For thirteen years the endless drone, the continuous hum of noise, chatter, conversation, back and forth, the buzz, the tinnitus, the ever present ringing in the ears.
Be afraid. Be afraid, Be afraid.
Some people are afraid to open their cell phones. No messages. Opening E-Mail. No messages. Inbox empty.
No missed calls. No voicemail. No contact. No communication. No interaction. They need a life cycle, a steady ready fix. They need the hum. Music on the
radio, TV blaring, fingers texting, cell phone ringing, constant contact.
And for others, like cicadas, at the beginning of their thirteen year cycle, they must shed their skin, drop to the ground, bury themselves in the earth
and take a vow of silence.
Elspeth Edelweiss did just that.
She didn't speak to anyone for thirteen years.
She hid in her house and played it safe.
When Elspeth was a little girl, her mother and father warned her day in and day out, of the dangers waiting in the woods. Strangers lurking in the shadows and in plain sight. Calamities. Chaos. Do not speak unless spoken to. Wash your vegetables. Buckle your seatbelt. Avoid parking garages. Cross only when the light is green. Chocolate rots your teeth.
The verbal warnings were endless, the steady litany of what might happen, what could happen, what will surely happen. Worse yet, the headlines. Articles torn from newspapers shoved under her nose at the breakfast table. See? Do you see? Every single meal punctuated with loud droning conversations about the nightly news, the news that was unfit to print. The bad news. The ALL CAPS voices echoed from one end of the house to the other, up and over the front seat of the family sedan, in the aisle at the grocery store, along the back roads, and in the front yard with neighbors adding to the din.
Be careful. Be fearful. Don't trust anyone. Ever.
Elspeth tried desperately to be the bearer of good news. She studied hard at school, earned excellent grades, practiced her oboe until her fingers ached. Sat in first chair her senior year of high school. Earned a small scholarship to a celebrated university far from home.
Her parents bought Elspeth a computer for graduation and introduced hre to the Internet. They set up a an E-Mail account, bought her a cell phone and taught her to text. They taught her how to surf. Not in the ocean. Not in the blissful blue, but with search engines that led to the stories. The scary stories. The terribly awful tear-producing, fear-inducing real life accounts of lives lost, terror and fear, dire warnings and serial predictions. Strife and warfare, hunger and famine, hate and vitriol, the earth ravished again and again by natural or man-made disasters. The daily exhortations that tomorrow may never come and IF it does , it WILL be bad.
It was as predicted.
Elspeth awoke to a silent household. She pulled on her robe, cinched the belt tightly about her waist, and stepped into the hallway. She cocked her head, listening for the familiar clatter of pots and pans, the clink of cereal bowls and silverware. The smell of bacon sizzling in the pan on the stove. The whisk, whisk, whisk of eggs beaten in the frenzied rhythm of early morning mania. The radio tuned to the AM news, the traffic report, weather forecasts and the headlines of the day.
Nothing. No sound. No One. Except Elspeth and a blinking red light. A message on the machine. On the answering machine.
A message for her. For Elspeth. From her parents. An emergency. No time. Will call later. More to come. Stay close to the phone and away from the windows.
She did. The phone did not ring. The doorbell did. And on the other side of the door, the chaos, the terrible awful tear-producing fear-inducing real life account of lives lost. The lives of her parents lost. On their way, in a hurry, in a rush, a blur, met head on by their fellow man in a hurry, in a rush, a blur. A fatal meeting of like minds. A storm on the horizon and a panicked race for supplies. Water and canned goods and bread, now scattered across the highway, as the radio played on explaining that the storm had veered off to the south unexpectedly.
Elspeth endured long enough to unpack her suitcase and to lay out her best dress and heels. She stood in the line shaking hands and mumbling her thanks. Elspeth stood in the grass, under the trees, her heels sinking into the dampness. The minister's voice. She must listen to the minister's voice. Listen. Listen. Listen. But above her, the cicadas chirped. Droned. Cried and wailed and moaned drowning out the voices at the grave and echoing through her head. She flattened her hands over her ears and hummed. Louder. Louder. Louder. When she looked up, the cicadas chirped on, but around her in the morning damp, people stared. Pointed. Tutted. Poor Elspeth, poor poor Elspeth. Alone in THIS world. Unequipped. Unprepared. Where would she go now? What could she do? How would she survive the cruel world?
Elspeth went home. She rolled up the car windows. The cicadas droned on. She turned on the raadio. The voices droned. She stopped in the market on the way home, customers walking and talking and texting and calling. Chattering. Noise. Noise. Noise. The walls closed in, the floor beneath her feet quaked, her throat seized up and her breath escaped. Her hammering, yammering heart beat faster and faster, tick tick tick tick ticktickticktickticktick. Sweat dripped down her neck into her collar. Her face flushed. Panic.
She. Could. Not. Remember. How. To Breathe.
The air so thin and her muscles so weak, Elspeth crumpled to the floor and gasped. Around her the voices droned, louder and louder, somebody DO something. Someone cried for help. Elspeth never knew if it was she who cried out, as her voice was trapped in her throat and her ears were full of noise.
