Stephanie Clark is a Canadian writer abroad, who writes literary fiction of all lengths. Her short stories have won or placed in several awards and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in Sudden Denouement, Cold Coffee Stand and Literary Taxidermy. She writes in the silence between words and is a fierce lover of obscure language.
The Love Song of Cicadas
“Try this.” Sheila said, handing Eloise a soft slice of yellow cake. The low hanging sun turned it golden. “It was my mother’s recipe. St. Clemens cake.” Small crystals of sugar gripped her palm. Eloise took it from her, smiling, and ran her long fingers over Sheila’s. She licked the crystals off her own fingertips, while Sheila licked the remnants off her hand. The heat of the dying day made the cake sweeter.
“What is that? Orange?” Eloise asked, savouring the crumbly dessert. Small flecks of it fell onto the knit blanket, rolling down through the stitches and into the lush grass.
“David got some clementines from Mr. Moss, the farmer from a few towns over. He did some work on his accounts.”
“I ain’t had a clementine in ages. My mama had a tree in her front yard when I was growin’ up, back in Louisiana.” Eloise leaned back onto her elbows, her checked dress creasing under the curve of her back. “Haven’t thought of them in years.” She tilted her face towards the sun, lifting her chin slightly, and Sheila caught the way her dark hair gleamed in the late light. It seemed to move as a whole, gently, as the grass in the field swayed in the breeze. She instinctively reached up and tugged at her own blonde, wispy hair, which she had tried to force into hot rollers, but it had fallen flat. She sighed and leaned back to match Eloise, her elbows propping her up and her hair cascading between the valley of her shoulders.
“Do you miss it?” Sheila asked. Eloise paused momentarily, the chirruping of cicadas filling the silence.
“Sometimes. I miss my mama. Every day.” She straightened her legs and kicked off her scuffed black pumps. She wriggled her toes in the fresh air. Sheila noticed a small run in the toe of the stocking, revealing a crimson painted toenail. “But I’ve got the kids here, and the house.”
“How’s George?” Sheila asked, turning onto her side to face Eloise. She watched the face of her friend darken at the mention of her husband.
“Gettin’ better, slowly. He still has night terrors. They all do, I guess. A war like that don’t leave you.”
“Hm.” Sheila nodded. She put her hand out, letting the side of her fingers brush against Eloise. They intertwined their smallest fingers.
“I don’t know, Sheila. I don’t know how to help him.” She lowered herself down, rolling onto her side and cradling her head with her extended arm. Behind her, a small firefly gleamed.
“I-” Sheila started, but she couldn’t find the words to continue. David hadn’t been drafted. He carried that weight around in his life, lugging it everywhere they went, leeching any hope or self-worth from him. He filled that chasm with noise and business. “What can any of us do?”
The two women lay quietly, looking at each other, their fingers intertwined over the remnants of the dinner they had brought. Wax paper, neatly folded, rustled in the breeze. Its sound was muffled by the swishing of the long grass that swayed in its infinite tide against the summer winds, and of the cicadas crying out in the dying light.
“Where’s David tonight?” Eloise asked, glancing behind Sheila to the rolling hills.
“He had to work again. It’s all he’s done since…” Eloise didn’t need her to say it, the war was its own entity, hovering over them even after it had passed. “He’s been trying to get the role of head accountant for the new department store opening up on Greene Avenue.”
“I heard about that.” Eloise pulled her head up from her shoulder and rested it on her hand. Through the triangle made by her posture, Sheila could see the field beyond. It glowed. “How exciting, don’t you think? A department store here, of all places. It seems too glamorous.”
“It will be, I’m sure of it. David said they were looking into the cost of a crystal chandelier.” Sheila chuckled softly. “The extravagance is bordering absurd. It’s what keeps him there so late. Last night, he came home well past midnight. I found him this morning on the chesterfield with his shoes on, fast asleep.”
“George did the same thing last night.” Eloise said, looking past Sheila. “But the only thing he was workin’ on was finding the bottom of a whiskey bottle.” Sheila reached out further, running her fingers across the bare arm of Eloise, pulling her back to the wide field and the setting sun, away from the memories. Eloise blinked and smiled softly. “It helps him sleep.” She rolled onto her stomach, reaching behind her to make sure the loose skirt of her dress covered her above the knees, her stockinged feet lifting and swinging in the air. She began to pluck the small blades of grass that comprised the vast and unending universe outside the safety of their knit blanket. Sheila stayed on her side, staring at her.
“What’s the first thing you’re going to buy?” She asked.
“What?” Eloise replied. Sheila rolled on to her stomach as well, pressing her body next to Eloise and running her fingers through the grass before them. She pulled at the petals of a small white flower.
“When the department store opens up. What do you want the most?” The sides of their hips touched, the rhythm of their swaying feet rocking them gently. Eloise linked her foot with Sheila’s and swung them together. She spent some time thinking.
“Really?” Sheila asked.
“Mhm. In a beautiful, glass bottle with a silk cord.” Eloise smiled.
“What kind? Rose?”
“Don’t matter.” She shrugged, smiling even wider. With one swift motion, she rolled onto her back and stared up at the sky. It had turned the colour of clementine with streaks of vibrant ruby without them noticing. “I haven’t worn perfume for almost five years. I want to smell of lovely things again, of roses or jasmine. Maybe myrrh. Or frankincense. I want to smell of places I ain’t never been.”
“If I could bottle the smell of now, that would be perfect.” Sheila took a deep breath. The warm day had made the grass smell sweet with just a tinge of burnt. The earth was gently damp, and ripe with satisfying petrichor. Eloise smelled of borax and wildflowers. “What perfume did you wear before?”
“You know, I don’t even remember.” She tucked her hands under her head, her hair shifted, glinting. Her eyes tracked the wisps of clouds that danced overhead. “I would know it if I smelled it. It was my mamas. Viscous stuff, the colour of a dead leaf.” She smiled; her eyes flicked to the side to look at Sheila. “It was like all the flowers you’ve ever smelled. Couldn’t tell you which one it was supposed to be.” Sheila plucked the small white flower, now devoid of all but six petals, and held it under Eloise’s nose.
“Like this?” She laughed. Eloise took a deep inhale.
“Just like that.”
In the distance, a robin began an intricate and elegant song to usher in the first star that slowly came to life on the edge of the horizon.
“What about you?” Eloise asked gently. “What would you buy?”
“Of course.” Eloise turned her head to the side, her cheek grazing the floccose blanket. The last of the light ringed her head and Sheila saw Eloise as something whole.
“The first thing I’d buy is that bottle of perfume for you.”
A silence fell between the two, Sheila rolled onto her back, one hand cradling her neck, the other seeking out Eloise’s hand, holding her tight. Not far from their heads, a pair of cicadas began to chirp, alternating in their harmonies.
“It’ll be dark soon.” Eloise said. Her voice felt far away to Sheila.
“When will George be home?” She asked quietly.
“I don’t know. The children are with his mother, I’ll have to collect them before it gets too late.” She sighed as she pulled herself upwards, sitting and staring out to the edge of the field. The thin path they had carved walking in had disappeared in the shifting grass, leaving them hovering – untethered.