its camouflage.
About three hours later I still hadn’t found it.
“Well, I can’t stay here,” Molly says. I laugh at her, just a little. I don’t mean to—it just comes out.
“It’s just a cricket,” I tell her. “They’re good luck.”
She don’t appreciate being laughed at, and I know I’m in trouble. She’s not yelling yet, though. She’s too scared.
“What if it jumps on me while I’m sleeping?”
“Then … it just jumps on you Molly. They don’t bite.”
She glares at me.
I sigh and I help her pack an overnight bag and I take her home with me. When we get to my place, I call up the exterminator.
And nothing much else happened that night. We made love, woke up, had breakfast and Molly lectured me for laughing at her.
We stopped by her place on the way to work, and the cricket was either gone or sleeping. She took her car and went to her job, and I went to mine.
“Love you, babe,” she said as she pulled off.
“Me too,” I said.
A little after noon, I got a phone call. Molly’d been in a car accident, and she was in the hospital.
I rushed out without a word, and got there just as she passed.
I wanted to join her. To die right along with her.
Instead, I had to go and tell her parents.
I’ll save you all the heartache that went into the funeral, and the beginning of the grieving process. I’ll never get over losing Molly, but I don’t expect you to know my pain, or to share it with me.
I just need to tell someone.
Two days later I’m over at my buddy Nate’s house. He’s trying to cheer me up, I can tell. I’m only half there, though – staring at the walls, wishing I could be with Molly again.
“What’d you say?” I ask Nate.
“I didn’t say anything, man. Hey, do you want a beer?”
Nate walks into the kitchen without waiting for an answer.
Cheer up. It comes again.
Then it hits me. No one said ‘cheer up,’ it’s—
A cricket. I jump up and start searching for it, with that sort of frantic obsession you only know when you’ve lost the person you love the most in the world.
Nate comes in and sees me flinging cushions and game controllers.
“What the hell, man?”
“Cricket,” I say.
Nate’s a good friend. He doesn’t ask any questions, just starts looking with me. Trashing his house.
We never do find the cricket, and pretty soon Nate has to leave.
“Don’t worry about it,” he tells me. I try not to, but it’s hard not to imagine it’s the same cricket that terrified my Molly before she…
Before she died.
Anyways, Nate goes to pick up his kid for their every-other-weekend trip to McDonald’s, and I go home to my empty apartment and the rest of my empty life.
After a couple hours, the phone rings.
“Hello?” I answer.
“Don’t you hello me. Where is he?”
“Hey, Shonna. Where’s what, now?”
“You tell Nate to get on over hereand pick up these bay-bay kids. I got plans tonight.”
I pull back the phone and stare at it a second. “Shonna, Nate left hours ago to get the kids.”
“Sure he did,” she says, and hangs up.
They found Nate later that night—drove off a bridge.
Another funeral. At this point my life is pretty much worthless. I don’t know if it even makes sense to go on living.
My Mama comes up to sit with me a while. I don’t remember much about what happened around that time — it’s all in a sort of fog — but somehow her and Daddy end up in a motel off of Lake Street, a few blocks from my place.
Probably because there ain’t hardly room for me in my little bitty apartment, much less two more.
So Mama and Daddy are here and she keeps hovering over me, and Daddy just stands and stares a lot. But they’re family, and it helps, and eventually I feel like at least I’m still breathing — no matter how much it hurts. Daddy says they need to get home, what with it being almost time for spring planting and what-not.
Mama’s on the phone packing when I hear it.
Right through the receiver.
“Is that a cricket in your room, Ma?”
She’s distracted, not really paying attention to me. “Hmm? Oh, I guess so, I don’t know.”
A sudden terror grips me. “Mama, don’t go,” I say.
I try to explain my fear, but even to me it sounds paranoid, and Ma must think it’s part of the grieving process.
“Why don’t you come home with us?” she offers. But I don’t.
On the way home, almost there, Mama and Daddy run smack into a semi, and the crash kills them both.
I’m supposed to head down there today for the funeral. I have to go. They’re my parents. But I’m afraid to leave the house.
Last night it started, and it just won’t stop.