At night when she exhales, fireflies burst forth, yellow fireworks against the nighted sky. She covers her mouth, surprised, terrified, a tear and trip of emotions, as one more flits forward, hovering in front of her eyes until it sweeps away.
From the house, her husband calls her name. She doesn’t want to answer. Things haven’t been easy. They have nothing, jobs, a breath gone, him, a trigger of frustration and loss.
At first, she was afraid of them. Of what they were, of where they came, of what they might mean. She didn’t know why it was happening, didn’t want to waste money on a doctor who might not be able to tell her anything at all. Even worse, might want to run more expensive tests. Like her friend Diane who got cancer and lost her house. There’s no mercy in this world. Online, she’d read about weird stuff like this. She searches the internet while he naps on the green couch, across the large-screen tv a black and white line of monstrous bugs crawls through the desert. She finds nothing.
During the day, when she breathes, it’s normal although, after it had first begun, she feared every exhale. She took measured breaths in an attempt to control them; it changed nothing. When it gets dark, the fireflies leave from her, staggered times, sometimes one, sometimes many, often none at all. She sits in the dark of the back yard, her husband inside, months of staring lifelessly at the tv. They have no children. She feels it and opens her mouth, a yellow flash shooting out. He bellows. She shrinks back, ignoring it. Later, she tells him she’d fallen asleep in the moonlight.
She begins to anticipate it, impatient for the night, the day a wall to climb. While she sits in the backyard, the moon a curved stick, a pale remnant, she waits, away from a weak yellow bulb burning a hole in the space around the back deck, thinking of them, begging them to fly. One by one they flutter out, brushing the night.
When she creeps late into the house, the tv a commercial, her husband, a snore. She goes to bed and sleeps dreamless sleep and wakes up, already anticipating that evening. Her husband doesn’t pay attention, his face obscured behind his dirtied coffee cup, lost in his own bad dreams. Never does he ask about the burgeoning nights that she doesn’t return.
The crickets swell in the full light of the moon while she hides in the back of the yard, lost in the trees at the edge. Her fireflies sail through the sky, twinkling like steampunk ships. Tonight, she can’t seem to stop them: a consistent flow that fills their back yard. She hears something clank and sits up, unsure of what it is, probably their widower neighbor tinkering in his garage. She leans back and another firefly appears. Her husband walks up behind her, both of them watching the firefly linger on her lips before it joins its companions.
This is her gift. Hers alone. She doesn’t want to share it with anyone. She never wants it taken away.
“I saw the yard,” he says, “it’s lit up like at summer. Like when we were kids.”
She nods and another firefly slips its head from between her lips, leaping into the air. She watches her husband as he watches it. He sinks down beside her, into the grass, the blades wetting his legs.
He looks at her and she smiles. He places his head on her knee, gazing up. His face, younger in the dark, like when they’d met almost ten years ago, a kid again watching the stars. The fireflies burst forth, a sparkler so bright they both have to close their eyes.
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including South Dakota Review, Fiction International, and Mississippi Review, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.