Cricket in the Rain

The cricket called all this night and the last. As tourists we can not shut him out, or pull up his stumps. In the garden of our country cabin, a cricket rubs a stick up and down its serrated wings, and steals our sleep.’Cricket, cricket,’ it chirps, right outside the window, oblivious to the rain.My wife’s newly cropped bob turns in frustration on the pillow. In the dark, her disembodied hand motions weakly at the window.’Virginia is for lovers,’ she croaks.

We are 25 years down the married line, first-time visitors to the US, far from our home in London. This is our second honeymoon. Nothing is to spoil it.

I sigh and pick up my wife’s polka-dotted parasol. The cricket will have to go.

‘You’re de mon,’ mumbles the pillow.

An electric torch lights my way out onto a deck that pulses with the memory of the summer sun. The cricket continues to call, disguising its position against the backdrop of night-time chatter. Nature’s sauna is steamy and busy with the beat of tiny wings.

Bending back the heart-shaped leaves of the rosebud tree does not reveal the cricket’s hiding place, nor does tapping the waterwheel at the end of the garden. Not that I dally there; America has spiders that jump.

There is a gate in the wall behind the waterwheel. This is interesting. Americans aren’t big on private gardens, at least in the South; it suggests a lack of community spirit. So far we’ve only seen flat bungaloid buildings and huge back yards with absolutely no privacy. A walled garden must mean something. The cricket must be hiding in there. My hand is on the gate when a voice deep from within the cabin asks whether I have found it yet.

Oh, sure, an inch-long insect in a haystack, no problem.

‘Nearly, honey,’ I say, feeling the wet wooden gate slippery under my hand, feeling something irrevocable starting.

The gate opens and I enter the garden. Baby dragons awake in the rhododendrons. They poke out tongues of cheeky mange tout, as my torch sweeps by. My flat boat shoes burrow into freshly turned soil. I kick them off and rub the warm earth between my toes. My dressing gown slips open. The sap is rising, as they say. I hang the parasol in a tree and rearrange my modesty. I am fifty-three, married with children, shy.

Reaching back up, I catch my finger on a thorn. Shout and swear, the silence falls apart as the torch rolls and rattles on the ground.

But doesn’t the rain taste good on my stuck finger! I suck in the taste of iron. My mouth opens a little wider and speaks to the night sky; a timid cup blocked by an anxious tongue, anxious to avoid spiders hanging from trees. Laughter spills over my chin and down my hairless white chest.

An indigo bunting lifts off into the lilac sky and lands in the middle distance amongst new saplings. I can imagine the bird, flying over the Blue Ridge Mountains, looking down on Rocky Knob and Rock Castle Gorge, watching the deer running through the flame azaleas.

It is suddenly very quiet; the rain has eased off. My eyes have adjusted to the dark. I am not alone. A young woman stands in the middle of the garden. Her back is to me and her head is cocked to one side. She carries a bowl in each hand at shoulder-height. The torch ended up behind her, bathing her dress in a secret, eerie glow.

I greet her softly, tensed for her reaction.

She does not respond. I walk around her and see that she is a statue. It is midnight in the Garden of the Seen and Unseen, and a revelation awaits me.

The cricket is frozen in the middle of one of the proffered bowls. It is huge and prismatic. It is ten times the size of English grasshoppers. The torchlight splits into a rainbow across its iridescent green body.

‘Cricket, cricket,’ it calls, and then is gone.

Oh, you clever little insect! That you called me here!

The rain pours down and drags the hot gown off my shoulders.

Greetings and worshipful splendors to your goddess!

She caresses me; opens me up like a flower, and drips hot oils onto my chest. Where it pools at the sternum, I rub it in. She breathes on me the perfume of pine and dogwood. I cavort naked. I am a child in paradise.

My soul soars with the birds above the imperturbable mountains. There are no clouds in the sky. My quest is over. I am a man, a wolf, a stag, roving in the forests of the world. Stoic trees envy me. Flowers and butterflies evanesce. I am in the autumn of my life, but it feels like summer.

At the peak of my epiphany, I hear a voice.

‘Laugh with me,’ the young girl says, ‘laugh at your expedition and your lost trappings. Do not sleep. Leave her. Be with me.’ And her hands run like rain over my head.

© Mark Carew 2003

First published in Buzzwords magazine, UK, issue 23

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