hobart logo

March 18, 2020 Nonfiction


Colleen Mayo

Tymbal photo

My parent’s campy, mesh-screened patio was a space between hard and soft. Not outside, not in. It was rustic and loud. It had a crooked metal roof and long walls that stretched the whole length of the house. Mom hosted patio parties back there when I was a kid, especially around the time of summer when a crowd of cicadas came to hook themselves along the patio’s perimeter and sing. I remember being young and small and barefoot on the concrete floor: look closely and see how the cicada shells vibrate as the Texas Hill Country winds sift in. Or maybe it’s the bass music getting round and loud that moves them. Or maybe it’s the way my parents’ friends all pull back the screen door and let the metal latch slam shut, how they yell out wild greetings to each other from across the patio floor: Motherfucker! Owe, Owe! Get your ass over here! How the drinks shift them back and forth from hard to soft. I liked to sweep up one of my mother’s cats and cradle it as I shadowed the adults, matching my sways with theirs. I liked to whisper-press their words back to them: Awe shit! Look who it is! Howdy! (Adult cicadas, I learned from a drunk friend of my parents at one of these parties, are called nymphs. A cicada’s sound is produced by a membrane called the tymbal as it rattles against an organ. First, the cicada hatches from its egg and, ant-like, crawls up to feed on tree sap. Second, it digs underground and eats tree roots for two to seventeen years. Third, it emerges, a nymph, ready to cling to a patio screen through the night, through the human tunes and rowdy talk, through the booze, straight through to morning. People silent. To patio, deflated.) In the morning, I would tip-toe around the friends as they slept: big-bodied, crooked and damp from booze-sweat and drool, limp fingertips brushing against ashtrays mounded with cigarette buds, Mom’s fat cats moving curiously around the human sleepers, their tails flirting against shins and the tops of shoes. Mom herself, awake but just barely as she pulls me back inside. Outside, the cicadas are still clinging, still singing, still more body than shell.


image: Laura Gill