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Godzilla And The Gift Cicada
As their cab of the Ferris Wheel slowly comes to a swinging halt at the top, she looks down at the people milling merrily below on the Santa Monica Pier, the sounds of their laughter carried up to them on the salty ocean breeze that stirs her long auburn hair, lifting it lightly about her shoulders, and she laughs herself at their antics, pointing out the little girl dancing delightedly with the giant teddy bear her daddy won her, or the two little boys squabbling over whether to go on the rollercoaster next or the merry-go-round. Seated next to her, he watches her, his breath caught in his throat as he drinks the sight of her in, for the years have not dimmed her beauty, she's as pretty to him now as she ever was. As he studies her, he thinks back to when he first met her and fell in love with her, and somehow knew even then that she'd be his…
Her name is Jeannie Conway and he meets her in the first grade when he sits at the desk behind her, a dainty delicate thing with auburn pigtails and freckles peppering her nose, who smells delightfully like peanut butter and Ivory soap and strawberry shampoo, and Jimmy Reed is smitten, falling in love with her, even though his tender young heart does not quite know the meaning of those two words yet. He's too shy to tease her by pulling her pigtails like Chuckie Thurman does, nor does he like to show off for her on the monkey bars like Bobby Prentiss does; no, he sits at his desk and daydreams, his chin cupped in his palm as he imagines what it would be like to be married to her, the two of them living in a house he builds out of the fake-brick cardboard blocks, feasting on dinner consisting of Oreos and peanut butter samm'iches and chocolate milk, going off to work in the dog-eat-dog world of construction paper and glue, helping her take care of the two babies that they have, her Raggedy Ann doll and his weatherbeaten teddy bear named Mr. Beedle…at least he's pretty sure that's what marriage is, anyway, taking care of fake babies and eating peanut butter samm'iches for dinner. Yes, his little boy dreams are big and bright and he desperately wishes for them to come true, so he tries to be good to his little flame-haired beauty, making sure she gets the good pair of craft scissors during art time, offering to open her milk carton for her at lunch, sharing the chocolate chip cookies that his mother baked for him, telling her his entire repertoire of three knock-knock jokes in order to make her giggle, all with the hope that she will fall in love with him…
Whatever love is, anyway.
But she's a fickle little thing, flighty and silly and gadding about with any boy who'll pay attention to her, even the ones that chant the "I see London, I see France, I see Jeannie's underpants!" rhyme when she's playing on the monkey bars. So he realizes he must do something daring, something bold and romantic that will proclaim his undying love for her and capture her fickle little heart forever, so he decides on…a picture. But not just ANY picture; no, this will be a veritable masterpiece of artwork, and he sets to work on it during arts and crafts time, his little face scrunched in intense concentration as he draws…nay, creates!…carefully picking and choosing the finest colors of crayons in the box to sweep across that blank page before him, coloring and sketching and frowning as he draws…nay, creates!...his fait accompli, a shining paean to that age-old struggle of giant lizard versus frightened city, knowing in his heart that the little auburn haired girl will just love his breathtaking portrayal that is complete with scary fire-belching lizard, flaming buildings with heavy squiggles of black smoke pouring from their windows, screaming frightened stick figures, and just a tiny little blop of grape jelly that came from a larger blop of grape jelly that fell from his peanut butter samm'ich during lunch, landing unnoticed on his shirt until it was too late and part of it was dripped onto his picture. He sincerely hopes the little auburn haired girl will assume to be part of the overall drawing and not just him being messy with his food, for she is as fastidious as she is dainty, turning up a disgusted nose at Chuckie Thurman's armpit farts during recess or Adam Gentry's talent for belching the alphabet, two talents that Jimmy happens to think are rather neat himself. He signs his name with proud, shaky first-grade penmanship and he presents it to her with great dignity and aplomb, gently laying the offering on her desk in front of her with the announcement that he drew it for her and her alone.
And she hates it. She takes one look at it and turns away with a disgusted sniff of her dainty little freckled nose, taking a finger and gingerly pushing it away from her, announcing quite firmly that SHE isn't into big fire-belching lizards that stomp frightened cities flat, and didn't he know that Bobby Prentiss just drew her a picture of a pretty…if lopsided and oddly colored brown…flower, and that was so sweet of him, wasn't it? She just LOVES pretty flowers, don'tcha know, even if they ARE lopsided and strangely colored and look more like someone took a poopy on the page instead of drew a flower.
And bushing bright red, he slinks back to his seat, cramming the picture he so lovingly created for her into his desk, his tender little heart crushed by the fickle auburn haired beauty who prefers lopsided brown daisies over gorgeous green monsters that belch pretty orange and yellow and grape jelly flames from their mouths.
