Part Four: The Cricket
At first I thought that it was a panicked bird that, no sooner trapped in the air conditioning, had hit the shrillest of notes but, once I rang a friend and held up my cellphone to the vents, I was told that it was, without question, a cricket.
It was 2020, and towards the end of March, a balmy autumn in the southern hemisphere, and just a week after the Argentine president, alarmed by the rapid spread of COVID 19, had decreed social isolation for all.
We were, however, allowed to leave our homes to stock up on food and to obtain emergency medical provisions, and so one evening I headed out to purchase a further supply of the eye drops that I had been prescribed.
Although officially over, the summer's heat, like an anxious guest bidding a protracted farewell, suffused the air and so, as I walked back to my apartment block, I was hardly surprised to hear the incessant chirping of crickets that emerged from the grass verge that lined the pavement.
But in the more than twenty years that I had lived in the flat opposite the stark, white walls of the hospital, I had never before been serenaded by any cricket from my own balcony.
Unnerved by the uncanny silence that had descended on the city, I was at first consoled by such a cheerful sound.
Indeed, the chant even had the power to transport me to the days of freedom when, invited by gracious hosts for long weekends in spacious villas, I would take endless trains to leafy suburbs.
I remembered especially a house party given by a British diplomat, during which I was introduced to Miguel Monsa, a much-admired international lawyer whose mental agility was eclipsed only by his arresting handsomeness.
Under the canopy of stars, and observed by the beady eyes of Miguel's male companion, I managed, in my self-consciousness, to blurt out a few humdrum facts about Argentine history.
But so far from being impressed, Miguel muttered, "Could be" as, turning towards his friend, he pressed his hand on the other's knee, as if he owned it.
Redoubling my attack, so as to gain Miguel's interest, I could not help but feel that my words were being drowned out by the tumult of male crickets that, in their strident unison, were desperate to mate.
I clung to the wan hope that Miguel and his companion might well be affectionate colleagues, but the last shred of my self-delusion was rent asunder when, emphasizing that it was late, my diplomat friend said that he would escort them to their south-facing room, with its double bed.
Waking early, and making my way to the bathroom, I noticed that their door was slightly ajar, and even thought of pushing it further, but what if they had left it in that condition only to keep the room well-aired?
Cooped up once again in my box-like flat, and with no apparent escape from the cricket's stridulations, that relentless sound that was made by the insect rubbing together the edges of its forewings, it was not long before I fell prey to murderous thoughts, and even to this day, such a recollection fills me with the deepest sense of shame.
I hate to harm any living being, but that warm night, and during those that followed, as I shifted from one side of the bed to the other in a vain attempt at sleep, I wished the cricket a good riddance from which it would never return.
I even contemplated phoning pest control; but would I not thereby be the ultimate author of the cricket's demise?
In any case, I had read that, were such a creature to be killed, no small amount of bad luck would befall the assassin.
The last time that I heard the cricket, its monotone by then as jarring as an unending refrain, I inched towards the balcony.
Seeing nothing, I was perturbed by a discordant note that, standing out from all the rest, was more indicative of pain than pleasure.
In the litany of silent nights that ensued, I wondered if any eggs had been laid in the air conditioning, and if so, at what unscheduled moment they would break into song?
But it is now another March, and I continue to sleep alone, with only the traffic's distant murmur distracting me now and then from my nightly thoughts.
I still walk past the hospital and hear the crickets but, quickening my step, their din is soon out of earshot.
Part One: Plummeting Like Lead
Part Two: The Tree
Part Three: The New World
Part Five: Love, Hate
"The Power of Prose"