Somehow, some way, she made it home. The moment the door closed behind her, her breath returned. She collapsed in a chair and slept. In her clothes. Amid the clods of dirt from the bottom of her shoes. In her best dress. A dusty mess. Alone. In the silence. Alone. No drone. No drone. No drone. And there she remained. Living the way she was taught to be.
Afraid. Afraid. Afraid.
For thirteen years.
Because each and every time she opened the door, tried to take a step, her body shouted a warning, tick tick tick tick ticktickticktick, her knees went wobbly, and her breath excaped. So she trapped it, and her heart, and herself, inside her safe place, her safe space, and lived within the bittersweet silence of her home and her head. Convinced that her every move, a danger. Every step, a risk. Every word, a warning. Stay put. Stay put. Stay. Put. Stay HERE. Don't ever go THERE.
Her oboe, sheathed in its soft polishing cloth, sheltered in the leather case underneath her bed, lay beside her castoff muddied shoes.
Until the day, the warm Spring day, with the sunlight gleaming through the windows, she heard the first shot across her brow. A cicada. Just one. Then two. Then twenty-two and three and four and many more. Thirteen years. The cicadas, like her oboe, lay dormant, hidden in the ground, under the trees, close to the roots, drinking the sap, waiting patiently, silently, for the signal. The sign to emerge. To rise. To return. To sing.
To each other.
Elspeth cringed. The droning was coming. The droning was due. The endless days and nights of back and forth conversation. The humming. The chirping. Her heart chimed in and joined the chorus. Tick tick tickticktick. She sat in the chair and hand to heart, reached for something, anything to drown out the noise. The nuisance. The interruption. The static. The interference. The fear.
The remote. Was on the table. Next to her chair. WIth one finger, she pushed PLAY and the TV winked and blinked.
Music. Mountains. Maidens. The sounds of music. The movie.
The camera panned back in a deep-doff-your-hat knightly bow of respect to the majestic Alps rising so high their very tops disappeared into the mist. On the screen, a young woman, wrapped in an apron, skipped through the tall grass, her arms wide and her face aglow. Up and up and up she ran. Whirling and twirling and smiling, her hands trailing over the tops of tiny white flowers clustered everywhere, hunkered down, deeply rooted, not in soil, but in rocky crevasses.
Every morning you greet me.
Small and white. Clean and bright.
You look happy to meet me.
Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow.
Bloom and grow forever."*
Bloom and grow. Bloom and grow. Bloom and grow. Elspeth began to hum. Small and white. Clean and bright. You look happy to greet me. Elspeth hit the Record button on the remote, and over the next few days, when the cicadas began THEIR song, she played HERS. It was such a happy song, but after a time it wasn't enough. She needed more. So she made herself a bowl of popcorn and decided it was time to watch the film the whole way through. She didn't make it. She couldn't. Not after the song. That song. The one, that after thirteen years, thirteen long and lonely silent years, brought her to tears.
"Climb every mountain.
Ford every stream. Follow every rainbow.
Till you find your dream.
A dream that will mean, all the love you can give.
Every day of your life. For as long as you live."*
Tick tick tick tick ticktickticktick. Fear.
Tick tick tick tick ticktickticktick. Excitement.
Tick tick tick tick ticktickticktick. Fear.
Tick tick tick tick ticktickticktick. Excitement.
A conversation. Her first in thirteen years. The question, as her heart pounded in her ears, fear? And the answer as her heart beat inside her chest, excitement. Following the sound of the voice, the sound of music, she cracked open the door to her garden, the roar of the cicadas suddenly still. Surprised by her presence. Impressed by her courage. In suspense. Waiting for her to take a breath and exhale. Holding their little cicadas breaths in hope, for her, for Elspeth.
There. Alongside the rock wall, beside the birch, a blossom of snow, in the palm of a woman, a tall and towering woman, garbed in a floral pompadour, her mouth a pout of wonder, Eunice Everlasting, Yard Yeti Extraordinaire, held out her hand, pointed to the horizon, mountaintops in the mist, and asked Elspeth to take the first step. The step from HERE to THERE. To choose. Between fear and excitement. Or perhaps to learn how to have a conversation with both, and climb the mountain anyway.
No, Elspeth Edelweiss, Yard Yeti Extraordianaire, did not climb every mountain nor ford every stream. Elspeth lived in the real world where fear and excitement dwell. She did not see the tops of the Alps or scale Kilimanjaro. She was much more heroic than that. She cleaned off her shoes, put on her best dress, and placed the reed of her oboe in her mouth. She found her breath, taught it self-control, wandered out into the garden, sat under the trees, beside the Edelweiss, and serenaded the cicadas.
Elspeth practiced the art of conversation in song, flexed her muscles and climbed. Not every mountain, but enough small hills that led her from HERE to THERE and to the local symphony. With every performance, and every bow, she grew and bloomed. Now, she teaches oboe, in her own school, in her small town, and asks all of her students...
Fear and Excitement feel exactly the same.
Which one will YOU choose to move forward?
Chapter 10 | Chapter 12