But, he is not a quitter, nor does he give up so easily to someone like Bobby Prentiss, who has all the artistic talent of a fruit fly, so he thinks on how best to impress the precocious little madam in the seat in front of him so that she will be his forever. Of course, he has no real concept of what 'forever' is, other than it's probably a bit longer than his favorite show on television, The Howdy Doody Show, but however long 'forever' is, he knows that he wants to spend it with little Jeannie Conway, providing he can woo her to his side.
Then it dawns on him…a pretty present not of his own making should make her happy, for girls don't like handmade gifts, only mommies and grandmas and aunts do. And he has seen how happy his mother is whenever his father presents her with an unexpected little gift every now and then, getting all giggly and huggy and kissy, and then they usually put Jimmy and his big sister Jane to bed early so that they can spend the evening cuddling and slow-dancing to Frank Sinatra records on the big console stereo before retiring to the bedroom with whispers and secrets and strange looks between them…he knows, because he's hidden on the landing with Janie and watched them as they dance together. And while he's not overly sure he'd like Jeannie to slow dance with him or whisper in his ear so that he chuckles lustily and pinches her bottom like his father does with his mother, he certainly wouldn't mind it if she gave him a peck on the cheek. But he definitely draws the line at a kiss on the lips, that just looks gross and disgusting and how do you breathe with your faces mashed together like that? His sister Jane sighs and proclaims it romantic, whereas Jimmy thinks that if a girl who is not related to him by blood kisses him on the lips, he would probably throw up.
Or maybe slug her.
Depending on the who the girl is, anyway.
Of course, he realizes that he has no money to buy her something wonderfully bright and beautiful and breathtakingly fantastic, for after all, he DOES need to purchase his favorite comics books featuring Superman and Captain America whenever the new issues come out, not to mention adding to his collection of baseball cards whenever he can, and he has a nasty candy habit on par with a heroin junkie that he needs to support, just so he doesn't start jonesing for Atomic Fireballs or Mary Janes or Root Beer Barrels in the middle of math period, so his allowance is usually pretty well spent by the end of each week. Then he remembers his most prized possession (well, maybe fifth or sixth prized possession, after his baseball glove, his dog Buttons, Mr. Beedle his teddy bear, his comic books, and his baseball cards), his cicada.
Yes, he managed to capture a lovely cicada one day, finding it after it fell out of the big oak tree in his backyard during a windstorm, Buttons stepping on it and freaking out at the noisy whirring sound it made, running from it with a whine and her tail tucked between her legs, cowering from the side of the back porch in fear. He wasn't afraid of it, of course, after he'd called his dad over to look at it and tell him what kind of bug it was, that is. He picked it up and put it in a shoebox with air holes punched in the lid and bits of grass and twig tucked inside, finding a strange beauty in the delicate transparent wings of lace and the thick green-black body and the bulbous red eyes that protruded from the noisy bug's head, but since he had no idea what cicadas ate or how they even survived, it quickly perished. He mourned it briefly, for it was fun to chase his sister around with it, threatening to put it in her hair while she screamed for their mother and Buttons raced around barking at the disturbance and the insect whirred loudly in fright in the hands of the little boy. And while he knew that his sister detested the ugly thing, he thought perhaps little Jeannie might like it, given her penchant for ugly lopsided brown flowers that looked more like poopy than flowers.
So he wraps it carefully in a white handkerchief and carries it to school in his lunch pail, planning on giving it to his little love during lunch period. He fidgets nervously in his seat in anticipation of noon, squirming about so many times that his teacher, Mrs. Brookings, asks him several times if he needs to use the bathroom, his classmates giggling at his blushing 'no' each time. And when lunchtime arrives, with both the big hand and little hand of the clock pointing to the number twelve…he knows this because they are learning to tell time…he carefully angles for a seat next to Jeannie in the lunchroom, elbowing a scowling Bobby Prentiss out of the way and plopping happily down next to her with his lunch pail in his hands. First he graciously offers to open her milk carton for her like any gentleman would, and with a teasing smile, she lets him, and as he watches her unwrap her wax-papered peanut butter samm'ich, he leans forward. "Hey, Jeannie," he says in a shy whisper.
"Yes, Jimmy?" she asks, nibbling delicately on her peanut butter and strawberry jelly samm'ich that has the crust cut away from it, just like his mom cuts the crusts away from his…and if that isn't a sign of a true love that's meant to be, then what is?
"I have a present for you," he tells her in that still-shy whisper, slipping the carefully folded white handkerchief from his lunch pail.
