The Tip

It was boss cook’s fault. He left
the window wide open and now
the stockroom was crawling with cicadas.
He yelled and stomped them with his big
boot feet. “Stop!” I said, and ran for the broom.

Out front the regulars hollered for coffee.
One cicada escaped and made an emergency
landing on the counter. Pernell, who worked
graveyard shift at the power plant,
coaxed the thing onto his hand.

The trustful creature
didn’t dart like a roach. It perched
right on Pernell’s knuckles
calm as a man who’s worked a tough shift
with a clear conscience.
“He don’t eat
much,” said Pernell.
The cicada had a body like a dog poop,
crystal wings and orange eyes that broke the light
weird, like a 3-D postcard of Jesus. Miz Boulden
cringed. Her lipstick was on crooked
again. The cicada rubbed its hindparts
on its wings and chirred. Outside,
its tribe revved up the heat, like a UFO.

I said, “How do they know when to
come back?”

“God tells them,” said Pernell.

“God nothing,” Miz Boulden said. “Last time they came
my son was still living. That was when?”

“ ’53,” Pernell said. Boss cook hollered at me
to get sweeping. Pernell clucked: “Why
you work for that stringy-hair sucker?
You too sweet.”

I swept and swept.
The cicadas backflipped and scratched
the air. I threw them all
—living and dead—out
the back door, and let it
The sun cut through the pines.
I wished I was back in the woods with the bugs,

When I got back to the counter, Pernell had left.
“He took his pet with him,” Miz Boulden said.
“That boy’s not right. Now, where’s my eggs,
Up the hen’s butt, I thought.
I bit my tongue and cleared Pernell’s
cup. Underneath, crisp as an insect’s
wing, I found the new five.

:: Belle Waring, Refuge (1990)

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