The cicalecchina

M fell onto the bed and fell asleep. As he fell, his last thoughts were of the story he had been told. The story of the cicalecchina.

It was summer and the wind was from the south. From the desert it picked up dust and from the sea moisture. When it arrived on the peninsula it dropped its dust on everything clean and on your lips and in your throat. The water it held became sea fog, low clouds, mist in the narrow streets, and rolled down to the lowest olive groves where the fates danced. Don’t go into the olives alone when the wind is from the south and the people are asleep or you may not return as you were.

But this was not the story M was thinking of and which now filled his dreams. That was the story of the cicalecchina.

At five in the morning the thermometer was wedged into the red paint as it was until past one o’clock at night. And for most of those hours the cicadas, called cicale here, squeaked and whirred and ticked, a deafening squeaking and whirring and ticking from every part of the countryside. How can people sleep in the afternoon with such a noise, wondered M the first time he visited. And then he lay down and was asleep. When he woke he had no idea where he was, nor where he had been nor for how long. His head and his blood were thick and his tongue filled his mouth.

There was the story of how the peninsula heat hit you if you were new to it the first time or newly new to it again. It struck you as you walked near your bed or a chair or a flat piece of ground not near a snake hole or an ant nest or a haunted olive tree. It struck you like a club of oak or a sniper’s bullet from a previous war and you fell without a sound or thought, slaughtered flesh without a bone to hold your body together. And the word for sniper was cecchino.

But then (another story told) it was the song of the cicala which brought the sleep. Sleep sounds so peaceful, thought M, but the violence of the coming of the oblivion should never be forgotten, though it almost always was. The song of the cicala that deafened you from every degree spun a web of sleep around you until your eyes had no choice and again you fell, unconscious.

But what to call the creature that sang this song, that sawed its legs, that called the heat until the heat brought sleep? Of course, the singer of the song that brings the bullet, that closes down the senses, the sniper cicala, the cicala cecchina, the cicalecchina. And so that became the name. But though people had told him to run from the bullet until there was safety for sleep, as his eyes were closing M gave himself willingly to the story and to the dreams that would come.