A Cicada, says my mum, has a life cycle similar to a human soul’s evolutionary journey. It begins as an egg, laid by its adult mother on a low tree branch. It then hatches as a wingless nymph and falls and burrows itself into the ground where, depending on the breed and climate, they can live underground feeding on sap from tree roots for periods of six to seven, thirteen or in some cases seventeen years before they feel the urge to leave the darkness of their subterranean child-hood and emerge from the ground as independent teenagers.
‘They always climb up,’ she says, ‘towards the light,’ on any vertical surface that will support them, until their little brown, alien looking shell, splits down its centre and the adult emerges with a new colourful cape and a pair of matching wings. They fly to the tree- tops where the males begin to sing, to summon the females to mate and start the cycle all over again.
There were Red eyes, Green grocers and Black princes, Floury bakers and Chocolate soldiers and, Yellow Mondays. They were my mother’s favourite, well the breed I saw her get most excited about. I remember her running inside one night squealing, she was as innocent and un- self- conscious as a young child when she held the creature out on her palm for me to see.
“It’s a Yellow Monday! A Yellow Monday! It’s so rare to see them these days.’
It was beautiful and unusual, a yellow colour with a golden tinge. I had never seen one like it before and although her excitement seemed too extreme and slightly manic, it was the Yellow Monday’s ability to make my mother happy in those moments that made it my most loved cicada as well.
Out in the country where she grew up and where there were a lot more mature, hard wood trees, she would see hundreds of them, and the noise of their combined singing was so loud it was painful. She said your ears would block and unblock similar to when we change altitude suddenly. She said it caused temporary tinnitis. They were not as loud in the city simply because there were not as many trees.
My mother always had a lot of profound things to say, but for a child becoming a teenager, the problem was that until you can show others what you are talking about…talk is all it is.
Before I was born, she sung professionally. Now she didn’t sing at all.
She said she had some old recordings but could not find them, mumbling something about one of her past boyfriends destroying them. She said he was a ‘little big man’ who couldn’t handle his woman having something that might attract attention, appraisal or competition from other males. By the time I was fourteen, she had completely lost her identity and ability as a singer and performer and had replaced it with a hard drug addiction, dysfunctional relationships and desperate words of wisdom, and that is why hearing her tell her cicada stories also made me feel a little miserable, because I felt sorry for her. It was as though she told the story over when she most needed to hear it. To me it exposed her regrets and a self -recognition that she was no longer in flight and no longer singing and that she was stuck underground in the darkness and could possibly be there for a very long time.
I did not like my mother’s friends and she did not like me being around when they visited. I spent most of my formative years in my bedroom or at school. I did not like school much either. If it hadn’t been such a negative experience I would have attended more regularly.
‘Loser, bludger…junkie mum,’ that’s generally how the bullying went.
‘Nasty Bitches,’ Billy Norton called them one day. Billy Norton whose ability to resist public hype, peer pressure and hearsay made him a rare creature. He was something of a dying breed of independent thinkers who against all the odds; his parents, friends and associates not accepting our relationship, never ceased his loyalty towards me.
Billy’s independence made him more exciting and unpredictable than most and Billy had a heart, a big one. He lived in the same street as me but in a much classier house. Our first intimate meeting came two years earlier when I spotted him sitting on the curb. He was crying. In his lap was a tiny ginger kitten. His mother wouldn’t allow him to take it home so I offered to look after it. I told him that I had an orphanage of abandoned animals. My bedroom was cluttered with animal cages, animal beds, toys and litter trays. I burnt incense constantly to mute the scent of urine and assorted pet cuisine. Mum didn’t seem to mind or perhaps she didn’t notice. There was a lot she did not notice.
Mr Deagan was one of those friends of my mother’s that I particularly did not like to be around. I would never leave my room if I could hear his voice. If he stayed the night, I would wait until I heard they were asleep before sneaking out into the kitchen for food.
One afternoon, towards the end of my second year at high school, Mr Deagan came to our house. It was not the sound of his voice, their conversation or arguments that made me think something was wrong. It was the silence.
