When the Cicadas Return









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Third Wife
by Jiri Klobouk


           It was midday when I reached the house. The front door was ajar. In the kitchen, the spider was letting himself down from the ceiling. When he saw me, he stopped and remained motionless. His back was adorned with a symbol I recognized immediately.

           The empty whitewashed room seemed somehow distorted. In one corner on the floor lay a ball of wool. A pinkish thread, like a slender tongue, stretched out of the cat’s mouth. She must have choked on it. Her name was Rosa.

           I arrived too late. There was no one left alive to welcome me home.

            Tired after a long trip, with my legs astride, I leaned against the wall to take a rest. When I opened my eyes, I saw the spider had let himself down a little further. He was rounded like a ripe melon.

           I couldn’t delay too long. The only running water was in the stream, and that gave off a foul smell. In my early days it had teemed with trout that slithered through my fingers. I found a piece of a rag and went back and forth countless time to moisten it. After each return, the spider set himself rocking ominously.

           First, I had to separate the corpses. They were piled on top of one another, smeared with drying blood. Father, the biggest of them, had some unuttered word frozen on his lips. The wound on his neck oozed sticky puss. I tore open his shirt and pressed my ear to his chest. All I heard was silence as deep as a held breath. Mother was the cleanest. Only spider’s bristles were sticking behind her fingernails. She had put up a fight to defend her family.

           After an hour, they were all spruced up like wedding guests.

           Around the kitchen table was the usual number of chairs. The seventh, on which I had always sat, lay on its back by the tiled stove. The porcelain game of chess, all the queens, kings, bishops and pawns had slipped off the shelf and smashed on the floor.

           I placed a small bottle filled to the stopper with poison next to a lit candle on the alcove windowsill. The warm wax trickled into the palm of my hand, like a tear held back for too long.

           The most demanding work remained to be done. I had to find some boards and nails and dig a common grave in the orchard. By now, the spider hung close to the floor. He pawed in the air with his hairy legs as if he was being strangled on his thread. All he wanted was me to step forward within his reach.

           I needed the longest boards for Father. He was over six feet tall and could support the kitchen ceiling with his hands. Both my brother and sister were about my size. Last of all, I got the boards ready for my wife. After I washed her, she lay on my knees, like a broken straw, translucent and diminutive, even more beautiful than when we had first met.

           In all, that afternoon I banged together six coffins.

           Our house stood on a slight slope in a large orchard. It was May but spring seemed still far away. The cherry branches bore no blossoms. The birds hadn’t arrived. The air was void of the fragrance of lilacs. No buzzing bees were in sight.

           I choose the prettiest spot in the orchard to dig a grave. Mother used to hang the washing there to flap on a curving clothesline. I could hear her singing. Behind the shed my Father was splitting firewood. A lit cigarette dangled from the left corner of his mouth. My spade sliced into the ground with easiness of a knife separating squares of butter.

           When I return to the kitchen, the spider had descended to where Rosa was slowly decomposing.

           First, I carried my son out into the orchard. He was as light as feather and I hugged him as close as I could. His arms, which he had so often clasped round my neck, bounced helplessly of my back. It was as though he was nothing but a damaged doll. Gently I laid him in the empty box. I could no longer cause him any pain.

           I left Mother until last. She had always been smiling. Even now there was a trace of a heavenly bliss on her face. When I knelt beside her no tears filled my eyes. She wouldn’t be too happy to see her son crying in despair. Before I closed the lid, I kissed her on her forehead.

           Finally I began to fill the large pit with dirt. Chunks of earth hitting the tops of the hollow coffins sounded like drumming of tam-tams sending an urgent message.

           Darkness enveloped the orchard and the house. My strength was rapidly failing. Inside the diminishing candle flickered on the windowsill. In the opposite corner burned the two eyes of the blood-thirsty occupant. The moment I sat on a chair at the kitchen table, he climbed on the one across me. The moon came out behind a cloud and splashed the room with death-white color.

           “Let’s get over with it quickly,” he proposed.

           “Go back where you came from.”

           He swung his hairy leg in the air.

           “You idiot,” he barked. “Once we come, we never leave.”

           With killers reasoning is fruitless. I gulped the content of the bottle down my throat. The moon disappeared. The room turned again dark. At first, he fingered me lightly, almost in a friendly manner. Then he sank his talons into me mercilessly. Slowly he pulled me across the table-top until I slipped into his embrace. He smacked his lips and whinnied, as if my poisoned body was a delicacy that he had never tasted before.

           When day broke I drifted out and in of consciousness. I could see my shoes not far away. Outside the birds were singing on branches of the blossomed trees. I could smell the fragrance of lilacs. The bees were buzzing drunken with sweetness.

           The intruder was hanging head down from the chair, blood dripping from his maw. Swarms of flies were buzzing happily as they squeezed their way through the ball of spiky bristles. All sense of fear had left them.