It was a pesky August morning. Celeste’s mother sat at the dining table drinking a strong brew while Sophia tinkered in the kitchen, baking cakes for the following day. Dense footsteps from the second floor echoed throughout the house. Celeste, a small girl in a great hurry, tramped down the staircase, rounded the final banister, and sprinted into the dining room, where she caught a toe on the looped edge of a large rug and fell quickly to the floor. Celeste’s mother sat up high in her chair and watched as the girl freed herself from the rug and squatted back to a stand.
Celeste shook her head and arms and scrunched her bare toes. She turned and saw her mother smile. She was unhurt by her fall and to show this she brushed her palms on the front of her shirt and smiled back.
“Can I go play in the garden?” Celeste said.
“You may,” her mother replied, “Go and see Sophia first, though. It’s a hot day.”
Celeste ran through the dining room, not stopping for a kiss or a squeeze of luck. As she bounded into the kitchen her feet slapped the tile floor and she saw Sophia standing with a wooden bowl and spoon in her arms, stirring.
“I’m going out to the garden.”
“Alright, then,” said Sophia, “You’ll need something to keep you cool.” She set down the bowl and wiped her hands on a kitchen cloth. It was even hotter in the kitchen than anywhere else in the house because food was always cooking there and letting off heat. Sophia crossed the tile floor and bent down to open the freezer. She took a glass from off the countertop and made a lot of noise getting ice cubes into it. Sophia poured lemonade form a jar in the cooler and Celeste watched as a kitchen fly settled upon her hair.
“Here you go,” she said and handed Celeste the drink. “Be careful not to drop it, huh?”
“Okay,” Celeste said. She took the glass with both hands and walked to the screen door at the side of the kitchen. Sophia held it open as Celeste stepped down the stone steps. Outside, the sun beamed its rays through a cloudless sky. Celeste closed her eyes and heard the sounds of the screen door swaying and crunching shut. The heat was building in her face and chest but her palms were cool and wet. Celeste thought briefly about dropping the glass but instead, she set it on the ground and squatted to sip from the edge. It was loud in the garden, mostly from birds chattering but also from wind blowing through the thick leaves on surrounding trees. For a moment, Celeste thought about returning to the house where it was darker and more quiet but then she remembered the fountain in the garden’s center whose magnificence drew her outside and she became brave and excited once again.
Celeste raised herself up slowly, gripping the sides of the cool glass with her fingertips. Then, stepping from one deep red brick to the next she made a curving path along the tessellated garden floor, towards its middle. While she walked, Celeste passed a dense bush twittering full of birds which were hardly visible except on its outermost branches. She also passed smooth flowerbeds and wrought iron benches. Scented breezes blew cool around her face. More than once she had to squat and set her glass down on the stones to move the hair out of her eyes and mouth.
Most of what she passed she paid little mind to whatsoever. Walking along the red bricks, she thought mostly of the green lily pads which grew upon the mossy water in the fountain’s basin and of being a bit chillier than to her liking in the partial shade and breeze of the outdoors. It was too late to return to the house for a sweater; her mother and Sophia would have thought she returned for some attention anyhow, they both believing it was a day in need of more cooling down. Already, Celeste came upon the matching speckled bricks which marked the final step towards the area housing the round fountain in the garden’s center.
This area seemed the oldest and wildest part of the garden. Here, the rectangular grey, white, and red bricks turned into odd shaped stones of different colors and textures. The stones, laid in descending circles, spiraling towards the fountain, were surrounded on all sides by moss. Occasionally, a stone could no longer be seen under the green blanket growing over it.
Four tiered bowls hovering above one another overflowed into the shallow pool at the center of the circled stones. Though most of her mother’s guests walked around it, to Celeste, this was the garden’s main attraction. The bushes which surrounded the circle were unlike those planted throughout the rest of the garden, they were slender evergreens and thorny ones with berries. Dark moss crept up the base of the stone fountain and out of the crevices of the carved figures along the curved sides of the bowls. As the wind blew, the water in the pool rippled and the lilypads swayed.
Celeste crouched to set her cup on the ground and sip from the edge. Lemony sour hit her in the back of her throat and she heard a whisper from somewhere to her side.
“Pssst!” it said.
Celeste turned her head sharply and swallowed. Where exactly the voice had come from and from whom she could not tell; no one else was in sight. Gripping the glass, she stood and turned all the way around in place. The wind blew. She squatted and freed her hands to move the hair from her face. They were covering her eyes when she heard the voice again which said, “ I know what you’re looking for.”
She gasped, then heard something like a laugh. Celeste searched around her for something large or small that could have made these sounds. At last her eyes settled upon a cricket not more than a foot away from her face, sitting atop the fountain’s edge, rubbing its back legs together to make the crackling laugh she heard. The cricket stopped rubbing and the noise stopped as well. The insect seemed to be staring right at her; Celeste opened her eyes wide looking at it, then squinted and leaned forward. As she moved closer to it, doubts began to form inside her mind about the reality of a talking cricket but then it clearly said to her, “Hello, Celeste.”
