fiction

“When Sheets Attack! Part Two: The Cricket Conundrum”

let the silliness continue just in time to celebrate my 30th on the 27th: the second {unedited} installment of “When Sheets Attack!” Enjoy, but don’t forget to read Part One first.

I flipped. I flopped. I yelled. I even tried holding very still, flinging up the switch, and pouncing where I last heard it. All I succeeded in doing was stubbing the third toe of my left foot badly and encouraging Pepper in what I am quite sure is the belief that the human who sleeps in the big bed is batty.

Crickets. Every August as my birthday approaches, crickets celebrate with a chirping chorus. This year, instead of an occasional chirping that sent me on search and destroy missions, they heralded neither the dawn nor twilight, but some typically quiet hour between midnight and four.

Oh, they still chirp here and there throughout the day. I’ll see a tiny baby one hopping in the sink. Pepper thinks the big ones are little guests. Sometimes I see him, lying down on the floor, his head cocked to the side, following the little black hopping creature with his eyes as it dances between his paws.

I quite enjoy light chirping, outside my window. It serves as an excellent reminder of the stark boring nature of our cold, dead winters. Summer means I only close my window when it rains. Summer means lush greens and filled branches. And, louder, and louder, and louder, incessantly, this summer means crickets.

For why it never occurs to me to kill them or spray some sort of insect poison, I blame my mother. She had a hundred little superstitions. “Its bad luck to kill a spider in the house.” “Don’t put new shoes on the table.” “You spilled salt. Throw some over your left shoulder with your right hand.”

We all rolled our eyes, me especially skilled at doing so even at four, but did her bidding. Not only was it easier, but I soon absorbed a number of those little rules. Never ever did I open an umbrella inside. I handled mirrors with extreme care.

I tried to pounce. There! I could just see the tiny movement. “I’ll catch you, my pretties,” I thought with a feigned evil chuckle. Too little sleep rendered me sillier than usual. The cricket got away. I heaved myself back into my bed, choosing to ignore the sheets’ warnings from weeks ago that his annoyance stemmed from my bruising assault on his stretched out form.

Another chirp. As I moved my hand to throw away the sheets, the monster reared his ugly head. My hands were, at the risk of cliché, tied. So were my ankles. “Not again,” I groaned. It must be the insomnia.

“Hello my pretty.”

“What now? Have I bruised wherever your face is?” I get punchy when I’m tired. I did something either heroically brave or impossibly stupid. I’d find out later. I waggled around and thumped my bum down on the mattress, as hard as I could.

“You fiend.” The voice reverberated, vibrating with menace. I looked over: Pepper remained snugly tucked into his own bed, with only one ear twitching. His toes flexed. He was dreaming, the little fink, and not the least bit helpful.

“Chirp.” Just one, directly under me, beneath the bed. “It’s like being the ‘Princess and the Pea,’ ” I muttered, “only neither am I a princess, nor are crickets peas. They are far more annoying to sleep above.”

“She was a much kinder woman than you, as well” noted the voice. He seemed to have lost some of his grumble. I wondered where precisely I’d thumped him, but figured I’d be happier without that knowledge.

I was equally as punchy when tired as a little girl. I once bit my dog’s ear, not Pepper, but another, in an effort to show dominance and get him to snuggle during my nap. It did not end happily. This isn’t a story about me and a dog, or at least not a canine.

Crickets seemed as tiresome then as they do now, though they were not. To a small girl used to sleeping in quiet conditions, the yearly return of incessant chirping heralded a month or so of bad nights. They did not sweeten my already sour disposition.

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” Mummy would sing with her sweet voice, an effort to remind me that my behavior had verged on unacceptable. “Gardening is only good for mud pies,” I’d respond oftener than not. She despaired over mud-stained dresses and velvet hair ribbons caught in the branches of trees, but even more so over sarcastic rejoinders and self-importance.

I shook my head to speed the nonsense from it. I had no time for reminiscence. Did the sheets just suggest he had known the Princess from a fairytale? Did he know the storybook version or the musical one, I wondered. “Ugh.” I shook again. “This is never-ending.”

