That’s me coming up for air after countless days of non-stop editing. Project Liberatio went to beta readers last night, so I find myself in the strange position of creating words instead of picking at them and molding them into something presentable.
It feels kinda weird.
Anyway, I figured my return jaunt into creating word babies should start with a short story. This one comes courtesy of Chuck Wendig and is simple: pick one of five listed story seeds (click his name to see them all). I chose #5: an impossible animal appears.
The seed reminded me of a Facebook friend’s post a couple of nights ago about seeing fireflies in her yard. Like me, she lives in Colorado, but she lives even farther north than I do. We don’t get fireflies. I’ve only ever seen them in the south. Another friend commented that she blames global swarming.
See how I prattle on when I’m not editing and get to talk to people? This is like Christmas.
So, on to the story! Let’s see how this goes.
I clutch my coffee cup in both hands, absorbing the warmth radiating from the ceramic. Normally, I would reserve such behavior for a chilly winter night, and this June night isn’t a cold one – at least not from the outside.
The screen door creaks as I push it open. Stepping onto the deck, I watch my daughter skip through the grass in the waning daylight. She grabs at imaginary bugs, catching and releasing them, over and over.
“Mommy, look!” She holds up her balled hands, where’s she’s captured an invisible playmate.
I smile, holding my cup against my chest. “That’s nice, sweetie.”
Laughing, she opens her hands and moves on to her next victim.
I head towards the fire pit, where my husband tends the flames. He stands over the stone circle, shifting the burning logs with a poker and stepping out of the smoke’s path.
After I give him a quick kiss, I claim the most stable lawn chair surrounding the pit.
“What’s with the sweater?” He sets the poker down and puts another log on the fire. “Are you sick?”
“No.” I gaze into my cup. “Just . . . sad, you know?”
“Yeah.” He bends down and kisses me on the forehead. “It was a nice service.”
I nod. “He would have liked it.” A shiver moves through me, and I take another sip.
Grandpa passed away last week, after a long battle with cancer. Though his body was riddled with disease, he never lost his joyful spirit – much like the one I see in my young daughter, skipping through the now-dark yard.
“Daddy!” She hold up her hands again. “I need a jar!”
“Do you?” He raises his eyebrows at me. “Is this something we should encourage?”
Sitting back, I admire the huge smile on her face. “Sure. It’s not hurting anything. Let her have her fun.”
He retreats into the house and returns with a large mason jar. Opening it for her, he lets her put the imaginary bug inside and slaps the lid back on. “Did we get it?”
She laughs. “Yeah! Look!” She holds up the empty jar for him to admire. “Help me get more.” After shoving the jar into his hands, she bounds across the grass.
Her play reminds me of Grandpa, how we would capture fireflies in a jar when we visited him in Louisiana every summer. After dinner, we’d collect our jars and head outside. My sister and I had to see who would catch the most. Grandpa watched from the porch, pointing us in the direction of the biggest swarms.
My heart warms at the memory.
But we don’t get fireflies here. Never have. Catching fireflies was an occasional treat, one that my daughter has never experienced.
So it’s strange she knows how to imitate the act so well.
Standing, I watch her more intently: catch the bug, put it in the jar. Catch, jar. If the bugs were more than imaginary, the jar would glow like a Chinese lantern by now.
My daughter’s voice comes from the corner of the yard. “Okay! I see them.” She hops towards the trees and focuses on their base.
I set my cup on the bricks and stroll towards her, stopping at my husband. Taking the jar, I send him back to tend the fire. I kneel on the grass as my girl tracks the bugs.
“Got it!” She laughs and bounds towards me.
“Sweetie, what are you doing?”
“Catching fireflies!” She puts the bug in the jar and jumps away, back to her spot by the trees. “Aren’t they pretty?”
“They are.” I scan the dark, firefly-free yard. “How do you know about fireflies? Did your teacher read a book to you?”
“Nope! Papa’s showing me.” She bends over with her hands open, ready for the catch. “Look how many we have!” She points to the jar. “He tells me where to find them.”
Have I told her about catching fireflies with Grandpa? I must have. Or…
For a moment, I allow myself to believe he’s here and helping her collect the insects, an experience I had only wished she could have. An odd sense of peace fills me. I set down the jar and take off my sweater.
Humoring my daughter, I hold up the jar and look into it. Something catches my eye: a small glow.
It bounces around inside, then gets bigger. Before long, other glows join it, and I find myself holding a jar full of fireflies. The light shines on my shirt.
My heart nearly stops when I look up. My daughter is standing in the middle of a firefly swarm, clasping her hands. She rushes over to me, and I open the jar. Her new friend joins the others.
Instead of returning to the trees, she says, “Okay” and heads for the fence, where a new swarm has developed.
“Who are you talking to?”
A lump forms in my throat. “Can you see him?”
“No.” She crouches over the swarm, her face lit by the bugs.
Standing, I look into the neighboring yards. They are all as dark as they should be. Ours is the only one with bioluminescent visitors.
She can hear him, but can he hear me? I clutch the jar to my chest, and into the night, I say, “Thank you.”
I hear an answer, not with my ears, but with my spirit. “There’s a swarm by the fence. Do you see it?”