IT SEEMS AWFULLY EARLY for crickets to be strolling about, but last night one of these itinerant troubadors suddenly tuned up from a corner of my bedroom. In among the sounds of the sleeping house -- a floor board shivering, the refrigerator sighing -- summer returned.
For a large part of my life, I have slept where crickets could be heard at night -- whole orchestras of them, scraping their rough-surfaced wings together in long, persistent music-making.
I don't hear them much anymore in the summer. Air conditioning and a husband who hates heat and humidity mean closed windows through the hot weather. Last August we had a stretch of what I thought were lovely nights, cool enough that only a nut would want the conditioner on and the windows closed. So he slept in another room, and I listened to the crickets.
Crickets love humidity, and they vary the tempo of their music with the temperature. Count the number of chirps in a minute, divide by 4, add 40, and you know what the temperature is. My husband does not believe this.
It's true. Last night, listening to the soloist in my room, I counted 112 chirps to the minute, reckoned by the sweep hand on my watch. I divided and added; and checked the thermostat. The cricket was right on the money. Sixty-eight degrees. My husband moved to the other room.
I wondered idly about the cricket Nancy Reagan had ousted from the White House last summer. It had kept her awake. Memories of Dickens and his cricket on the hearth have probably dimmed. That's how you know things are going smoothly -- when you have a cricket rehearsing indoors.
For a moment just before I drifted off I was 10 years old again, lying on the glider on the screened porch, my brother balancing on his head on a cot across from me.
My father has said for the last time, "I'm not going to speak to you again -- you had better settle down out there." I can see him through the doorway, in his armchair reading, an old-fashioned, green plastic eyeshade screening the light from the floor lamp and turning his long, handsome face a murky gray.
My brother has lobbed one last crabapple at me, smuggled in from the tree in the backyard, and he sleeps now, face down on the pillow that only minutes ago he had used to whack me with. His dark hair stands up in stiff little spikes, still damp from the water fight we had had on the lawn. His arm dangles over the edge of the cot -- scabbed elbow, Indian bead bracelet, fingernails chewed to the quick. He is only a year older than I, and every day the goal of my best friend and me is to "pay him back." I review the possibilities as I lie there listening to the crickets.
Their chorus is fast and high-pitched, just above high C. I can reach the register myself by singing the scale softly and quickly and not stopping for an instant at C. Then the counterpoint of silence, and again the chorus. For hours and hours, it repeats. As the end of summer nears, the concert grows louder and the song more urgent.
Madder music, stronger wine. A summer almost gone.