“Think of how I feel, darling.” The voice sounded cross again. “Trapped, trapped, for ever and ever, and to think I chose you.” He choked on the words.

“Is that why you won’t release me,” I asked pointedly.

“Never you mind.” The sheets squeezed tighter around my wrists and ankles for a moment and let go. “Go to sleep,” he said sternly. “But the crickets,” I whined. They stopped, and I drifted off to sleep.

To this day, I’m still not sure if I dreampt the memory or just remembered it the next morning. Once when I was a little girl, my mother caught me trapping butterflies under a glass, then stroking their wings before they flew away.

I had seen her angry, I had seen her furious, I had felt her grab my arm and jerk me away to scold me with an intensity I’ve not seen from other mothers. But, never before or since had I seen her so sad and disappointed.

She tucked my outstretched finger back into my fist before I touched the latest one. It was a kaleidoscope of iridescent colors, straight out of a fairy tale. I was sad to have missed out on the velvet feel of its wings, until I caught sight of Mum’s face.

Mother had on the sort of sorrowful face she put on when she told me her grandmother Marie, “you know, the one your middle name is after,” had passed away. I knew that face meant bad things. It was the sort of face that still makes me want to cry in sympathy.

“Haven’t I taught you anything,” she asked. “I’m a horrible mother, and a terrible human,” she added. “What? What?” I asked. Most days, I’d do nearly anything to remove that face and replace it with my usual happy, silly, goofy mum. That day, with that expression, there wasn’t a thing I wouldn’t try.

“You see,” she told me, “butterflies are the long-lost courtiers of the fairy kingdom’s court.”

“No,” I drew out my whisper. This was clearly a whispering tale, if one had to interrupt at all.

“Yes,” she answered. “Butterflies are the long-lost courtiers of the fairy kingdom’s court. They are so delicate a single touch from a human’s finger will destroy their wings. Fairies are not so rough, though fairies are jealous creatures. No one at court could be lovelier than the Fairy King’s daughter. She didn’t have a mother, you see, to teach her that we are all lovely in our own way.”

My mother loved to turn everything into a lesson. If she couldn’t teach me something concrete, it would be philosophical.

“Her upbringing exacerbated her natural fairy jealousy. The Fairy King, being the wisest fairy and a just king, made it be known throughout the kingdom that his subjects should not send their beautiful sons and daughters to his court.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Mum.” As a youngster, I was all about sense, even fantastical stories.

“Well, munchkin, if the Fairy Princess were the loveliest fairy at the court, she couldn’t punish one of her subjects for the simple crime of being lovely.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t explain the butterflies. A butterfly has got to be lovelier than the loveliest fairy.”

“Don’t say that too loudly,” she cautioned. “Fairies can hear everything. As for the butterflies, she didn’t believe insects could be as beautiful as creatures, so they had nothing to fear.”

As I woke the next morning, refreshed after an actual night’s sleep, I thought of that story and my mother and the butterflies and the cricket guards, banished from the fairy kingdom in a fit of pique by the Fairy Princess after she’d become the Fairy Queen.

Fanciful tales always reminded me of laundry day, as that was the day Mother and I spent together. She always had one ready to amuse me. I am absolutely due to wash my sheets, I mumbled as I got out of bed to turn off the blaring alarm. Best put them in now to save time, I thought.

“Washing, you say?” I tumbled back onto the bed with a tug from the sheet I hadn’t realized still held my elbow. “Do you still beat things with a rock, or have laundering methods progressed?”

“You’ll find out, won’t you?” I was at the end of my rope, which, upon further inspection, turned out to be a coiled bit of sheet. The sheets and I had a tussle when it came time to remove them from the bed. The flat sheet came easily enough, but the fitted one put up quite the fight. I supposed that’s the one with the personality.

