And they’re off.
Like shitty little thoroughbreads. Behind the fridge and into the bowels of the oven, where they’ll slow-roast into a permanent black crust. They’re going to play their godforsaken violins at all hours of the night, they’re going to shit and play the violin and shit some more like it’s Titanic, just shitting and dying.
What I mean to say is that the apology crickets are loose.
I got them for my girlfriend Suzie, but they’re actually for Hal, her bearded dragon. She loves Hal. So I’m trying to get Hal to like me. I fucked up with Suzie (just minorly, but still a fuck-up) and I’m about to show her how well I know her, what a thoughtful and devoted partner I am. That was the plan, until a symphony was unleashed on the apartment.
That first brutal hour post-accident had me rug-burning my pride, wandering around on all fours whispering “come out, come out” to the cracks behind the furniture. The crickets had effectively spread out. A few dumb ones who hunkered down instead of taking off were sealed away in a ziploc bag to asphyxiate in the trash. I stress-baked a loaf of cornbread.
Cornbread was enough to save the moment. Suzie and I kissed and made up. That night, as I lay watching the shadow of the lace curtains dance on the ceiling, I thought I saw something long and thin, like a loose thread, or an antenna. I thought I heard Salut D’Amour.
It all seemed fine. Whatever nonsense we fought over dissipated quickly. Hal and I tolerated each other. Aside from the troublesome tricks of the light and Suzie’s unquenchable desire to squeeze in a DiCaprio marathon before we both went home for the holidays, the cricket almost-debacle was resigned to true almosthood.
Titanic, she said. How about, I countered, Gilbert Grape? How about Romeo + Juliet? The shadows kept me up at night. Suzie’s breath on my shoulder had a fresh ominousness to it. She yelled at me about leaving the space heater on. She said it smelled like burning nylon when she woke up. I had yet to actually hear chirping. But it felt like it was only a matter of time until my weird and embarrassing lie would necessitate a weird and embarrassing confession.
If I concentrated hard enough, I could make them die. Right? Die, fuckers.
Die, die, die.
We started running out of movies. How about the new Quentin Tarantino one? How about the one where he climbs inside the dead bear like Star Wars? I begged for the Gatsby remake. I’d take Inception if I had to. Suzie grew more and more annoyed by my eccentric behavior. I left my car unlocked on Tuesday. I locked the keys inside it on Friday. I forgot Hal’s birthday. Fucking Hal. She cried on Saturday, because she was expecting an invitation to come meet my parents, like we’d discussed weeks ago. I’d been preoccupied. With what, I couldn’t say.
I was going to make it better with a relaxing date night, just me and Suzie. Hal would be there too, of course, goddamnit. I got her some sparkling rosé and rented Catch Me if You Can, but when I came home, Celine Dion was playing. And underneath: an inevitable, Jumanji-ish death-thrum.
What’s it called, the threshold where you can no longer escape from a black hole?
She started the movie. The soundtrack was already numbing the air, coaxing out the demons. Suzie snuggled up next to me. I was sweaty and cold. Hal’s eyes narrowed on me from his enclosure in the corner of the room. I can’t explain how I came to know that this would be the end of all things. The orchestra lingered after the opening credits and never fully washed away. Violins and their skeleton shadows crept up the walls. I could not breathe. I could not see. Time skipped eerily forward in rough, inconsequential chunks; Jack and Rose at the party. Hal was watching me sweat. Paint me like one of your French girls. Suzie kissed my jaw and I’m certain she could smell fear on me. Jack and Rose in the carriage. Suzie had her hand on my chest. I’m certain we’re fucked. I hear instruments. Instruments. The iceberg. They’re coming.
She kissed me and I pressed my pulsating heart back down my esophagus. As we parted, a cricket sprung forth from the leak in all things and landed between us.
This is the feeling of diving nose-first into the deep Atlantic ocean. At once, like a flood, a biblical moment, a crunchy and indelicate O Fortuna, they came from the walls. From the cupboards and drawers, under the fridge and between the shards of the iceberg itself. I began to cry in tune with the great flood. I thought I felt Suzie’s body ripped away from me from the force of it all. I thought I saw the lamplight of her apartment fizzle out completely.
At some point, light returns. I can hear Celine again. The three hour movie had come and gone like a heart attack. I was wet with old tears. Suzie was standing beside me, laughing and holding Hal in her arms like a baby.
“Do you feel better now that it’s over?” she asked me, when it was clear that I knew where I was and what was happening. I could still hear them, playing the violin and shitting and dying. I wanted to keep crying, but Suzie got me a blanket and kissed me on the cheek and said that there were things happening inside me that she would never understand, and yes it was frightening, but it was also not such a big deal.
I sobbed, gesturing to the flaming, sinking boat on the box of the DVD, the week-old unwashed cornbread tin, the tidal wave of bugs I’d hidden like a twisted secret. Suzie told me that now would be a good time to try holding him. Hal was smiling at me. He looked happy, for the first time ever. The shipwreck pennywhistle of the DVD home screen looped again as she scooped up a violinist and fed it to Hal, who was warm against my chest, breathing.
Suzie wanted a picture. She said “I’ll be right back.” I sat so still. I could feel Hal’s blood pumping softly through his body.
And she came right back to take the photo.
Oh, she came back.
MONTY ROZEMA (they/them) is a gender non-conforming writer and theatre artist from Seattle, Washington. They enjoy reading novels and comics, working with children, and sitting in coffee shops. Their writing has been published in great weather for MEDIA, F3LL Magazine, ANGLES Literary Magazine, WhatcomWRITES, and Jeopardy Magazine.