A short story by Donal Mahoney
Marcia was 17 the first time thousands of locusts rose from the fields of her father’s farm and filled the air, sounding like zithers unable to stop. Her father was angry, but Marcia loved the music the locusts made. She was in high school then, and chose to make locusts the focus of her senior paper.
At the town library she learned locusts spend 17 years deep in the soil, feeding on fluids from roots of trees that make them strong enough to emerge at the proper time to court and reproduce. Courtship requires the males to gather in a circle and sing until the females agree to make them fathers.
Courtship and mating and laying of eggs takes almost two months and then the locusts fall from the air and die. Marcia remembered the iridescent shells on the ground shining. She was always careful not to step on them. She cried when the rain and the wind took them away.
Now, 17 years later, Marcia is 34 and the locusts are back again. Her dead father can’t hear them, and Marcia no longer loves the music the way she did in high school. Now she stays in the house and keeps the windows closed and relies on the air-conditioner to drown out the locusts. Marcia has patience, however. She knows what will happen. She reads her Bible and sucks on lemon drops, knowing the locusts will die.
In the seventh week the locusts fall from the air in raindrops, then torrents.
“It is finished,” Marcia says. She pulls on her father’s boots and goes out in the fields and stomps on the shells covering the ground, but she stomps carefully.
At 34 Marcia’s in no hurry. Before each stomp, she names each shell Billy, John, Chuck, Terrence or Lester, the names of men who have courted her during the 17 years since high school. They all made promises Marcia loved to hear, promises she can recite like a favorite prayer. She made each man happy as best she could. They would grunt like swine the first night, some of them for many nights. But then like locusts they would disappear.