The day was barely there, full of mist and humidity, full of future ghosts that posed as inaccessible emotions. “Grab a few toys,” his mother said, “and put them in this. She handed him his father’s canvas duffel bag.
“That’s Dad’s,” he protested.
“Do as I say,” she said. “We’re going to visit your grandmother for a while.” He did what he was told, but thought it was all a bit unusual. His grandma only lived a few miles away, and they had never spent the night there. He did love visiting her, though; she had her own yard, unlike the small apartment that he and his parents lived in.
They had been at his grandma’s house for three days, and he had not seen his dad, which he thought was a little strange, but dared not mention it. His mother had been crying a lot, and when you’re young, it’s best to avoid what you don’t understand. When the sun set, he was looking for fireflies in the crooks of the backyard fence. The weathered splinters peeled back from the planks like barbs on a wire. He welcomed the coolness of the summer evening as the sun set. It was a drastic change from the sticky humidity of the afternoon.
“Put this on,” His mother said and handed him his red windbreaker.
“But I’m not cold,” he said; his skin still radiating warmth from the sun-filled afternoon. She gave him a look, and without words, he took the jacket and put it on, but he pushed up the sleeves up as high as he could and refused to zip it, even when a chill pass through his core. He ran around the yard hunting down fireflies, following them until they would land. Then he would scoop them off their landing pad and hold them in his hand.
“Mom…” he called.
“Does grandma have something that I can put these in?” he asked, holding his hand out, showing her the firefly walking across his palm.
“I just sat down,” she said as she leaned over the lawn chair and picked up her wine, taking a sip. “Do you really have to put them in a jar?”
“I wanna to see if I can make a lightbulb,” he said.
“God didn’t make them to be kept in a jar. He made them to fly around and exercise their wings and light the word up and make people happy. Do you really want to put all of that in a jar?” she asked.
“Yes…” he said. “I’ll let them go before I go inside.”
She focused her brown eyes on him and stared into his eyes for what felt like forever and then disappeared inside. She emerged a few minutes later with a green-tinted mason jar, saran wrap, and a rubber band. “When you catch them, drop them in here, put the plastic over the lid, and then put a rubber band over the top so they can’t get out.”
“But how will they breathe?” he asked.
“Grab me that little stick over there,” she said. He did as he was told. She pulled the wrap tight over the lid and poked holes in it with the stick. “There you go. That ought to keep everything alive until bedtime.”
“Thanks,” he said. He took the container and ran back to the fence. He dropped the fireflies into the jar and smiled as they lit the green-blue glass from the inside out. As he was running around in the shadows, collecting lighting bugs, his mother’s phone rang. “I’ll be right back,” she said and ducked inside with the phone to her ear.
He sat on the edge of the patio and took the saran wrap off the jar. He stuck his hand inside and fireflies landed on him. They tickled. He jerked his hand from the jar, and a few fireflies flew away, but a few remained. He watched as they walked across his palm, opened their wings, and flew away. One remained, and it began lighting up rapidly, and he thought he could feel warmth radiating from the glow he held in his hand. He reached for the firefly with his forefinger and thumb and lifted it from his palm.
He flipped it over and examined where the glow was coming from. He took his fingernail and scraped the glow part of the bug from its exoskeleton. To his great delight, his finger, which now had the bug’s abdomen on it, was glowing. He ran around the yard, collecting firefly after firefly, and when he had enough, he began scraping the glowing abdomens from each bug, collecting them on the tips of his fingers.
His mother came back outside with a full glass of wine and wrestled with the stubborn sliding glass door. she eventually had to put her wine down to close it with both hands. When it was closed, she grabbed her glass and sat down on the lawn chair. He was so absorbed in the magic he thought he had found that he didn’t notice her return and jumped when she spoke to him.
“What are you so into over there, little man?” she asked. He turned and showed her his glowing fingers. “What is that?” she asked. “How did you do that?”
“It’s the fireflies’ glow,” he said.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“It’s from the fireflies,” he said wiggling his fingers in the air.
“Come over here. Let me see,” she said. He walked over and showed her his shining fingers; the fireflies’ glow wedged underneath his fingernails. “How did you do this?” she asked. He shrugged and pulled his hands back. “Did you scrape this from the fireflies?” she asked. He didn’t say anything and hid his hands behind his back. “You killed all of these fireflies?” she asked, looking at the exoskeletons scattered about. She pulled his hands from behind his back. He didn’t answer her. She shook his hands in front of his face. “You killed all of these fireflies.”
She let go of both of his hands at once. He looked at her, waiting for something more, but that was it. She reached down for her wine, and just before she put the glass to her lips, she said, “You’re just like your father.” He thought he saw a tear rolling down her cheek, but all the light was gone from the backyard, and he couldn’t be sure.
“Is that bad?” he asked, watching her eyes for truth.
“No, honey,” she said. “That’s not bad.” He saw something change in her eyes. She reached for him and pulled he onto her lap. She shook his hands, trying to get the light off, and then she wrapped her arms around him and rested her chin on the top of his head.
Jason Fisk lives and writes in the suburbs of Chicago. He has worked in a psychiatric unit, labored in a cabinet factory, and mixed cement for a bricklayer. He was born in Ohio, raised in Minnesota, and has spent the last few decades in the Chicago area.