Lying Foamy On Its Side

from The Glass Cicada, a novel in progress

All thoughts ceased as something awkward came about. I stopped at the railroad tracks and listened. It was a feeling, an acknowledgement of my surroundings. The air was still. I heard something. Errrr, errrrrrr. It went up and down steady and smooth. Errrrrrrr, errrrr…Then something flew from heaven and hit my face, a fluttery noise. I looked more and more but couldn’t see a damn thing.

I strolled on, hearing the chorus and thinking that something may be wrong with my head. After the next collision, I stopped. I stood on my street’s sidewalk and waited. My eye caught hold of an odd-looking creature on a bush beside the sidewalk. I crept toward it and knelt down. It was about an inch long, greenish brown, cylindrical. It had tiny, pinpoint red eyes, and its wings overlapped one another. There were dozens of them all over the bush. They sang their song in stillness. I’d never seen them before, and with my unnerving anxiety, I about flipped out. I darted down the sidewalk. The things were everywhere. “Oh my Goddamn!” I said. One flew crooked toward me and landed on my neck. I yanked it off and felt its little claws pop out of my skin.

Once inside the house it took a while to gain my composure. I strutted around curious and frantic of what just happened. What were those goddamn things? My Uncle Glen would know, but he was still asleep. I knew he had started in on one of his binges late last night by the musky smell, the kitchen table laced with Budweiser bottles, and the ashtray overflowing. I showered to brighten myself a little, made some coffee, and went upstairs to my room. I sat on the bed with my GED book in hand. I felt odd, sitting there looking at the thing, it at me. I didn’t know how to get started. I figured I would need some paper and a pen; it sounded right, so I headed downstairs and grabbed them. After opening the book and deciding not to read the introduction, I was determined to get at it. A pinch-bag of meth from the night before fell from the pages. I thought, What the hell, and snorted the last little bit. I lay on my side flipping through the pages and stopped at the mathematics section—simple addition and subtraction. I read the instructions, viewed the first several problems, and solved a few on my paper. It was an insult. I wasn’t stupid; I knew how to add and subtract. I wondered why I even bothered, felt I had things of more importance to occupy myself, so I quit and decided that a lesson every few days would work. I had an advantage over the first one, so I had a couple days to let the book sit.

About an hour later I heard Glen downstairs dropping the empty Budweisers into the trashcan—the bottles clinking and breaking as they collided. I waited until the noise ceased, then headed down to greet him. He was out back tending to his tomato plants and drinking a brew.

“What the hell are these things flying around?” I said, my eyes everywhere but on him.



“Cicadas. They’re like locusts. See those holes?” He pointed at the earth. There were holes everywhere. It looked like someone had taken a machine gun against the ground. “They live in the ground for several years, then come out to mate.”

“Will they bite you?”

He had sorry eyes but an amused grin. “Hell no, they won’t bite you. They don’t do shit but mate.” He sipped his brew.

I was still looking all around, here and there, at him. “They won’t hurt you?” I asked again, distraught. “What do they do in the ground?”

“Calm down,” he said. “They’re here for a little while, then they’re gone. See,” he rested his hand atop a stake, “they’ll mate, then their eggs or whatever’ll stay in the ground for fourteen or seventeen,” he paused, “or some amount of years. Then they’ll hatch and do the same thing.”

“Why do they fly like they’re drunk?”

He took another drink. “Shit, Stacy. I don’t know. I think they’re blind or something.”

He went back to tying his plants to the stakes. The cicadas were all over the stalks and leaves and they hissed and sputtered when he disturbed them.

“Are they gonna eat your tomatoes?”

“I don’t think so. I’m sure they’re only here to mate, that’s all. If anything or anyone ruins my tomatoes,” he nodded toward the neighbor’s house, “it’ll be that damn Pruitt.” A few weeks earlier Glen began bitching more and more about our next-door neighbor. Glen used to tie his plants to the fence until last year when James Pruitt began complaining about property lines. The plants now grew elsewhere in the yard, but he swore up and down that the soil by the fence was virgin and mineral robust. He liked the word robust. He always enunciated it, RO-bust. “I’ll be happy to get one damn tomato out of those bastards,” he’d say. But they looked healthy, close to blooming, despite all the cicadas.

I spent the rest of the day inside. I wasn’t afraid of the cicadas, I just wasn’t used to them yet. They had no purpose, and the six o’clock news explained nothing. It spoke of how it was Cicada Season; that this wouldn’t happen again for years. They thought a big deal of it and claimed Louisville was one of the most cicada-populated areas in the nation. Then they showed some fancy chef simmering the bastards with sauces, herbs, and whatnot. He and others at his restaurant actually ate these things.

