by Paul W. Marino
It was the perfect spot for a picnic: Far away from any settled or industrial areas, sunny and warm, the inviting grass caressed by a cool breeze with tall shade trees close by. And they’d only had to drive for two hours to find it. The kids piled out and began running around while their parents unloaded the car. Bill set up the grill and started the charcoal. Jill set up the folding table and a couple of lawn chairs. Then she spread a blanket under the shade of the nearest tree.
"Dad!" Billy shouted. The children were clustered around something, staring at it with rapt fascination. "What’s this?" They walked over and saw it was a small pile of bones, picked clean. Nudging it with his foot, Bill said,
"It looks like a skeleton, son. Probably a rabbit."
"There’s more over there," Cissy said, pointing. Jan smiled.
"That proves we’re out in the wild," She said. "Something hungry lives out here."
"A bear?" Benny gasped, clutching her leg. She caressed his mop of hair.
"No, honey. More like a fox, or a coyote. But it really doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it’s not here now."
"And it won’t come here again," Bill asserted. "Not until after we’ve gone." Jan pulled Benny’s hands away from her leg and gave his bottom a playful slap.
"Now you run along and play. We’ll be eating soon, and I want everybody to be hungry."
Benny was still a little shy, but once the other two took to their games again, he joined in. Bill and Jan walked back toward the car.
"Will you listen to that!" Jan said. Woven through the sigh of the wind and the squeals of the children, there was a rhythmic buzzing sound. She’d heard it when they first got out of the car, but was only now starting to notice it. "What do you suppose that is?" Bill listened for a minute, then yawned softly.
"Some kind of insect, I’d guess. We’re not near any construction sites or machinery that would whine like that." He nodded, yawning again. Jan smiled, leaning on his arm.
"It’s a summer sound." He smiled back at her and bent to kiss her.
"A natural summer sound."
Ten minutes later, the kids were calling for their attention again. They came running, Billy cupping something in both hands. When he opened them, Jan identified the creature as a grasshopper. Bill agreed, though he’d never seen any that big before. The kids, of course, wanted to take it home and keep it as a pet, but Jan said no.
"How would you like it if a giant grasshopper took you home and put you in a jar? He’ll be much happier out here, where he belongs." Benny was disappointed, but Cissy wisely nodded and nudged the bug with her finger. It gave a great leap and vanished into the grass. Benny yawned as the three children turned back to play again.
The burgers were sizzling on the grill under Bill’s watchful eye, and Jan had to drag herself out of the lawn chair to start pouring lemonade and open a bag of chips. The kids were snoozing on the blanket, lulled by the sunshine and the unceasing buzz of the insects. It really was a lazy sort of sound, Jan thought. And it seemed louder than it had a while ago. She was definitely going to take a nap after lunch. She turned to Bill in time to see him give a mighty yawn.
"I can’t believe how sleepy I am!" He said.
"Hot weather does that to you," Jan replied. She picked up the tray of lemonade and walked over to the blanket.
"Rise and shine, people!" She sounded half-hearted, even to herself. "I’ve got lemonade here, and the food is almost ready." Billy shifted, moaning, but Cissy and Benny were out cold. She set the tray down on the grass, knelt down next to Benny and tickled him. He didn’t move, except for the deep rhythm of his breathing. Jan lay down on the blanket and drew the little boy into an embrace. Her lips brushed over his damp hair, looking for his ear, but by the time she found it, Jan was dozing off herself. Bill continued to stand by the grill, yawning and swaying. A few minutes after Jan fell asleep, he felt he had to sit down. Grabbing a lawn chair, he lowered himself into it and closed his eyes, telling himself it was only for a minute. A few seconds later, he was snoring.
The grasshoppers waited. Massed in the grass and on the boles and branches of the trees, they continued their song unabated. But after a while, some of them stopped singing and began feeding. When they were full, they took up the song again and let others feed. Soon enough, the song was no longer necessary, and the only sounds that remained were the sigh of the wind, the crunching of mandibles, and the sizzling of the burgers burning on the grill.