The insects are everywhere! They look like jumbo grasshoppers with wings and emerge from underground dormancy every seventeen years to swarm for their mating ritual. My teacher says there are as many as a million-and-a-half bugs in a single acre of earth. Regan peddles around on her Big Wheel with ziplock bags and collects the little empty bug-shaped shells they shed on trees and window screens and sometimes on our stereo speakers if they manage their way inside the house. Mostly they’re just annoying, but Sadie and I run from the car into the house with our hands over our ears from the deafening whir in an over-dramatized attempt at avoiding accidental contact with the flying creatures.
Mother and the three of us girls are in a new house without Henry. She has asked him to leave several times, but this time it’s for real. We did the leaving, and she cries in her bedroom every night. When he discovers where we live, his truck pulls up each night after dark and parks on the street out front, where he sleeps. In the morning, he wakes up and drives off.
On Christmas Eve, Sadie and I tiptoe down the stairs, being careful to avoid the creaky third step from the bottom. We have wrapped presents for my mother and Regan and are trying to sneak them under the tree in the middle of the night. Long past the belief in Santa Claus, we also hope to get a glimpse of any presents that might be there for us. The light switch at the bottom of the stairs isn’t working, and there is a pungent smell that I can’t place, like the science lab at school. Henry is lying on the couch with one arm and shoulder falling off the side. I guess mother has let him come inside for the holiday. “Come on, let’s go back to bed,” Sadie orders and pushes me back up the stairs. I step on the creaky stair and we freeze in place, but Henry still doesn’t move. Terror replaces my holiday spirit. Neither Sadie nor I ever speak of it again.