He remained surprisingly silent on the short trip from bed to basket to washer, pausing his restless writhing to mumble, “not too hot, please.” I accordingly chose warm and went about my morning routine. When I came back to switch to the dryer, I found the sheets limp and languorous.

Shrugging, I tossed them in and set the dial to “hot.” I giggled as a heard a faint, “too hot! Too hot!” from within and turn the temperature down. I thought again of those stories Mother used to tell as we did the wash together, reminded by the occasional chirp of a cricket from under the machines.

“So, the butterflies didn’t bother the jealous Fairy Princess,” I asked.

“She wasn’t fussed by them,” Mum responded, “but the cricket guards threw her for a loop, just as they do you.”

I was horrified. “You never said anything about cricket guards.”

“I didn’t?” She seemed sly, “well, suffice to say, they chirped and chirped and drove the already flighty creature mad. She couldn’t sleep, which led to an inability to eat, with led to her skin loosing its luminous nature.”

“oh dear,” I murmured sympathetically. We’d seen an advertisement just that day that suggested that a woman’s luminosity was her greatest gift. I didn’t know what it meant but was moved by the power of suggestion.

“You see, the head of the cricket guard of the butterfly courtiers of the fairy kingdom was old and wise and had seen may kings and queens come and go. One day, as he had become ill, he died.”

Sympathy was easy to come by.

“The younger cricket guards set about their funeral plans. He deserved the biggest send-off they could imagine. Hundreds of crickets living throughout the fairy kingdom came to court to pay their respects. There was all sorts of chirping: chatter, and funeral dirges, and socializing at wakes, and more chirping chatter.”

How wonderful of them, I thought, but what noise it must have been.

“By this time the Fairy King had also passed away, and the Fairy Princess had become the Fairy Queen,” Mother told me. “She couldn’t sleep for the chirping, just as you cannot. Her skin sallowed and greyed, her temper grew short, and even though as Queen she should have been preparing to preside over the impressive funeral of one of her most loyal followers, she grew petulant.”

“What did she do,” I begged. I knew enough of Mother’s stories by then to know that something terrible would happen, and someone, usually me, would likely learn a lesson.

“She grew angrier and angrier, and on the day she should have set aside for the triumphant return of her chief cricket guard to his family, she banished them.”

I couldn’t believe my ears. How had the story escalated so quickly?

“She banished her cricket guard and all their families to the human kingdom. They wept and moaned and chirped, mourning their leader and their banishment. Only the young Prince could stand them. He had trouble sleeping, and the crickets soothed him to his slumber as few could. Since he encouraged their chirps, they soon taught their children that all of us needed their help to sleep.”

“But the crickets keep me awake,” I whined.

“I’m teaching you why,” Mother replied with the stern look that said I’d better be paying attention. “Crickets chirp because ages and ages ago, they were the only creatures who could sing a prince to sleep. To smash one is to kill it for convenience, to kill it for the simple matter of having been taught that its voice is soothing, when it sometimes isn’t.”

“It’s meanness, isn’t it,” I asked. “It is that,” she replied. “If nothing else, I hope I’ve taught you that to do something for nothing more than meanness is beneath you.”

I thought about that as I washed the sheets. Was it mean to start washing them more often than I usually bothered, simply to get a respite from that voice? I hoped not. They didn’t seem to drown or burn, and I wasn’t going to throw the suspiciously sentient being away. I’d just push him to the back of the cupboard. That decided, I went about doing so.

I heard a muffled, “that minx,” in a fairly exasperated tone. I thought I detected a bit of amusement, too, but therein lurked the danger. I’d begun ascribing emotions to the nefarious sheets, even as I plotted and succeeded in washing them into a lull. I used my opportunity to shove the sated sateen monster into the deep dark back of my cupboard. I giggled in victory. I had won this round, anyway.

“Chirp.” Damn: the crickets remained.

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One thought on ““When Sheets Attack! Part Two: The Cricket Conundrum”

  1. Pingback: “When Sheets Attack! Part 4: Ridiculously Righteous Rage” {complete} | vmrvictoria

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