“Why would you ask to read that passage?” Dorothy asked her later as they walked down the road to their homes.
“It didn’t seem just a little familiar?” Claren Ruth said. She gestured at the sidewalk at their feet which was still no more than a sea of black from all the dead crickets. Even in the evening cool, the stench of death didn’t let up. Claren Ruth stepped off the path to scrape her shoes of the gooey bodies.
Dorothy shook her head. “We’ve seen this before. You remember that summer when we were kids, the sky blacked from all the mosquitoes? A person couldn’t go out they come back with no skin. And what of the dust summer during the Depression? Couldn’t even see the sun for all the earth in the sky. It’s like you’ve got no memories any more, just saying mean things to suit your needs.”
Claren Ruth rolled her eyes. Dorothy continued.
“You’ll know the times when they’re here. You know better than to ask after them.”
When the cicadas started during the mid-day dominos game that next week, Claren Ruth slammed her bones down and yelled, “Well, that tears it!”
The ladies all listened as the rattling rose to an earsplitting scream that would carry on into the night, the week, the rest of the month.
“Locusts,” Claren Ruth said.
“You hush your mouth,” Dorothy chastised her.
Pastor called an informational meeting on Wednesday. The ladies stuffed themselves into the fellowship hall, a little cinder block building next to the church. The air conditioning had gone out months prior, which the ladies were only now beginning to mind. The wood-paneled walls made for an onerous feeling in the room, as if everything were darker than it had to be. Coupled with the heat, it put everyone in a sour mood, and they shoved in, canes clacking against each other and some shins not accidentally.
Pastor stood at the lectern and waved everyone quiet. He kept his eyes down and fiddled with his tie before summoning the courage to make the announcement. Claren Ruth folded her arms and tapped her foot. Finally, Pastor looked up.
“A deal has been made and papers signed,” he said. The church would be sold off to developers at the end of the month.
Everyone grew quiet, checking themselves after that death blow. Then a murmur started up.
“Where will the proceeds go?”
“What will they do with the building?”
“And the land?” Claren Ruth insisted.
Pastor sighed. “The proceeds will go to a charity of our choosing, that’s by law. I’m not sure what will happen with the building. It’ll be their choice as it’ll be their property.” He glanced around at them and put his head down again, shuffling whatever papers were on the stand. “They know there are sensitive issues at stake.”
“I heard they’s gonna put a Walmart in,” said one voice from the back. Pastor did not correct this. A few ladies hummed as if this wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Claren Ruth glowered. “The graveyard, Pastor.”
He hesitated in his answer which boiled up Claren Ruth’s blood.
“Law says that family members have to have access to visit the loved ones. So you’ll always be able to go visit. Now, what happens outside of cemetery boundaries is up to the new owners. But rest assured, you will be able to visit.”
“And be buried in it?” The room quieted down enough to where even Dorothy’s rattling breath could be heard.
Pastor looked down at the lectern, rubbing his fingers back and forth on the wood. “All the law allows for is visits. It’s up to the new owners to operate the cemetery if they want to. And they don’t want to.”
The room was silent. Only Claren Ruth’s voice rang out.
“Some of us already paid for a plot.”
“And you’ll get that deposit back,” Pastor nodded. “The company agreed to that.” He hung his head. “I’m sorry, ladies. Nothing about this is easy.”