While I comb my hair, the cicada husks whisper. They live in a row on my dresser, spaced out so they can breathe. I don’t know what they’re saying, but it reminds me of Great Grandma Anitza after her stroke, blurring English and Armenian and the throaty cooing of mourning doves. I divide my hair into three sections and start weaving. Do you ever wonder why I stopped showing up for sessions? Does it worry you? My husband thinks I should tell you what happened. He hasn’t spoken to me in weeks—only auto-responses, like a Russian bot or a vending machine. Insert coin, remove monosyllables. We’re supposed to be trying harder. We’re supposed to be on the third stage of grief by now, surely. I secure my braid with a scrunchie made of leopard-spotted velvet, and I think of how Knox wore it and the magenta one on his small wrists like Wonder Woman’s bracelets, how he sparked and crackled through the house, insisting that I time him. I never told you this, but I used to slow down my counting so that he could get faster with each sprint. Cicada husks, snail shells, ragged crane feathers. Is this what bargaining looks like? You’d probably tell me there’s no wrong way to grieve. My husband says we have fleas now from all this stuff (emphasis his) I keep bringing in. He says he walked across the living room and saw dozens of them jumping like hot oil around his ankles. He says I need to call you. Or at least listen to your voicemails. Do you already know? Is there a secret alert that goes out to therapists when a treatment plan goes horribly wrong? Write it down, you told me, like a story. Be as detailed as you can. I wrote it down. My worst fear. I read it out loud like you asked me to, over and over. Its shattered-tooth syllables made my tongue bleed. I know it seems counterintuitive, you said. I asked you what happens if I give voice to my magical thinking and then the bad thing happens. You said, Shushan, your thoughts don’t make things happen. Your feelings don’t make things happen. Which I took to mean that if—just for example—I was too tired to feign gratitude for the brittle insect casings my son left for me on the stoop, if their empty eye sockets and papery segmented bodies and jointed legs made me want to gag, it didn’t matter. Knox wouldn’t be diagnosed with leukemia because of it, or die in a drunk driving wreck, or all the other nightmare scenarios my mind dragged around like fifty-pound weights. You all but promised. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there. My husband and I are trying. Or we’re trying to try. I’m wearing my black bodysuit with the V neck and the leaf-patterned prairie skirt I found at Goodwill. That might not sound sexy, but it’s a really deep V. I haven’t asked my husband where we’re going tonight. He’s still waging war on the alleged fleas, kneeling down to vacuum behind the piano and under the pullout couch where he sleeps now. He’s been spraying every square inch of carpet with something that smells like green apple and ammonia. Our house has never been so clean. I can sense its protest. It wants back its layers of dirt and stray Legos and dead skin cells. Do you think this is bargaining, or still denial? Maybe we need to add a sixth stage: the culling of imaginary insects, the gathering of husks. I don’t think I’ve written the word “husk” so many times in my life. My great grandma would’ve understood. She wore her grief like a shawl and never talked about it and never took it off. “Wush wush,” she used to say softly, holding me while I cried. I don’t know if it was an Armenian thing or a mothering thing or the whisper of blood through her veins. Listen: I know you won’t believe me, but there are signs. When I step outside and a walnut shell crunches under my heel, do you really expect me to believe that an animal left it there by chance? When I go down to the mailbox and find a cicada husk glued on, pincers folded as if in prayer, what else am I supposed to think? I’m not saying I blame you, by the way. That’s not what this is about. But what if I had accepted my son’s offerings and raved about them and held them in my cupped hands? At the very least, he would’ve smiled. How am I supposed to live with that? I’m open to ideas.
My husband is here now, looking handsome and tired. “Ready?”
I nod. The cicada husks are still deep in conversation. Whatever they’re saying, it’s enough to wake the snail shells from hibernation. I can hear them humming, deep in their smooth, whorled bodies.