Ladybugs

   The heat of the day lingers. It is night. To let in a breeze should one blow, I opened all the windows that open, opened them as wide as I could open them. Ladybugs fly in and bounce against the white ceiling. The walls of the room are tangerine and glow warmly in the light of my reading lamp.

   My younger son comes in the room to tell me that he found a ladybug on the game table in the other room where he plays. He is still five years old, and visits me on weekends with his older brother since his mother left me almost two years ago. He is in turns startled by the ladybugs bouncing on the ceiling, and fascinated by another crawling near us on a book on my shelf, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Some moths flit about too.

   "They won't hurt you," I tell him.

   "I just don't like bugs to crawl on me," he replies.

   He cranes his neck to look up at the ladybugs on the ceiling. He is quiet but alert, pensive, and obviously tired. Eventually he says, "I think they like our house. What if they take over the house?"

   I briefly imagine ladybugs in thick clusters swarming on and covering the walls of the house like they do on the grasses in Redwood Park during breeding season. I wonder if that time is now, and how many of these bugs are drifting about in the evening air outside.

   "They won't," I reassure him. "They don't like our house that much. I think these ladybugs are just confused."

   I am saddened by the thought of the ladybugs trapped inside, lured to this sterile place away from a night of lovemaking in the Lilly Pilly trees outside or where ever else most of them are congregating. I pick up a clean jelly jar and a door card left by a solicitor earlier in the day. Patiently I trap the ladybugs one by one in the jar against a tangerine wall or the white ceiling, slipping the door card over the mouth of the jar. And one by one I release them out the window. For a moment no ladybugs bounce against the ceiling, but then one returns, and then another. I put the jelly jar down on the window sill and sit myself back down next to my son.

   He is wilting in the heat and asks for another glass of water. I fetch it for him. He takes a sip. He informs me, "I want cold water." Then he directs me, "Put it in the freezer." We have done this once before. I put the glass of water in the freezer, and we wait awhile together quietly. I hold him and he lays his head on my shoulder staring at the freezer. I am only wearing my underwear. He's wearing his undies and a tie dyed t-shirt he made in pre-school. After a wait, we retrieve the glass, and he takes a drink. He smiles with delight when he tastes the cold water and then drinks it all down with a look of seriousness in his red-brown eyes.

   After he is done drinking the water he puts the glass down like a gunfighter in a bar in a western, and exclaims, "Aaaaah!" just as I once taught him. Then he wanders off to the tangerine room and the mattress on the floor where the two boys sleep.

   "I want you to be with me, papa," he says trying to pull me with him into bed.

   "I will give you kisses," I say bargaining with him.

   In moments he falls asleep. I kiss his forehead and his cheek and tell him that I love him, but he is inexplicably already asleep. His brother is next to him reading Pokemon manga. I ask him if I can kiss him too.

   "Fine!" he says with a surly tone. He is nine.

   I kiss him too, he on the side of the head, and tell him that I love him, and he almost imperceptibly leans into the kiss while reading his manga.

   I return to the futon by the reading lamp by the open window, and listen to the rapid chirruping cadence of the crickets outside. The white noise of the freeway drones underneath like the ocean. Periodically a BART train adds its sound to the chorus like a larger, slower wave passing in the distance, ripples of cricketsong dancing on its surface.

   "Do you hear the crickets?" I ask my older son.

   He does not respond.

   "When you were little and could not sleep, I would tell you to listen to them."

   "It is so hot," he complains.

   "Come over by the window with me. It is cooler here, and sometimes you can feel a breeze."

   He joins me with his manga for awhile but never quite gets comfortable. The heat is bothering him. He tries various positions, returning eventually to the communal mattress that the two boys share, and crashes out perpendicular to the direction he should be sleeping. His little brother has managed to arrange himself the same way while asleep. On the ceiling three ladybugs crawl about. A few moths stick to the walls like bits of leaf.

   Although the ladybugs trapped inside saddened me earlier, I am now content. I had done my part when I released them outside. I tell myself that they chose to come back inside. I do not know if they are the same ones, but it does not matter. I am happy.

   I love the hot weather in September when the fog no longer shelters the cities near the mouth of San Francisco Bay. My mother called this time of year Indian Summer. I look outside and the moon is a little yellow and a little brown as if toasted which feels appropriate and familiar for this time of year. There must be a fire somewhere.

   I feel energized by the heat and the night. The bugs appear to respond similarly, but I do not recall so many ladybugs when I was my boys' age, growing up in the same neighborhood, although a different house, and a different street. So much has changed that the anomaly of me living in my old neighborhood highlights how much everything has changed. The magnitude of this heat if not its presence is unusual, just as Hurricane Harvey is which flooded Houston this past week, dumping more water than is contained in Lake Superior. India and Bangladesh have also suffered catastrophic floods this monsoon season. Here the newcomers and the old folk complain of the heat as if it was as bad as the floods elsewhere, but I enjoyed it. After weeks of working in gardens high in the hills of Berkeley and Oakland in mist and beneath the drip of the fog, this late summer heat is welcome and familiar like the return of an imaginary childhood friend even if he has changed as my memory of him has changed over the years. I still have enough water to drink so for now I feel energized.

   I will look for more ladybugs tomorrow. Perhaps they like the heat. I will also go to the ocean, Rodeo Beach, and splash the salt water on my face. I miss the sea. One of my most favorite places to spend my time, and it has been two years since I last played at a beach. I hope the boys are up for it.