image from Education for All series by Guilherme Bergamini



Melissa Goodnight

My son sits next to me in my bed, his lanky, fifth-grade legs inching dangerously close to the edge. His back is to me, his light blue eyes absentmindedly scanning the gray wall in front of him. I tickle his bony back with my fingertips and he turns toward me, moving his body in one quick motion. We lock eyes and he asks if I remember falling asleep to the sound of those bugs in Missouri. My head responds, but I say nothing. Just pull him into me, until the tips of his hair tickle my chin. I push his hair the way of his part with my hand, while he folds into me. The scent of sweat and watermelon shampoo drift upward. My shoulders loosen. We hear his daddy downstairs, clicking off lights, checking locks, setting the alarm.

It’s late evening, after sundown. This is when my son likes to talk. I’ve learned that patience is key. I say very little. Just sit next to him, the small lamp on my bedside table turned on low, under the hum of the ceiling fan swirling above us. The dog settles in at our feet.

My son likes to tell me about his day in these quiet moments. He tells me about school, about his friends, about drum lessons. He tells me his secrets and his worries in small, coded sentences that I have to stretch out of him, like pulling salt-water taffy, the kind he likes to load into his suitcase just before we leave the beach every summer.

I tell him the bugs he remembers from Missouri are cicadasThe sounds they make are from their wings humming. Different sounds mean different things to the cicada family. They make courting calls and distress calls. The sound they make has a name, I tell him, it’s called crepitation. I think about telling him more, but I hesitate when he curls his feet around mine. His toes were small when we lived in Missouri. His toes were small, his voice didn’t crack, and his baby sister was safely inside of me.

I feel my body stiffen. I hesitate to talk about the summer the cicadas came, because those memories are hazy, like I’m stuck in a fog I haven’t been able to lift myself from in near a decade. I can’t pull the memory into focus, the one he wants to hear. The warm, relaxed days when my daughter was safe, and my son still liked to cuddle. Still, he tries.

They sing, don’t they? 

They do, I assure him, taking in a long breath.

They sing a song and they make nests in trees? His eyes are wide, but dull.

I tell him he’s confusing cicadas for webworms, as I feel his body loosen against mine.