By Kat Gonso
When Billy asked his mother, Lydia, to buy crickets she said yes. He wanted to teach them to fight. He was ten and Lydia had been spoiling him ever since his father had left with one suitcase. She surrendered to Billy's expensive videogame requests. They drank strawberry milkshakes until their stomachs ached.
At Pet Paradise Clover, a thirty-something with dreadlocks, said Billy needed at least 50 crickets to create a sustainable community. He needed a lamp and an egg carton so the crickets could hide from one another. Escapes were inevitable and the chirping would wake them in the middle of the night. Clover told them to feed the crickets tiny pieces of apple.
"Really small pieces," he emphasized. "You don't want them to choke."
On the way home Billy sat in the backseat with the tank on his lap. He whispered to the crickets. He told them not to eat each other. He told them they would be good, strong fighters.
Billy was too small. Next year he would start middle school and be relentlessly teased and it would break Lydia's heart. But college would be different, Lydia told herself, because some girls would start to come around and appreciate boys with glasses and brains, boys that would one day make the big money in engineering or IT.
Billy and his friend Hunter watched online videos about cricket fighting. They searched “cricket blood sport.” They took two crickets from the aquarium and carefully placed them in the metal bucket that his father had once used to hold Coronas during cookouts. They told the crickets to fight fight fight.
"That one will win," Billy said, pointing. "He's massive. He's the one."
They crouched over the bucket, watching the crickets flit back and forth. When they wouldn't fight, Hunter suggested spraying them with the hose. Billy looked like he might cry.
"Dad could have made them fight."
"Probably," Lydia said, leaning on the doorframe of Billy’s room.
By the end of the week the boys had grown tired of the crickets. Many had disappeared. Many had died. They wouldn't fight. Lydia returned to Pet Paradise and asked Clover if she should set them free in the yard. She wanted to know if they could survive on their own.
He suggested bringing home a frog. Circle of life and all that, he said. Billy wasn't as excited about the frog as Lydia had hoped. When she told him he could pick the name, he waved her away, turning back to his videogame.
That night, she placed the frog's small tank in the kitchen on a shelf. She carefully rearranged the potted plants to make room. Overnight, the crickets vanished. They didn't see it happen.
Kat Gonso's stories have been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Newfound, American Literary Review, Corium, River Styx, and various other journals and anthologies. She was the 2013 winner of The Southeast Review's World's Best Short-Short Story Contest. She teaches writing at Northeastern University, where she is also the Director of First-Year Writing.