Remnants of a hurricane from the Gulf of Mexico hit the city with a steady rain for the next few days. I hoped it would drown the cicadas, but all it did was relieve us of the heat. I spent my time doing nothing in particular. I was lazy and everyone knew it, especially Glen. He never hassled me about work but he did mention it a few times. “When this rain lets up,” he’d say, “you’re gonna find a job, right?” I’d nod and amuse myself with his drunken incoherence to his surroundings. He repeated things when binging. Never a raging drunk, but always forgetful and clumsy.

I became a little stir-crazy just before the rain let up. It wasn’t that I was held hostage by the weather, just that dreary days always brought about listless, sluggish moods that became irritable and discontent. I tried to drink but the stamina wasn’t there. I’d have a few brews, then fall asleep. During one of these episodes I had another dream about my mother. It was similar to one I’d had a couple weeks back, actually almost exact. I stood outside her house in the rain. She answered the door sporting a blue apron. She looked beyond me. “Mom, it’s me,” I said. She didn’t answer. “What’s the fucking deal?” I became angry. Then the gutter above broke from the overflowing rain. I looked up, then back at my mother. She was gone, and the water was at my knees. I tried to fight my way out of the mud, but it was thick and strong. It pulled me into its depths. All of a sudden, I was on a slide at a theme park, and all the children were rooting for me as I twisted and flipped. The slide dumped into a pool. When I came up I was sitting on a couch in my old home next to my mother. I woke confused yet alert.

The sun eventually got its grip and the rain stopped. I was adamant on getting drunk. It was about three in the afternoon when I started. I grabbed two brews out of the fridge and began drinking them as I watched a made-for-television movie about a woman dealing with her issues revolving around her rape. It was on Lifetime. I was giddy and excited and ready for whatever the day would bring. I drank a couple more brews and quit giving a damn about the cicadas. Outside I flicked them off my lawn chair and unfolded it in the back yard. I lay on it with my arms outstretched. Soon the sun was pulling at the water on the earth and the humidity came in thick. Here and there a small breeze tickled my bare chest and I’d sip some brew.

I was buzzed by the time Lucy called. She just got out of school, said her father had been tying fishing line around the cicadas and watching them fly while he held the string. “He said ‘I am the captain of this ship’,” she laughed. “He did this forever. Then started going around to the back yard and stomping on them with his bare feet.”

“That’s great,” I mumbled. “What’s going on later, any plans?”

“Beth and I are going swimming. You wanna go?”

“I swam last night. How about we hang out afterwards?”

I told her I’d call around eight, then I dialed my boys. Ty’s mother said he was out with his cousin, which meant he was working.

Mike had just picked his sister up from school and was lifting weights. I was to meet him at his house, where he had stashed twenty-two double-deuces of Olde English he bought earlier that day for fifteen bucks. This made a good day better. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich while I strolled toward his house.

“I love the pump,” he said once he finished his last repetition of presses. We were in the garage. He sat up and drank off a bottle, then fetched me one from the fridge. “The pump makes you look swole,” he said and flexed his biceps

“You’re looking good,” I said. “I’d like to get around to lifting.”

“You should. Get yourself some prison shit going on and nobody’ll fuck with you.”

I gulped too much brew and it came out my nose. He laughed. “Take it easy. There’s plenty to go around and a lot of day left.” He sat back in his chair and lit a smoke.

“Ty’s working,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. Poor bastard’s gonna work all summer. I hear him, though. The more money you have, the better things are.”

“Got any of that shit?”

“What? Glass?”

I nodded my head. He knew what I meant.

“Naw, man. But I got some weed.”

He rolled a mega blunt and the blazing commenced. He reiterated the bargain on the deuces. He explained that Man’s Liquor Store was running deals on malt liquor. “You can either pay a buck a deuce or buy twenty-two of them for fifteen bucks. Now what the fuck would you do?”

“What do you think? I’d buy twenty-two.”

He turned the television on. Lifetime.

“Change the channel,” I said. “They just played this fucking movie. Some bitch gets raped. It’s stupid.”

“Rape? Fuck that shit.” He exhaled and laughed. “I’d rather get tore up.”

Nothing on the television caught our attention, so we began playing some shoot-‘em-up game on the PlayStation. I don’t recall the game. I never was great with those things, but enjoyed them. Mike was pro. He knew all the codes, and with him I never had a chance. Sometimes he’d rub it in, but I didn’t give a damn. When high and slightly drunk, I’d get engulfed in the screen. It was real; I was a solider. A dead solider, but a solider nonetheless. Time traveled like the bullets and we were suddenly drunk. I began thinking of Meredith. “Hey, man. What’s that girl Meredith’s last name?”

“I don’t know.” He didn’t take his eyes of the screen. He was jamming his control-pad. “Got you again, motherfucker!”

“You really don’t know?”

He hit pause and faced me. “Why? You got a crush on her?”

“Naw. I’m just curious.”

“I don’t know? How should I know?” An earnest expression came over him. “Did you fuck her?”

