—For Evžen Šíma
His boyfriend had started out as a series of letters, Edvard said—
“And now…?” she asked.
—lowering his gaze into the depths of his tea: zavarka, he’d called it, diluting its heavy/black essence with scalding water. The samovar—edging the table and against the wall—gurgled in assent to some unspoken comment: perhaps in some cousin to Edvard’s intricate native tongue, or any language, heavy with unwieldy and glutinous declensions.
“He writes insects,” he said. “We will live, together, in Prague. He sends cicadas to me and I listen to them; one day, next year they will accomplish what he has promised.” And as he spoke, a breeze rustled the leaves just beyond the kitchen window. Sun-dapples broke the silhouettes: a storm of insect-shadows, as if the old, broad tree bore cicadas in place of foliage. “I wait for him.” His voice was as heavy and as warm as brandy spilled in sunlight.
A brittle chill traced the sweep of her shoulders and tumbled along the shallow curve of her spine as the insect shadows—outside—moved against the wind.
“Moje srdíčko,” he said, as if those cryptic words might have explained something.
She fingered the worn edge of the monochrome photograph: it was a postcard for its size, its glossy face gone matte-drab in the manner of some ancient daguerreotype. Edvard was younger and thinner in the picture with his hair pulled back, braided—or at least in a ponytail—and she recognized his eyes and the shape of his face: Slavic and snowy with the Carpathians embedded in his smile. The stranger, beside him was—she imagined—an infamous Egyptian: primordial and aloof, though maybe Egyptian was the wrong word; but there were black, Kushite pharaohs—weren’t there?—apocryphal to Eurocentric history.
“This is him?” she asked. “Your author of insects?”
Edvard nodded, blinking behind his glasses. “He was Amerikan before we met.”
“We are still waiting.” Edvard wore a single word tattooed in the flesh of his left arm, three letters in a language no one spoke: NOX.
She’d bought a magic ring from a toy shop on Ö Street, and a little trick-box that made coins disappear; she’d forgotten about the little red conjurer’s novelty, but she wore the ring; its gem—so the little illustrated pamphlet said—told one’s emotions in colors, though particular colors (in combination) foretold a range of possible futures. The little plastic jewel, as she stared at the faux-daguerreotype capture of Edvard and his compatriot, took on a disturbing, tan hue. She thought of leather: the hide of some animal made into a shoe, a belt, a blacksmith’s apron. The garish little pamphlet offered no insights into that specific shade: no hint of the mood or the prospects it foretold. Perhaps, she thought, there was something wrong with the ring itself: some subtle imbalance in the heat-sensitive gel embedded beneath the clear, faceted plastic; or maybe dead-horse tan was simply too rare a probability to warrant any mention in the cheap, fold-out pamphlet. She twisted the ring with her thumb, as Edvard (a decade ago) and his comrade stared out from the age-stained face of the battered, frameless photo.
Crickets chirped just outside the window.
A cloud drifted across the sun and cast a blue shadow.
I’ll miss you when the insects have come and taken you away, she thought, keeping the words to herself.
Born and raised in Chicago (with time spent in the Czech Republic, where he plans to return), J.C. Howell has spent a vast amount of time writing. Recent published works of fiction appear in Café Irreal, 1:1000 aaduna, A Quiet Courage, and a previous offering in Five:2:One.