Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cicada Song

The sea of red petals of the phoenix trees paint every treetop to bright red, and set the heated July sky on fire. They seem to be particularly brazen in color this year. 

Millions of cicadas join the summer march by singing their mating songs with all the force they can squeeze from their tiny bodies. They scream “Look at me--I’m here!” with their bug eyes and bulky dark bodies as if the world is ending tomorrow.

Everywhere she goes she can’t escape the loud reminder: graduation in two weeks. 

Pearl puts her books and pens in the book bag one by one deliberately slow. She hopes she can catch a glance from Toni. In fact, she hopes for more than a glance, but she will be blissfully happy if it’s only a look or a smile from Toni.

Her face dims when she sees Toni’s back leaving the classroom. She does a quick scan just to make sure Leanne is not one of the girls leaving with her. 

She’s not. Pearl feels relieved.

Leanne’s face is pretty and delicate. She attracts attention from everyone--especially Toni’s. Pearl doesn’t want to, but her heart feels as if it's filled with acid each time she sees them walking together, often laughing in a world where Pearl does not exist.

Look at me. I’m not pretty like Leanne, but I don’t ask for much either--Pearl quietly pleads. The day shines much brighter if Toni looks her way once or twice. She can’t tell anybody this secret. She doesn’t know how to explain.

How can she like a girl in that way? They don’t understand Toni. Toni is not just a girl. Her hair is cut to extra short. Her pleated skirt looks like it doesn’t belong, and is such a bother to her. She cuts her nails short and walks in large and square strides. She is something else disguised in a girl’s body. Something so different and dangerous that lures Pearl with an unfamiliar excitement. 

The walk home is quiet and alone, as it is every day for Pearl. She says “baba” to the man sitting in the living room. He is watching TV and grunts an “um” to her, his eyes fixed on the TV. The three of them--her father, her step-mother, and her half brother--look like a happy family that needs no intruder. The woman and the young boy don’t pay any attention to her. They never do. She retreats to her room to finish her homework, her yearning for Toni continues in the small and muggy room.

The school held a sleepover in the gym once. She was assigned a spot next to Toni. She was so nervous and excited she could hardly talk or sleep. Her head was next to Toni’s, but she couldn’t look into Toni’s smiling eyes. To cover her shyness, she turned her back and pretended to be sleeping. What she would do to revise that day! She would talk all night with the one person she adores the most. She would find out all about her, and find a way to let her know how she thinks about her every day.

Her shyness must have looked like cold indifference to Toni. Pearl realizes it now with a permanent stab in her heart. She missed the only chance she had. She watches helplessly when Toni and Leanne get closer each day.

The final days and exams come and gone in the speed of a tropical storm. Everyone is exchanging address and phone number. The yearbooks are signed over and over. Toni writes “wishing you a bright and successful future” on Pearl’s. It’s painfully routine and polite.

The graduation ceremony flashes through before Pearl, or anyone else, is ready. Auld Lang Sine is still ringing in their ears when they find themselves out of the hall. The girls wave good-bye to their classmates with tearful eyes, promising against life’s onslaught to keep in touch, and junior high is over.

The cicadas still sing on every treetop. The moment they stop singing is the moment they die. The phoenix trees still burn up the sky every summer, proclaiming their passion to few who notice. Pearl knows she is the only person in the world who knows the cicadas are calling out to Toni, but she will never see Toni again.

(Phoenix tree is called flame tree here)

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  1. This is beautiful, sad, and so very human. I love the phrase "promising against life's onslaught to keep in touch."

    Great writing, as always! Be well, dear friend.

    PS I hope the volunteering went well last weekend. :)

  2. Robyn - the volunteer thing went well, and at least two famous people were there that night. No t-shirts though. I always feel sad that I haven't kept in touch with any of the junior high classmates.

  3. "The moment they stop singing is the moment they die," is a good line!

  4. This was lovely, Sarah, though tinged with sadness- you project that well. It's strange, i only associate Auld Lang Sine with new year. But it's apt for a graduation, definately. :)

  5. What a touching slice of life! So sad, but frequently so very true.

  6. Hunter - thanks. I imagine they never stop singing during their short lives.

    Lou - For some reason they always use the new year song for graduation in Taiwan.

    Judie - it's like a first crush only it's with a girl.

  7. Lovely, Sarah. You paint such incredible pictures with your words.

  8. Marla - thanks for the kind words.

  9. Very emotive writing - you certainly have a talent for the written word.

  10. Great story! Hope those aren't the cicadas of the 17-year variety. Their song would drown out a diesel truck!

  11. Kitty - thanks, and great to see you here.

    Melissa - glad you liked it. I'm not sure which variety they are. Got to do some research on it.



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