Las Vegas summers are serious business. The cicadas know it.
Every waking hour, from every tree, even as the sun sets, the cicada’s electric buzz is the summer’s background static. Well into the night, the cicadas hum, and hum and hum, because it’s so damn hot. It’s a special kind of insanity.
One summer day, we’d spent the afternoon at our sitter’s trying to see how long we could stand barefoot on the sizzling rusted scraps of sheet metal tossed at the side of the house before running to cool our burning feet in the plastic wading pool. Loafing outside during a Vegas summer is taxing work, and days like this called for frequent breaks inside.
This time, though, we couldn’t get back in. Sam, a freckled 12-year old, stood on the other side of the locked back porch door with a nasty grin.
Sam had once had chased my younger brother around the kitchen table with a carving knife covered in ketchup. Now he disappeared as we pounded on the door, and came back momentarily, stripped down to his underwear and eating a big bowl of ice cream, still grinning. When we shouted to be let in for water, he just licked his spoon, and soon wandered off to watch tv.
Too small to open the side gates and get to the front door, we decided it was better to face punishment than death by thirst and voted to break into the house through a bedroom window.
That side of the house was littered with pellets of rabbit poop that stuck to our bare feet as we gingerly picked our way through old appliances and shovels and a rusty lawnmower. I agreed to let Sam’s sister stand on my back while she fiddled with her window. There was a trick to getting the lock to spring from the outside. Expressly forbidden, of course, but weren’t we in dire circumstances? It was a leap of trust for me to heave her through and wait for her to unlock the door for the rest of us. If my memory’s right, she decided to join the tormenting instead and I had to figure out how to pull myself in through that window.
After getting in, and getting a drink, I walked down a narrow hall to peek in on our sitter. “The Baby Sitter,” as I always called her, even to her own kids, sat in her room, in her armchair, bathed in the glow of The Young and the Restless. She wore the same flip-flops as always, heels chapped and cracked.
She smiled when she saw me.
“Sam locked us out,” I ventured, my eyes wandering to the piles of old magazines stacked in the corners of her room. “We had to come in through the window.”
She sighed. A long, long, heavy sigh. Her gaze shifted back to the screen.
“All right. I’ll talk to him.”
Years after we moved on, I would think of The Baby Sitter and how her husband worked all day while she sat back there and watched the TV and left the older kids to make tuna sandwiches for lunch, maybe, and then you had to fight for one. She seemed to me to be a Lazy Housewife of the worst sort.
Skip forward 22 years. My living room floor is strewn with yesterday’s mail, two sets of blocks, and a mangled ham sandwich. I stare blankly at my laptop while the kids wail to be let out from behind the baby gate. And I am thinking of The Baby Sitter, twelve children, and a worn armchair in a cluttered fortress of a bedroom. Remembering one late afternoon hearing her sing, sitting in the front yard on a battered lawn chair. She sounded like an angel.
I never heard her sing inside the house.
Across two decades, I want to reach out and squeeze her hand.