Crickets of Trust
Soft and silent. The best way to describe the diner. A customer in a back booth made the most noise on the sweaty Sunday, but only when they flipped their newspaper from page to page. It was an older paper, by at least several days, but they read it religiously. As if every word were the start of a story their grandfather used to tell.
He would smile. He had the biggest teeth. He would be pulling a wagon while they were half asleep, crack a joke just to hear them laugh. They’d wipe their sandy eyes, the grit smearing on their Sunday shirt. The stories were always wild, and they always came after the joke. It was a weird way to begin a story, with the funniest part first. Though the young audience knew no other way to tell a story. Besides, it was more fun to start with the joke, see their audience stutter, and wonder what the context of the comment meant. The stories were always sub-par, for once they realized how the joke was relevant their interest would wane. However, each main story had ten or twelve mini-stories which made the entire context even longer than before, and the material shine like gold. They loved it until they got old and their grandfather too got old. “Cream or sugar, Hun… Hun?”
They folded up the newspaper, the fog clearing, their ears again hearing.
“Cream or sugar, come on, Hun.”
They broke their mouth for a quick minute, sucking their bottom lip in a little too far. Trying to smile, but looking more pained, they quickly closed their mouth and formed a closed-lip squinted-eyed smile. One of those please don’t be mad at me smiles. The employee replied with an impatient smirk back. She had been working all morning, and all morning the tips had not come. She only had three tables, and two had not yet ordered. Minus the black coffee and the other table’s pair of Lipton teas. Both seemed caught in daydreams and the spider was not pleased. The newspaper customer pointed at the cream and slid their cup over. The employee flashed a smile pouring too much cream, the sigh was involuntary. The napkin grave grew. The employee wiped them in the trash and then asked “what else can I get for you?” She pushed the specials, “roast beef and minced meat”.
On this the newspaper customer shifted in their seat, they hadn’t eaten in days and had no craving for meat. Their half-smile forming an excuse to come to mind to argue half a cup of coffee would make them feel fine. However, before this lie could ensue the lady in the back complained, “what about us too?” The employee was stunned, the newspaper customer had been there much longer, and the employee had asked this ma’am and her husband three times what food they would like to do.
However, before the employee could make an unneeded excuse the large lady rose and took her husband out too. They marched left and into the counter, if you’d been there you would have laughed as you heard the clatter. She stuck her chin in the air and pushed on the door. Only to find the sign read pull not push from behind. She huffed and pulled the husband through and screamed it was “the last time they’d be coming to!”
The newspaper returned, the employee ordered them a roast beef. The waitress took the slip of paper and slid it to a kitchen crew. She then knew there was no point in acting as if there was work to do. She walked across the tiled floor her shoe sticking in every bit of food left before. And for the first time she looked at the customer, it was the fifth month he’d been coming here. He never ate a bite, but the entire time she had been ordering and eating the food he’d been living without. You can’t really blame her, there was nothing remarkable about this newspaper customer, even as she took him in now, his eyes were uneven, his hairline too gone. His smile faded, and his posture bent, his tall spine now braided.
A counter bell rung, she danced to the special, normally she’d eat it away from this mysterious man. However, today he was more focused, in the stories more engaged. She did two spins and sat across from this man made of the perception of skin. His wire fingers controlled the page, and her’s the fork as she ate with much rage. During these five months the man never spoke, he never complained about her food and still tipped the same. He would start with the paper, alternating between sugar and cream, and drink half until the paper was finished and his morning diminished.
But on this paper he’d taken longer, he’d brought it in each day that week. She was sure it was the same one from the front page picture, a fox was playing in a bank of snow. It was a youngster, a cub she was certain. The man finished his coffee, half a mug in two sips. He slowly folded his paper and licked his cracked lips. He smiled a real smile, every tooth proud of their shine. The sound was surprising, like rain with no storm, soft and silent a steady beat that was worn.
His lips were moving, sound coming out, he asked the waitress, “would you like to hear a joke?”
Startled she answered, “Yes, please tell me, I would love something I could laugh about.” He laughed. His teeth seemed whiter, and his eyes a little clearer. He sat a little higher and the story began.
“Why does no one laugh at a cricket’s jokes?”
“Well, I am not sure, why does no one laugh?”
“No one gets their cues.”
She laughed a little, more than she normally would. But she fell for the trap… “and what made you think of that?” As she got up and filled his coffee back up.
