I was the sort of kid who spent afternoons playing with dolls on the grass, utterly focused in my own imaginary world. That’s how David snuck up on me that day.
Although our houses faced each other on Westover Street, per some unspoken rule, David and I never crossed over, each playing only in our respective front yards.
We’d gone to school together since kindergarten, but our taste in toys separated us as surely as our mothers’ dislike for each other.
“The only time that woman talks to me is to brag about her kids,” I overheard my mom tell my dad one evening. “If I have to listen one more time to how ‘exceptionally gifted’ David is, I’m going to scream!”
All I knew is that David spent hours marching his GI Joe dolls up and down the thick branches of the oak trees dotting his front yard. He never played with other kids, and he never said a word to me.
But that day was different. Even the air smelled wrong, like a mixture of damp towels and rotten eggs.
As I played on the grass, making Barbie kiss Ken again and again, David appeared, towering over me, blocking the sun.
“Wanna see something cool?” he said.
Startled, I jumped up, wiping grass off my knobby knees. David seemed wild and unexpectedly animated, his flat black hair in tangles and his mouth contorted in an unusually toothy grin.
“No, thanks,” I said, clenching my eyes shut as I bent down to pick up Barbie. I felt both excited and scared, unsure what to make of this new version of my typically somber neighbor.
“You don’t have to touch it. It won’t hurt you,” he said.
As I opened my eyes, my scream stuck in my throat, like it did in nightmares when an unknown danger approached and my voice wouldn’t work.
David’s cupped hand cradled the ugliest creature I’d ever seen. Its red protruding eyes stared into my own bulging browns.
“My dad says these 17-year cicadas are gonna be everywhere in a few days,” David said. “This is the first cicada on our block, and I found it.”
“No way,” I said, a swell of defensiveness tempering my fear. “I bet we have way more of those ugly bugs in our yard than you do.”
David shrugged his shoulders and walked away, murmuring quietly to himself.
I felt confused and angry. How dare he come over here to brag!
I spent the rest of the afternoon searching unsuccessfully for my own cicadas, hoping to best David while simultaneously praying to never see those bulging red eyes again.
Over the next several weeks, as the cicadas invaded every crevice of our neighborhood and we became intimately familiar with these mysterious creatures, I silently watched David from my side of the street quietly marching GI Joes up and down the tree trunks in his yard. I never again saw his face light up with such pure excitement. And he never crossed over to our yard again.