I carefully opened my bedroom door, just an inch. Mum appeared to be asleep, she was however unconscious, her body slouched on the sofa. Mr Deagan was standing in front of her, undressing her. He tried to press himself against her unresponsive body and then attempted kissing her.
‘Urgh!’ It’s like a rubber sex doll,’ He said out loud to himself. He had not noticed me enter the room.
‘What are you doing to my mother?’
He jumped up startled by my appearance.
‘Clover, I didn’t know you were home’. (I was always home)
He returned his attention to my mother, this time scooping her up in his arms and cradling her as though she were an infant.
‘I’m sorry Clover. I’m just putting your mother to bed. She’s not well.’
He carried her into her room and laid her on her bed then, he turned his attention again to me.
He cornered me in the kitchen and began moving closer and closer, backing me further into that corner.
‘You’re a real pretty little thing aren’t you… has anyone begun teaching you how to be good with men?’
I didn’t know whether to scream or run. I ran. Mr Deagan lunged after me and brought me crashing down to the ground like a rugby tackle.
‘Please don’t, Mr Deagan,’ I pleaded as I tried to squirm out of his hold. I was more agile and moved faster than he could, jumping to my feet and kicking him continuously in his spongy- fleshed stomach, chest and legs.
He scrambled after me, and then… Ned Kelly came to my rescue. Well a half metre high porcelain statue of Ned Kelly that stood by the kitchen door. Mum used it for a door stop on windy days. I never liked it. I always thought it to be pretty tacky and ugly but on that afternoon, that Ned Kelly doorstop saved my life, well my virginity at least.
I grabbed Ned, he was heavy but adrenaline did not allow me to feel it. I swung the statue with a circular motion as hard as I could. Mr Deagan lunged forward and stumbled, his forehead colliding with Ned’s swinging porcelain boots. Mr Deagan stopped moving.
I phoned Billy.
‘You told me you knew how to drive, didn’t you?’ I asked him, not giving him time to answer.
‘I need you, now!’
Billy was prompt. We carried Mum into Mr Deagan’s car and also loaded kitchen and food- stuff, bags of clothing, bedding, a tent and cages with animals inside.
‘Have you got any money?’ Billy asked. We both looked around the room. There was mum’s hand- bag but that was usually empty of anything important. We grabbed it anyway and then we spotted another bag. It had ended up under the kitchen table during the earlier commotion. Billy climbed under the table to retrieve it. It was Mr Deagan’s bag. ‘It’s loaded, Cash and drugs.’
‘Where are we going Clover?’ Billy asked. He kept his eyes on the traffic ahead, more astute than the average driver. He was doing well for a sixteen year old. He had learnt to drive out west, somewhere, in a cousin’s quiet suburb.
‘I don’t know. I just want to get out of the city. I want to go far away and never come back,’
‘How far?’ Billy asked. He was checking the lane to his left, the lane we needed to be in if we were going to take the great Western high way exit. Billy indicated diligently and steered into the left hand lane.
‘I have an idea.’ he offered.
He wouldn’t tell me when I asked, even when I begged. He just kept smiling and laughing with himself at the thought of his solitary secret. Mr Deagan had one of those new GPS navigator devices in his car and Billy knew how to use it too. He said his mother could never figure out how to use anything electronic, so he always had to. He said he just read the instruction manuals. There was ‘no brilliance in that.’
At some point along the way Billy pulled into a petrol station. He did not put fuel in the car though he used the refuge from the traffic to program a destination into the GPS. He covered it with his hands when I leant over, trying to see and shouted at me not to look. We drove until we came to the Richmond exit and Billy exited. Richmond!? I remember questioning myself. Why Richmond?
Mum was beginning to stir in the back of the car.
‘There’s something here we’ve got to see. That’s if it’s real.’ He drove into a large single level car-park and left us waiting in the car while he disappeared for about ten to fifteen minutes.
He returned, bolting towards the car with a piece of paper in one hand, a white plastic shopping bag jammed with take- away food in the other. He handed me the food and after studying the piece of paper, he punched a new entry into the GPS. He steered back onto the road and followed the GPS’ prompts.
Soon the houses, buildings and traffic began to thin out, becoming less congested. Mum coughed in the back of the car, herself decongesting. The city continued to unwind as we followed the road towards Billy’s secret.
