We called him that because we knew he’d catch them for us if we asked him nicely enough. He knew how to pinch their legs with his fingers in just the right way so they’d quit chirping but they wouldn’t die.
“Watch now,” he’d say, and everyone would shut up. Tessie Lolly would clamp her hand over her little brother’s chubby mouth, and I’d keep peeling the sheered layers of stem off the pussy willows I ripped out from the lake’s edge.
On the day he plucked his hundredth one, I looked down into my lap, digging my nails into the stems like I wasn’t listening. I was listening though. I could feel the filmy stick forming shelter on my skin and it was August and there were supposed to be grasshoppers out, and the quiet was so loud I couldn’t not pay attention.
“Here,” he said. “Tessie, you can have it.”
Virginia Binny kept three he’d caught for her in a jar by her window. She had legs like bruised fruit and she always kicked us in the shins when we dangled ourselves off the wooden deck.
“How many has he caught for you?” she asked.
“All of them,” I said, twisting my hands over the floor so I caught splinters in my palm.
Grasshopper Boy was always by himself before the sun went down. It was ugly outside when I waited for him without any shoes and wound up the folds of my dress with my wrist.
“What are you doing?” he asked me. I knew it must have looked like I was wringing myself out to dry.
“Did anyone ever tell you that you stare like Neil Diamond?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Good,” I said. “I wanted to be the one to tell you that.”
I sat down next to him and started ripping up the grass with my hands.
“Hey,” he said. “Why do you want to kill everything so bad?”
“I don’t know. Same as you, I guess.”
“I don’t kill things.”
“Those grasshoppers die in a few days after you give them away. All hundred of them.”
I could hear them chirping, and it was beautiful. They were so loud.
“You want me to catch one for you? That’s what this is all about?”
“No,” I told him.
“Well, I will anyways,” he said. He reached his hand into the grass and pinched his fingers tight together. “Here, it’s for you.”
“I don’t want it,” I said.
“Well what am I supposed to do with it?”
I grabbed a fistful of grass and crushed it in my hand. “Eat it,” I said.
He stared at me for a moment. And then he stuck the grasshopper, squirming legs and all, into the cave of his mouth and bit down. It was glorious, how loud that crunch was. Not a quiet one at all.
“Happy?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, my hands stained green. “I am.”
Emily Clemente is an incoming MFA candidate at Florida State University. She is the recipient of the Max Steele Award in Fiction from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her work has previously been featured in publications such as Deep South Magazine, Star 82 Review, Every Day Fiction, and The Roadrunner Review, among others.
Art: rawpixels Public Domain CC0 Image of a big grasshopper-like bug (I think it’s a praying mantis) sitting on a kid’s hand. Very blue sky in the background. The bug is a gorgeous green colour.
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