Surprised and amazed, Celeste clamped both hands over her mouth, jumped to her feet and stumbled backwards a few paces. Her heel caught the edge of the lemonade glass which tipped over and shattered on the uneven stones. Briefly distracted, Celeste watched the pooled liquid spread over the rocks and the moss which grew between them, darkening what it touched. She became aware again of the sounds of croaking laughter and turned around to the cricket, who was rubbing its back legs together again.
“Indeed,” said the cricket.
“Who are you?”
“Someone who has heard your desires and volunteered my services,” the cricket answered.
The cricket laughed, rubbing its legs, croaking. Celeste then said, “You know my name.”
“A drop in the bucket, as they say,” replied the cricket.”
“Anyone who can,” the cricket answered.
“I don’t get it.” Celeste felt a cool breeze on the backs of her arms and neck. The cricket hopped closer to the edge of the fountain’s largest stone basin.
“You are a very special child,” the cricket said.
“Me? What do you mean?”
“You desire things out-of-the-ordinary. Things Margaret and Sophia cannot give you,” the cricket answered.
Celeste thought about the things she enjoyed doing like coloring pictures from her imagination and making up games to play. She recalled also the way her mother and Sophia would slowly lose all trace of emotion on their faces as they listened to her speaking.
“They don’t like to play.”
“Not slightly,” said the cricket, “however I am an expert at every game.”
Hearing this, Celeste broke a smile. “You can’t know every game.”
“Oh, no?” said the cricket.
Celeste shook her head, “I can make up games you don’t know.”
“As can I,” the cricket replied. It rubbed its legs together and croaked with laughter, “I know you are a quick learner.”
Celeste thought of all the times at school when the teachers would repeat themselves, explaining the same things in different ways. She recalled the faces of the students beside her, who would never respond when the teachers asked questions and who always looked afraid or weren’t paying any attention. She nodded her head.
“Do you sometimes long for a more interesting life?” asked the cricket, “like the ones in the storybooks you love so much.”
Celeste often daydreamed she were in an imaginary land, surrounded by wild pastures, herself an honored member of some ruling family, exploring the wildlife and befriending powerful magical creatures. She closed her eyes and saw herself there in that land. Celeste nodded her head. Again she heard the cricket’s laughter.
“Yes,” said the cricket, “I can see it, too.”
Amongst the unending wildflowers and tall grasses which decorated the imaginary landscape of her mind, Celeste now saw the cricket too, sitting atop a jagged stone, rubbing its legs with laughter.
“It is real,” said the cricket, “trust and follow me, Celeste.”
Looking at the cricket laughing atop the stone, Celeste felt suddenly unsure of what to do or say next. She wanted to turn and walk away into the flower filled pasture she knew lay just behind her in this imaginary landscape. Before she could, the sky began to darken and Celeste felt a drop of rain wet the top of her head.
The cricket stopped rubbing and croaking; it crouched on its long hind legs and sprang off the stone, flying towards Celeste’s face. She took a step backwards, screamed, and opened her eyes as she fell onto the patchwork ground of the garden’s center. She screamed again as she landed, from the pain flowing through her arms and tailbone. Celeste had landed upon the shards of the lemonade glass and now watched as her blood seeped out of several different gashes on her palms and onto the ground. It pooled in small wells on the uneven stones or was absorbed by the moss in-between them. Celeste wailed; she was very afraid and wanted to run but the pain overtook her.
“Shh!” Said the cricket, “It is my turn.”
Celeste turned away from her injuries and watched as the cricket leaned onto its front legs. Supporting the weight of its body in the front, the cricket raised its back legs and began to croak even louder than before. It sounded, to Celeste, like the movement of gigantic machinery and steadily grew louder. The wind blew and a foul smell hung in the air.
“You are mine, Celeste,” said the cricket.
Celeste screamed. Still rubbing its hind legs, the cricket flung itself off the fountain’s edge towards her open mouth. Suddenly Celeste’s hand moved swiftly in front of her face and swatted the cricket out of the air. She closed her mouth and looked around; the cricket was nowhere to be seen. Celeste jumped to her feet and sprinted away from the fountain, out of the garden’s center. She ran through the curving pathways up the steps to the kitchen and burst through the screen door, letting it crunch loudly closed behind her. Breathing heavily, Celeste looked down at her palms and was shocked to find them full and plump, though drained of color.
Sophia set the bowl she was working on onto the counter and walked over to Celeste still standing near the doorway. She placed one hand on Celeste’s forehead and took her palms up with the other. “You are freezing cold,” said Sophia, “where is your glass?” Celeste looked up with wet, wide eyes then covered her face with her hands. “Nevermind. Come with me, I’ll draw you a bath.”