No. 1
Elizabeth Clark
Crickets in Glass Jars
Angela Powell
In the summer when I was eleven years old, the only thing on my mind was living up my days in the sun before school would start again. I think back on those days of living in a swimsuit and a pair of shorts, barefoot and hanging out with my best friend around the sprinkler. Susie was three years older than I, liked boys and Billy Idol, had parents who were never home, and was the keeper of the ideas on what to do every summer day. She was the one who “invented” the time with the glass jar, something that has recently entered my thoughts again even though it was just one summer afternoon twenty-eight years ago.
We had just snacked on cherry tomatoes off the bush on Susie’s back porch. I asked if she wanted to hike to the cemetery and play hide-and-seek. She was bored with that idea and rolled her eyes. I thought she always looked so cool when she did that, leaning with her hand on her hip and her Dorothy Hamill haircut. I suggested
we could take her dog for a walk, but she didn’t like that idea either. Roller skating the cul-de-sac was not an option, and her big sister was watching the soaps inside so we couldn’t do anything in the living room.
I watched her as she thought, always full of ideas. She had a way of pacing a bit as she thought, and it always gave me a feeling of excitement that at any moment she would say something that would end up being so much fun I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night from wanting to wake up and do it again. This time she glanced towards her garage, past the camper to the rows of shelves on the back wall.
In my neighborhood it seemed as if every dad had an area in the back of the garage. Shelves held tools, small drawers held nails and bolts, and below it all was all of the dad-things needed to work the lawnmower. I wasn’t allowed near my dad’s garage area but followed Susie as she walked back to hers. With a flip-flopped foot she slid out a small red jug labeled “gasoline” and motioned for me to get a mason jar out of a box of canning supplies by the inside door that led into her kitchen. I was nervous, I was curious, but did as she suggested.
She then announced what we would be playing that day . . . “torture.” Up until that time, the idea of torture was picking on my little sister or having to endure Lawrence Welk on the television every Sunday night during “family time.” Obviously, in her fourteen years she knew more than I, and being in the presence of the coolest girl I had ever met, I couldn’t wait to hear what her idea of torture was.
She grabbed my hand and led me out into the yard and instructed me to look for crickets, especially the meaty ones that always seemed to crawl around the foundation of  houses. I found one. She found another. We brought them back to the garage.
Susie carefully poured the gasoline into the jar about half way up while I cupped the crickets in my hands. I was beginning to see what she had in mind, and a part of me wanted to run to the mouth of the garage and toss them back into the grass. Susie must have sensed this for she barked that I needed to come closer and muttered under her breath that at times I seemed like such a baby. I didn’t want to be a baby. I wanted to be cool like her: cool and tall with all of the answers and confidence. This girl owned a ten-speed bike with the gears on the column. Her roller skates were real boots while mine still attached to my tennis shoes. Susie owned Gloria Vanderbilt jeans with the gold swan on the pocket where mine were still unisex from Kato.
I moved closer to her, my hands in front of my body and the small crickets still cupped inside. Once the gasoline was in the jar, she took my hands and opened them, pushing one of the crickets back into my palms with her finger when it tried to climb out. The other she took by a spiny back leg and held it over the mouth of the jar. I cringed and bit my bottom lip as it hovered. She nudged me with her shoulder and told me I needed to do the same. Carefully I grabbed my cricket by its body and lifted it to where the other was dangling.
“Now,” she said, “it’s time for the torture. We have to say what they did wrong and why they have to die. You know, like in the movies. So what did yours do?”
I looked down at my cricket. I could smell the gasoline. I had no idea what it could have done to deserve drowning in a jar of toxic liquid. I thought back to The Cricket in Times Square that my class read in the fourth grade and how, for extra credit, I made a cricket cage. Mine looked like a pagoda and took hours of toothpicks and glue. I started thinking about how this cricket would have loved to live in it and how I would keep it in my own garage safe from the Siamese cat and from jars of gasoline like this.
Susie’s voice brought me from my thoughts. She was saying “Well? Well?!” and was thinking I was a baby again, I could tell.
So I swallowed hard and said in a quiet voice, “This one is guilty of stealing a bike.”
Susie smiled her cool smile. I think she was wearing that watermelon lip gloss I always wanted, in the little plastic pot that actually looked like a real slice. I had plain Chapstick in my pocket―I had taken it from my dad’s dresser―and pretended it was what she had.
“Okay . . . now drop it in for its punishment,” Susie said in a matter-of-fact way.
I looked at her with her feathered hair and thought of how cool she would think I was if I did this. She might even tell her friends how cool I was, and maybe they wouldn’t shoo me away when they came over, even if I was at Susie’s first.
The cricket squirmed between my fingers. I took a breath and I let go. The cricket hit the gas and seemed to sit on top of the liquid like a small black boat. I was relieved to see that it didn’t sink or burst into flames.
Susie scoffed and said out loud, “Well that’s not torture at all!”
I looked from her face to the cricket and thought it would just be released now as obviously the game was a bust. Instead, she took the lid, capped the jar and shook it hard, just like when we’d make homemade ice cream in a can. When she set it down again, the cricket was immersed and unmoving, and one of its spiny legs was floating in a swirl of gasoline. I had no idea where her cricket had gone, but it wasn’t in the mixture and it was no longer in her hands.
I didn’t want to be there in that garage. It began to feel hot and uncomfortable, and my stomach was hurting. My throat felt dry, and I couldn’t look at the jar anymore. I started making excuses for why I needed to go home, but she didn’t hear me and didn’t care. She was too busy rolling the jar around in her hands and peering inside as if it were a crystal ball. As I walked out of there, I stepped over her cricket as it was making its way to the front tire of the camper. I finally understood what torture was: holding a creature above the abyss and having to make the decision about whether or not to let go.