I was reluctant but told him anyway.

“I knew it! You go boy!” He slugged my shoulder, and it induced confidence.

“Fuck yeah I did. Right there next to the shed.”

“No shit. You lucky motherfucker. Why don’t I ever get laid?” He gripped his hands together in mocked prayer, pleading, “Oh, please, please Mr. Stacy. Please show me the way of the vagina.”

I shrugged. “What does she do, anyway? I mean, other than school.”

“She fucks dudes next to sheds,” he said, and opened another deuce.

A train growled down Carter as I strolled along. The cicadas rested their tired wings and sang in their sleep. In an excited drunk I had called Lucy from Mike’s but by then wished I hadn’t. I wanted to keep drinking and do so in the company of drinkers. Lucy was by no means a prude, but she definitely never threw down. “Why leave?” Mike had said. “We’re just getting started.” He had laid down his control-pad to ask me, and at that moment I felt the tightness between us. We were partners. We always had been and always would be. He would stay there all night and play his games and maybe throw his weights. Perhaps I would stop by later, and that’s what I told him.

I gripped a deuce at my side, here and there poured it down my throat. The train growled. I strolled along the streets of the insane and a few psychos. Outside was warm. I felt I could live forever, like the train that never slept, kept trucking and beating and kicking. Glen once told me that life was an uphill fight. I didn’t fully accept this bit of wisdom until years later.

The streetlights and headlights tickled me, and I grinned with every passing. I thought of stopping in the Shaker Bar but knew they wouldn’t look the other way. When I turned the corner to head down Lucy’s street, a guy nearly walked over me. We stopped face to face. I’d seen him before but couldn’t stick a name or a place. “Need somethin’?” he mumbled, then took a draw from the smoke in his hand. Another guy was posted on a car parked at the corner. Both were a few years older than me.

“Naw man. I’m cool.” I kept strolling.

“Wait up,” he said, his voice clear and direct.

I turned around.

“Do I know you?” he asked, stopping a couple feet back.

“I don’t think so.”

“Fuck yeah you know him,” the guy on the car said, rubbing his scraggly beard. “That’s that motherfucker that hangs with Lex.”

Lex, I thought. I don’t hang with Lex. I only bought from him twice.

He pushed himself from the car and walked toward me. “And don’t try and say you ain’t ‘cause we saw you rolling with him the other day.” The other guy was now in my face mugging me, punking me without saying a word. I was in trouble and wished Mike was with me. I thought of running, but my legs didn’t agree and running would only prove my guilt.

“What’s up with this dude, Lex?” said the first guy.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I mean, I know who you’re talking about but—“

“He’s a lying motherfucker,” said the bearded guy, then hooked me square in my face.

There’s a funny thing about getting knocked out. You may not believe it but it’s a serene feeling—that’s if you are truly knocked out, not knocked down. To confuse the two would make a liar of me. A knock down is a painful, humiliating experience that puts things in perspective as you lie there with a broken face and scraped elbows. You see your offender above you; your heart thumps with his steps, winks, and twitches. It’s scary as fuck, and you don’t know how to respond, so you either stand for more or you stay vulnerable hoping he is compassionate. A knock out, however, is quite opposite. There is no pain, no humiliation until after your weary eyes fully focus and you realize the situation. When those knuckles hit the right nerves and stun your brain proper, your weight strips from your back, knees buckle. There is no thought, a simple dream without the dreams; you are slammed into a fourth dimension. You unknowingly hit the ground, maybe bust a knot on the back of your head. Fight or flight is not an option. The ego is yet to be prodded, but it will when your blood soothes. Your destroyed pride becomes known only after you fully wake and look around—this is especially true in school hallways and cafeterias, but I needn’t to worry about that. That night, I lay on a dark street corner surrounded by blaring headlights and lunatic cicada breaths. I sat up, my head womping with zings. My pride was shot but no one was around to push it underwater. Everything was in order other than my ego. My shoes, clothes, wallet—all there. Even my deuce, though lying foamy on its side, was unscathed. The dealers had split; they were compassionate, whoever they were.

I stood with my bottle and kept going. My brain was a mess, cheek numb, and my drunk now a tired but restless bundle of weight. I was curious as to who the dealers were. I had seen them before, I knew that. But where? I needed a car but the Commonwealth of Kentucky wouldn’t allow that until I was eighteen because I was a dropout. I couldn’t roam the streets like I had been. I needed speed. A bicycle. I grinned knowing there was an old, green ten-speed hanging in the garage.

Seth Johnson is a product of Louisville, KY where he still resides. Other than his novel in progress, The Glass Cicada, he is currently working on a fractured memoir modeled of his short memoir “Jungle Boots and Bottles of Water,” published in Thoreau’s Rooster. He recently bought into the supposed American Dream but is quickly learning something else. “I’ll keep you posted,” he said.


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