Cicada Song

Sue McMillan
| Fiction

 

Rock, Paper, Scissors would have been easier, Rob thinks.
Because after he gives Andy a quick rundown of the rules of the game, Andy asks, “Does everyone count? Mailman? Kid? Dog?”
“Just keep it simple.”
“Simple is as simple does,” Andy says.
Rob weighs how to respond before asking, “What exactly does that mean?”
“Something my granny used to say,” says Andy. “No clue what the fuck it means.” He starts laughing and only stops when the car hits a patch of gravel and fishtails toward a mailbox.

 

Andy and Rob began Sunday with coffee at McDonald’s before a planned trip to Konrad’s to see if any weekend pick-up work remained. But coffee led to Egg McMuffins and then fries, which led to a delayed start. When they stepped out of McDonald’s the sun was high in the sky, pressing down on them with muggy fists. The cicadas rasped in crescendos. As Andy lowered himself onto the black plastic driver’s seat of his El Camino, yellowed t-shirt already damp against his back, he muttered “Hell with Konrad’s,” and instead they sped down the lake road, windows open, sticky air swirling through the car, wrapping them in the fading notes of a late Southern Michigan summer—woodbine, loam, ozone, dust.
Rob suggested the game because there was nothing else to do. It was too late to pick up a full day’s work. The beach at the lake was offlimits, full of droopy-diapered kids and pasty-skinned weekenders who would stare uncomfortably at his and Andy’s stained shirts and work boots. And Rob couldn’t face another day of sitting with Andy in front of the fan at Andy’s trailer, counting down the minutes until his first beer while Andy started in right away, slurring and belligerent by two in the afternoon, passed out by four.
Rob met Andy their freshman year in high school during JV football tryouts. When Rob thinks back on it now, the unsolved locker room thefts that fall weren’t so mysterious: they trailed Andy’s mounting school absences and burgeoning pot habit and preceded the post-game row with Southside High that left Andy with a black eye, an expulsion, and a juvie record. The opposing team player was hospitalized with fractured ribs, a broken collarbone, and a concussion. Rob remembers standing in the glowing circle of parking lot lights outside the stadium that night, thrumming with dread-filled exhilaration as he yelled for Andy to hit the guy again, kick him again. That was the last time Rob saw Andy until they ran into each other last March at the Anytime Bar, more than thirty years later. Rob was drinking away his final unemployment check when he saw Andy at the end of the bar. His first thought was to pay and slip out, but a nostalgic anticipation welled up. Assisted by the dregs of the house whiskey in his glass, he walked down the length of the bar and tapped Andy on the shoulder.

 

The game Rob proposes is like the license plate game he and his sister played on family trips, something to goad time when it drags its feet. But instead of counting license plates, they’ll count people. While the game is meant to appeal to Andy, not a five-year-old girl, it’s still a simple game: when you see the third person, or the thirteenth (you choose the number), you stop the car and spook the crap out of them—jabber, stare, curse. Whatever feels right.
But Andy struggles with the concept. “So, is it only someone we see on the road or does in a yard count?” he asks after narrowly missing the mailbox.
“What are you talking about?”
“What if someone’s in their yard, or on their porch? Do they count toward the number? And what if they’re not alone? I don’t want to take on a bunch of people at once if that’s where the number lands. We’d be outnumbered. Where’s the fun in that?”
Andy’s face glistens with sweat and the hair creeping down his neck from underneath his baseball cap is speckled gray and black. Rob smells a funk in the car even with the windows wide open. It could be Andy, or it could be him. Rob slides his feet back into the work boots he’s slipped off, looks away from Andy and stoppers the impatience rising in his throat. Andy’s at the wheel, and although he doesn’t yet have the usual twelve-pack in his belly, Rob knows he’s capable of careering the car off the road just to show Rob who’s boss.
“Just keep it simple,” Rob says again. “Singles only. Pick a number, any number, and we’ll start counting.” He fans out a pretend hand of cards.
“Five,” says Andy, and grins.

 

Sue McMillan is a writer and attorney living in Boise, ID. While the law is how she’s made her living, writing is how she’s sustained her creativity and perspective.

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