Chapter no 20 – July 4

Where the Crawdads Sing


Dressed in the now too-short peach chiffon, Kya walked barefoot to the lagoon on July 4 and sat on the reading-log.

Cruel heat shrugged off the last wisps of fog, and a dense humidity she could barely breathe filled the air. Now and then she knelt to the lagoon and splashed cool water on her neck, all the while listening for the hum of Tate’s boat. She didn’t mind waiting; she read the books he’d given her.



The day dragged itself by minutes, the sun getting stuck in the middle. The log hardened, so she settled on the ground, her back against a tree. Finally, hungry, she rushed back to the shack for a leftover sausage and biscuit. Ate fast, afraid he would come while she quit her post.

The muggy afternoon rallied mosquitoes. No boat; no Tate. At dusk, she stood straight and still and silent as a stork, staring at the empty-quiet channel. Breathing hurt. Stepping out of the dress, she eased into the water and swam in the dark coolness, the water sliding over her skin, releasing heat from her core. She pulled from the lagoon and sat on a mossy patch of the bank, nude until she dried, until the moon slipped beneath the earth. Then, carrying her clothes, walked inside.

She waited the next day. Each hour warmed until noon, blistered after midday, throbbed past sunset. Later, the moon threw hope across the water, but that died, too. Another sunrise, another white-hot noon. Sunset again. All hope gone to neutral. Her eyes shifted listlessly, and though she listened for Tate’s boat, she was no longer coiled.

The lagoon smelled of life and death at once, an organic jumbling of promise and decay. Frogs croaked. Dully she watched fireflies scribbling across the night. She never collected lightning bugs in bottles; you learn a lot more about something when it’s not in a jar. Jodie had taught her that the female firefly flickers the light under her tail to signal to the male that she’s ready to mate.

Each species of firefly has its own language of flashes. As Kya watched, some females signed dot, dot, dot, dash, flying a zigzag dance, while others flashed dash, dash, dot in a different dance pattern. The males, of course, knew the signals of their species and flew only to those females. Then, as Jodie had put it, they rubbed their bottoms together like most things did, so they could produce young.

Suddenly Kya sat up and paid attention: one of the females had changed her code. First she flashed the proper sequence of dashes and dots, attracting a male of her species, and they mated. Then she flickered a different signal, and a male of a different species flew to her. Reading her message, the second male was convinced he’d found a willing female of his own kind and hovered above her to mate. But suddenly the female firefly reached up, grabbed him with her mouth, and ate him, chewing all six legs and both wings.



Kya watched others. The females got what they wanted—first a mate, then a meal—just by changing their signals.

Kya knew judgment had no place here. Evil was not in play, just life pulsing on, even at the expense of some of the players. Biology sees right and wrong as the same color in different light.

She waited another hour for Tate, and finally walked toward the shack.

• • •

THE NEXT MORNING, swearing at the shreds of cruel hope, she went back to the lagoon. Sitting at the water’s edge, she listened for the sound of a boat chugging down the channel or across the distant estuaries.

At noon she stood and screamed, “TATE, TATE, NO, NO.” Then dropped to her knees, her face against the mud. She felt a strong pull out from under her. A tide she knew well.

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