I caught a glimpse of shimmering gold and terracotta hues through the trees. It was water, a lake reflecting the last rays of the day. There were houses along its banks and pockets of trees, some areas that seemed too heavily cleared and too sparse and others parts, dense and thickly forested with old eucalyptus trees. Billy followed the road that circled the lake until he came to a small reserve with a council signpost announcing our destination, Yarra Mundi Lake Reserve.
Billy grinned. ‘It’s real,’ he said as he chuckled softly, shaking his head with surprise.
Yarra Mundi was the place that Mum had spoken of. It was where her father had told her the Yellow Monday had come from. He had told her, as Mum had told us that Governor Macquarie himself had given the Yellow Monday its name because he and his European associates had trouble with the Aboriginal pronunciation. The Aboriginal people called the yellow cicada Yarra Mundi because that’s where it originated, Yarra Mundi Lake.
I looked at Billy with both admiration and disbelief.
‘I found it on the net, Google search. Just type in Yellow Monday, cicada and governor Macquarie, you’ll find it.’
‘Why?’ I began
‘Science assignment, choose an insect blah, blah, I chose cicada’s.’
Mum lay silent with her head in my lap. I lovingly stoked strands of hair from her forehead and twisted her curls around my fingers. Billy had laid out blankets and pillows and we both half carried mum from the car. She was becoming more alert and although still weak and in need of our support, she could walk a little. She blinked her eyes squinting against the suns final moments and looked around in wonder. ‘I’ve been here before,’ she said.
After a few moment s of silent thought she asked, ‘Why are we here?’
‘We had to get away Mrs M. That Deagan prick tried to rape you and then Clover…’
‘I think I killed him,’ I interjected.
‘What?’ She sat up and stared at me. Then her face dissolved and contorted, ‘Oh Clover, I’m so sorry,’ she cried, and hugging me as tight as she could, she started to sob.
Not too far away, a cicada began to sing. It was answered by another and then more joined in.
The three of us huddled together, silently and listened.
‘You’re a sweet boy,’ Mum said softly without opening her eyes. She snuggled the side of her face into my lap and smiling faintly she added,
‘This world has forgotten how to be kind’.
A mobile phone began to ring.
‘It’s mums. Billy it’s in Mums’ bag, in the car’. Billy jumped up and rushed to find the phone.
‘Who is it?’ Mum asked,
‘Don’t get it’, but it was too late he had accidently pressed the answer button. He dropped the phone in fright when he heard the voice speak.
‘Hello, Hello Mrs Moore, this is detective Janie Millwood speaking,’
‘Hello can you hear me?’ we could hear her, even though the phone was on the ground.
We looked at each other. We were all petrified. Mum was slowly shaking her head, my eyes were pleading with Billy to do something, something brave maybe, something to save us.
He scooped up the phone and muffling the voice microphone with his hands he whispered to us,
‘We can’t run from this and we can’t deal with it on our own. All I can do is, tell the truth.’
A few years later Billy drove all the way out to visit mum and me on the rural property we had moved to after the Mr Deagan episode. You see, I did not kill Mr Deagan that day. He was unconscious, in a coma for three days, but when he awoke he had enough charges against him to keep the court system busy for a few years; Drug possession and dealing, two charges of attempted rape, one with the use of the date drug Rohipnol (the cause of my mother unconsciousness) and the other against a child.
Mum moved for me she said. To give me another chance, to see me grow, to see me transform and evolve she said. ‘To see you fly’.
Billy kept in touch. When he got his driver’s license he’d come and stay some weekends. We were close but perhaps not as close as I had thought.
He had come this time to tell me that he had found his soul-mate. I was hurt.
‘I thought that was me?’ I asked,
He said that I had always been his greatest friend and he loved me but this was different. He was ‘in love’ with someone he believed was his true soul-mate. He just happened to be in a male body.
‘But that’s not natural Billy,’ I said
‘That’s your hurt talking Clover, you know that. You know that a soul has no sex. Transcend the physical baby, that’s evolution. That’s true freedom.’
And the Cicadas were singing in the tree-tops.