He pointed at the paper with the colored picture of the fox smiling brightly. He asked ever so politely, “well you of all people must have heard the story of the fox and the cricket?” Her eyes asked for the story. His eyes darkened like the coffee she had refilled.
“A merchant once owned a chicken coop. He went to the market every day to sell the biggest brown eggs. The entire town loved the merchant’s eggs, they were the best eggs the market had ever seen. However, one day on the way to the market the merchant was stopped. All of the sudden a Fox ran across the road. Startled the merchant calmed his mind and got ready to move on, but then he was stopped again. In the middle of the road, there was a small insect, a Cricket. The merchant being kind, waited for the Cricket to move. Instead, the Cricket jumped on the merchant’s cart and spoke to the merchant.
‘Some pretty fine eggs you’ve got here. I imagine you have some pretty nice hens too’ The merchant loved his hens and flattery. ‘I have the best hens in the region!’ The Cricket smiled, ‘be a shame if something happened to em, some natural disaster, some thief in the night, a primordial predator…lurking’
The merchant nervously said ‘but I keep them safe, no one can get in their coop.’ ‘But no one guards their coop?’ Said the Cricket.
‘They have never needed guarding…’ said the merchant.
‘Crime is on a rise, and besides, you have the best hens.’ responded the Cricket. The merchant was willing to do anything to keep his hens safe. ‘What can I do’ he asked the Cricket.
‘I have the perfect guard for you, he’ll keep all your chickens safe.’
‘Perfect, they should be guarded…’ Said the merchant.
The cricket whispered, ‘only, there is the subject of payment.’
‘I’ll pay anything’ the merchant replied.
‘Of course, as you should. He is a good guard, he only requires one chicken a week.’ The Cricket said.
‘Well…’ the merchant mumbled.
The Cricket spoke over him, ‘And I take an egg, my services aren’t free you know?’ ‘That is such a high cost.’ The merchant said.
‘Security is a threat that never cheapens.’ Replied the Cricket.
‘I’ll do it.’ agreed the merchant.
They shook hands and legs, the Cricket said he’d have his guard updated later that day. The merchant went off the winding road to the market, while the Cricket went in the field to find his friend.
‘Fox, have I got the job for you.’
‘I want nothing to do with you, Cricket.’ Said the Fox, as Crickets were known to use trickery and deceit.
‘All you have to do is hang around a chicken coop, you get an egg a week!’ The Fox’s stomach growled, ‘an egg a week?’”
The newspaper customer coughed. She rushed to get him a glass of water, his hair seemed to have grown while telling the story. It went from grey to brown and as he drank the water, it went from brown to auburn. It was almost as if he had this hair his whole life and she had only noticed till today. The long strings blew against his pointed ears even though there was no draft in the building.
Impatient, she asked, “what happened to the chickens?”
“Later that day, the Cricket went to the town sheriff, he promised him an egg a week if he agreed to the plan. They shook hands and legs. And the Cricket was off to the merchant’s home. The Cricket was waiting patiently for he knew when the merchant came home. There at his door, the Cricket mentioned how a whole security plan had been developed. The merchant after a day of light selling was now skeptical of the deal he had made earlier. However, the Cricket assured him that he had the best defense alarms around. The Cricket played an awful rendition of Amazing Grace on his legs. Which the merchant despised, but had to admit there would be no one on earth who wouldn’t hear that alarm. The plan seemed solid, to the merchant, to the sheriff, to the fox, and to the cricket.
Four days went by with no chicken harmed. Yet, on the fifth day, the Cricket had unlocked the gate to the chicken pasture. Not long after, the same time as usual the merchant came walking up his road with his empty cart. As soon as the merchant was close, Amazing Grace filled the air. The merchant looked around and saw red flying through his fields. He stopped pushing his egg cart and ran to the pasture. Another was running towards the pasture, rifle in hand. The shot was loud, the sheriff kept the pelt.
The Sunday of that week, the Cricket collected his chicken and gave an egg to the Sheriff. In five months the merchant realized he had run out of all his chickens. The Cricket owned them all now.”
The employee was amazed. She had never heard a story quite like it, she wiped a tear away from her eyes and when she looked again the man was gone. Only a newspaper stuck on the obituary page, one entry noted an old man, a red haired death.
But the employee swears to this day that if someone goes to the closed down diner they’ll hear the wind softly say “A Fox should never trust a cricket.”
Biographical Note: Joseph (Manny) Heilman is a Senior at the Ohio State University, where he studies a double major of Political Science and Creative Writing. He writes nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. This is his first publication, and he is honored to be a part of this journal.