It was late August. She lay down in bed for a long while in the morning with Henry, feeling the start of the day already heavy with heat and humidity. The cicadas were singing their summer song in a woosh through the trees. It was a perfect day for the cicadas; still and warm, and laden with the quiet tick of timelessness. Hers and Henry’s bodies tingled with the reverberations of the night before as they listened to life through the open windows. “I love the sound of the cicadas,” she said. “I wait for it every summer.” Henry smiled back. “Me too,” he said, ”Year after year.” He crawled closer to where she lay, kissed her softly and said, ”I love you. For whatever it’s worth. For however long it lasts.” She looked up at him tenderly and nudged his warm skin with her arm. It was early, but it was hot enough that if they lay too close, they would stick together.
A year ago she sat at a table out on the lawn with a man named Jack that she’d been dating for several months. They talked about Hindu “pain religions,” elephants, monkeys and the Temple of the Rats. She had experienced her own religion of pain back then but didn’t realize it; chanting Om to the numbing sensation of shallow, pretend love; the kind of love you force upon Ken and Barbie when you’re a kid. That simulated, dress-up love that feels real and fun at the time, but then one day just disappears when you grow up and stop playing with toys. She had had a conversation one night with him. She asked him to tell her the truth. “I only want to know the truth,” she said. But he looked at her like she had asked him the mystery of life. The truth, it turned out, was something as illusive, if not more so, as the love they were trying to create with their plastic, doll parts.
A year before that she was following George around his front yard, watching him water and mulch the trees they had planted the previous year. She felt connected to the seasons then. She knew when the blueberries would ripen on the vine. She knew when to expect the abundance of the harvest in the fall. And she knew that when the frost of winter came nothing would grow and George wouldn’t be able to water or plant anything until spring. She knew that they’d lie stale and frozen too, until something came along and thawed their cold, tired selves. Something extraneous and fleeting, that neither of them could grasp on their own. When the tall grass was cut, they tried to make love under the shade of the big maple, but it didn’t work. It never did. She would kiss him and he’d push her away. And his response was always the same: “The love between us is so much deeper than that, baby.” And so she wrapped her arms around herself in frustration and believed him.
She thought of the past as if it were something she possessed, whether she liked it or not. It was part of her. And she kept it with her, despite Henry asking her if she wouldn’t enjoy life more if she let it go and live in the moment. But it seemed to her that if she did let it go and move on, she would not recognize herself. And that scared her. And yet, she was certainly not content knowing that over the past five years there was no permanency to her life whatsoever. She hated the fact that she had several different lovers after her divorce. She hated that there were no patterns created, no traditions built upon the previous years, nor anything remotely related to Time to convince her that she was secure in this life, with this man, or that she would be.
By noon, while she and Henry lazily fumbled for their clothes, the cicadas stopped chirping. She wondered if the little bugs went to sleep, or if they were like those insects that only live for a day. Temporary. Only on earth to serve the menial task of chewing up deciduous trees. Or to mate. Nothing more. This thought seemed to disappoint and leave her feeling empty. What, if anything, was the purpose and beauty of a life if only lived one day? By late fall the cicadas would be gone. All of them. Lovers, friends, mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. Someone new would crawl up the trees to take their place. The singing would start again. But the song would be the same. Carried by voices that grew into summer for only a season.
She shook out the bed sheets to cover the bed and fluffed the pillows, ambling around the room so as not to create too much energy in the early afternoon heat. Henry collected his things from the floor; his shoes, his shirt, his suit and tie, leaving behind, as he did each time he’d visit, another piece of clothing for her to wash and place in the spare drawer she had offered him when he first started spending the night. It became a sort of running joke between them. The first time he slept over he left behind a t-shirt, then two, then three and so on. He said to her one night, early on, “It’s all a part of my master plan!” and she laughed at his quick and lighthearted sense of humor. But after she finished covering the bed, she eyed the undershirt and socks he had placed atop the hamper, well knowing that they were two more items of his to add to the growing pile.
“Not sure if you realize this, baby, but you now have two drawers, not just one.”
He turned to her and looked in humorous disbelief. “Two drawers?” His mouth was agape as if in shock. She laughed and opened the dresser drawers for viewing. Each of them was filled with Henry’s socks, underwear, t-shirts, shorts, books, CDs and so on. Seven months of stuff.
“Two little worlds,” he said, “That’s all.”
“And expanding,” she added.
She walked him to the front door and kissed him goodbye in a playful, housewifey way. Her children would be coming in soon from their father’s and she had lots of mindless tasks to do.
“If it makes you happy, I’ll clear some of that stuff out of here when I come over next,” he said.
She paused and looked at him; searching for something less irreparable to say than simply yes or no. “Why don’t we wait till the cooler weather,” she said. “It’s too hot to bother with that now.”