James wandered through his backyard. It was damp and heavy and dark, and the grass was the color of pine trees in the cloud-gray light.
James got on his hands and knees to trek across the lightly dewed grass to a far corner. He pretended the grass was pulling at him with small arms, trying to trap him in its grasp and strangle him. He feigned exertion at dragging his palm from the ground and pulling the rest of his body along the soft lawn.
“No one would find me here if the grass were to swallow me up,” he thought.
He heaved on, applauding his own courageous cross of the ravenous backyard, pulling his limbs from its hold.
James’ black-and-white shoes darkened with water. His hands picked up smears of dirt and pieces of grass. His pants gathered dark stains around the knees, letting the cold seep into his skin. By the time he reached the far corner of his backyard, James was sweating from his efforts, speckled with the remnants of his journey. He sat in the dirt refuge next to the white barrier to his world, glad to have made it past the struggles of the hungry grass.
Something caught his attention: a small noise, almost a squeak. He looked around. There was only his vacant backyard. The noise sounded again. This time, he recognized it easily. It was the call of what must be a very tiny trumpet. Not a thing stirred in his backyard.
“It sounded so close. It must be close. It has to be here.”
James started to look around. He turned to the shrubs pushed against the fence but found nothing. The trumpet rang out again, and this time, James felt it come from behind him. He turned, only to see the rather ordinary rock that had sat in this corner for years. The rock had grown a soft, mossy exterior on its sides, blending into the rather dark-green outside.
The trumpet sounded again. There was no questioning it: The trumpet was coming from the rock. James suddenly felt quite weary, but he didn’t hesitate. With a black feeling at the pit of his stomach, James touched his hands to the rock. He felt nothing. It felt like a rock. But the trumpet blared again, so James had to investigate. He started to tip the gray mass on its side. He picked it up, looked to the underside, then froze. His eyes locked on the underbelly of the rock, green with moss, alive with movement. James felt as if his pupils were lassoed to the rock by silk strings.
On the base of the rock was a herd of grasshoppers. There were hundreds of them. Some were skittering on six legs. Others were standing erect and conversing with one another.
They would ask, “How are you today?”
“I’m perfect, thank you.”
“Beautiful weather — perfect for grasshoppers.”
“How is your sister?”
“I have to run to an appointment at 3.”
“Could I possibly borrow some sugar?”
James stared deeply for several minutes, unable to look away. But soon, the grasshoppers began to notice James. They stared at him casually in his paralysis.
“I don’t think he was ready.”
“No, it must be too soon.”
“It surely is too soon.”
One grasshopper began to dust off his legs and broke from the miniature gathering of his peers.
Another buttoned his coat. Several abandoned their posts delicately.
It became hard for James to breathe. He looked at the grasshoppers and wanted to cry but couldn’t close his eyes to do so. A grasshopper carrying a miniature trumpet crawled to the end of the rock.
“James, I suppose I have to tell you now,” the grasshopper said. It shook its small head. To James’ horror, it began to scurry from the rock up his arm. He stiffened at every touch of the grasshopper’s stick-like legs. He felt its abdomen skim his bare arm as the grasshopper darted to James’ shoulder. The grasshopper stood up on its hind legs and grasped James’ ear with tiny toothpick hands.
It took some time for the grasshopper to position himself exactly as he wanted. He pushed his trumpet against James’ skin to reach a bit higher. Finally, the grasshopper leaned in, head almost inside James’ ear.
“We used to be the size of dolphins,” the grasshopper said calmly. “We would climb mountains in our down hours.”
James’ paralysis was broken by his need to vomit. He dropped the rock and its small world. The grasshopper on his shoulder leapt to join his brethren as James stood and heaved on the grass. It burned as color after color was dredged out of him. There were blues and reds and greens and fuchsias and purples and even a few streaks of orange. Tears streamed down his face as the colors were pulled from him. Everything hurt. His throat burned. His hands shook. The dirt on his palms felt like knives testing his skin. He could feel his hair growing in that slow way that hair does, pulling his scalp. A heavy rain began to fall, and every raindrop felt like a punch. James felt himself bruising. He sobbed and heaved. As soon as he could, he began to run to his porch, throwing himself toward the doors. He burst into his home and shook quietly on the floor.
The light reflecting off the raindrops through the windows pierced his eyelids. It was so intense, he wondered if he would ever be able to bear the tiniest bit of sunlight ever again. He covered his eyes with his hands but found the vibrant pink of his shaking fingers to be nauseous.
James sat on the hardwood floor, unsure of what to do. Nothing helped. He rubbed his knees like his mother did. But he found the damp grass stains burned his fingers like ice.
That night, as he lay in bed, James struggled to breathe under the weight of his sheets but shivered with cold. It felt as though his sheets were pulling him down, scratching him with weight. Sleep wouldn’t come.
James saw grasshoppers everywhere. They would sit on his parents’ shoulders. They would hang on the pigtails of girls at his school. They would scamper across the floor when he was looking elsewhere. He would see them in the corners of his eyes.
Sometimes, James would see a swarm of them on a park bench or on the news. He’d see them tangle themselves in his pregnant teacher’s coats. He’d see them stuck in scabs from playground fights and tree falls.
For years, James watched the grasshoppers lead their busy lives, scampering among his friends and family. He grew up, and they never left. In his apartment in a dingy part of town, James watched as the grasshoppers leapt from the furniture into the air.
The grasshopper with the trumpet leapt from James’ kitchen table into his palm.
“I used to play the organ and take my daughter for horseback riding lessons. We were gods on this earth. Why don’t you understand?” demanded the grasshopper.
The grasshopper’s landing reminded James of that first raindrop that bruised him so forcefully. He no longer bruised in the rain.
The wind howled, and the building creaked. The grasshoppers stopped their waltz to look to James. He felt on the verge of the same paralysis that had taken him so many years ago. His mouth went dry.
“Do it,” said the grasshopper. “You can.”
With a deep breath, James closed his hand around the grasshopper and squeezed. He crushed the insect, trumpet and all, and closed his hand tighter. The wind blew through the chimney and howled against the window frames. The house seemed to rumble. As it came to a stop, James opened his palm. Inside were dark-green blades of grass, wet with dew and fresh.