At the words 'present' and 'you', she perks up, her dark brown eyes watching him with interest as she begins to think that maybe kinda sorta little Jimmy Reed isn't so bad after all, especially if he's willing to give her a present for absolutely no reason at all. She wonders what it could be, dreaming of…a pony? No, that wouldn't fit in his lunch pail now, would it? Maybe it's a pretty necklace of gold and diamonds? A new set of jacks to replace the ones that Chuckie Thurman flushed down the toilet? A beautiful bracelet with her name engraved on it? Whatever it is, she eyeballs him with the greedy selfish avarice that is quite common to seven-year-old auburn-haired beauties who are used to getting presents given to them for no particular reason at all. "Thank you, Jimmy!" she chirps brightly as he begins to unwrap the item tucked into the cloth, flashing him a wide smile. "You're SO sweet!" she coos, and then as he reveals his beautiful ugly bug, thrusting it oh so gallantly at her with a winning smile, she screams loudly and then proceeds to oh so gallantly throw up on him.
Which makes Doris Renfer vomit too.
And Kenny Whitson.
And Betsy Michaels.
And Bobby Prentiss.
Plus a third-grader that is sitting two tables over from them.
The lunchroom erupts in squealing, screeching cacophony as horrified little kids try to flee the vomitous mess that surrounds the first-grade lunch table, and Jimmy sits there stunned, holding his sadly rejected cicada in one hand, staring down at the icky mess coating his front, as next to him little Jeannie sobs, fat liquid tears squeezing from between her squinched eyes and rolling down her pale cheeks. Then Mrs. Brookings arrives to take charge of her entire first grade class that has come completely undone over the sight of a large beautifully ugly bug and puddles of puke. Scolding Jimmy loudly, she snatches the grotesque insect from him and directs him, along with the weeping barfers, to the principal's office.
Yes, it is not the most shining moment in the life of little Jimmy Reed.
And as he plods wearily to the principal's office, stinking to high heaven and already missing the cicada that was so rudely snatched away from him, he realizes that he's going to be in trouble for starting a chain epidemic of puking during lunch time, just 'cuz he brought his ugly bug in to give to Jeannie as a gift. His mother is called to deliver a change of clothing for him post-haste, while the ones that upchucked are sent home, traumatized and shaking and giving Jimmy hateful looks, especially little Jeannie Conway, who vows to hate him forever and ever and ever…
Or at least until next week.
Because as fickle and flighty as she is, she does realize that his gift probably meant more than Bobby Prentiss' stupid brown daisy…or was it a rose?...she couldn't tell, it was too lopsided…and she decides that even though she hates him now, she probably won't by next week, and maybe he'll feel so sorry for creating such trauma for her, he might decide to give her another present, this one bigger and better and hopefully not a freaky looking bug…maybe something store-bought, perhaps. She thinks on how best to drop hints to Jimmy that she'd like that new set of jacks, or maybe a set of doll clothes, or perhaps that shiny gold and diamond bracelet she saw in the window of Siegel's Jewelers last week. And maybe she'll be so pleased with what he buys her, she'll deign to give him a kiss on the lips, because that is SO romantic and sweet and he's sure to love it…
Well…maybe she'll just stick with Bobby Prentiss and his ugly brown flowers for now, and keep Jimmy in reserve for when Bobby pushes her on the playground the next time. Surely it can't hurt to have a couple of backup boyfriends in case the main boyfriend goes sour, declaring she has cooties or something.
In the meantime, Jimmy is punished for scaring Jeannie and making her and the others get sick in the lunch room, and as he pounds the blackboard erasers for his penance, coughing in the pale clouds of dust that rise and cling to him, turning his dark brown hair a ghostly grey shade, he realizes that it probably wasn't the BEST idea to bring his bug in to give to Jeannie as a gift, he maybe should have saved his pennies and gotten her a set of jacks or a little bottle of Odie de Cologney (well, at least he thinks that's how eau de cologne is pronounced) in that same Evening In Paris scent that he gets his mother every year for her birthday, Christmas, and Mother's Day. And if he thinks he's in trouble here at school, he knows that more punishment is waiting for him when he gets home, and he dreads it, 'cuz he knows what it'll be…grounding for two weeks and no tv for that same time period, so he's gonna miss Howdy Doody and Uncle Miltie, not to mention the Lone Ranger and Tonto…which is definitely not fair when you're seven and two weeks is FOREVER…like the week before Christmas is.
Well...at least he's figured out what 'forever' is now.
The love thing? Not so much.
And as he claps the erasers together, he decides that whatever love is, it's for the birds, especially if you get shot down twice by the little auburn-haired beauty you adore, not to mention getting puked on AND in trouble to boot, and perhaps he will never get married, choosing to live with his parents forever and ever and ever…
Well, at least until he can cut the crusts off of his own samm'iches, that is.