Here is an excerpt from my latest piece of writing, a short story titled: “Summer Blossoms”.
One of my best memories from our summer in Lansing was the jar of caterpillars. There were fat caterpillars, fuzzy caterpillars, and some that looked like cross-bred bumblebees. My favorite caterpillar was black on both ends, but burnt orange in between, and as fuzzy as the ugly rug that Mama kept in the den. My real favorite was the rainbow prickly one, but that one was my sister Laura’s favorite first, so I had to find a new one. Looking back, we probably put too many in the jar, but we couldn’t agree on which to set free, so we kept them all. I watched our caterpillars every day that summer, except the day that mattered. I never saw them change. Looking back, I imagine they blossomed into beautiful butterflies, and one lazy afternoon flew away into the yellow-cracked horizon.
But the awful truth is they probably died.
It was our first time visiting Lansing, Michigan, where we’d been sentenced by our too-busy Mama to three months under the watchful eye of our grandfather. I was quickly approaching my tenth birthday, and Laura had turned fourteen earlier in the year. Neither of us was looking forward to the time with our grandfather. He wasn’t bad, but I knew immediately that he’d take some getting used to. For one, he never smiled. He was a quiet man, stooped over from years of physical labor in scorching hot fields. Mama told me that he grew up in the segregated south and worked for a white man.
“He only made pennies,” she told me.
This confused me, because Mama had described my grandfather as a man that never gave away anything for cheap. I begged Mama not to make us stay, but no matter how we protested, she wouldn’t change her mind.
“One day, you’ll look back and thank me for this time,” she said, pulling me into her arms for a goodbye squeeze.
After she turned away, I crossed my eyes behind her back and stuck out my tongue to make my sister laugh. Laura snorted, and then hid her resulting giggles in the neck of her t-shirt. We knew better. We’d never be thankful for something so miserable.
We spent most of that first day with headphones securely attached to our ears, drowning out the best parts of memory. When Mama had pulled out of our grandfather’s graveled drive, I spotted tears beginning to spill from her tired eyes. I wasn’t sure why she kept crying, but I figured it had something to do with Daddy packing his suitcase and leaving a few weeks ago. I heard Laura telling her friend they were separated, and I wondered how long that would last before he’d come back home. The night before Lansing, I heard Mama crying herself to sleep. As mad as I was about having to leave, I hated to hear her cry. Maybe Lansing wouldn’t be so bad, even if only to drown out the noise for a while.
My first night in Lansing, I lay awake listening to the noisy crickets, interrupted occasionally by a blaring train horn. Laura hated the crickets and complained to Mama when she called the next morning, but I found the tempo of their chirp soothing and familiar. Mama sent us to Lansing in hopes that we’d enjoy the simplicity of life at my grandfather’s house just as she did as a child, with acres of land to explore and new adventures to be had each day.
His house was set apart from the other houses with a vast field in the backyard, teeming with insect, plant, and even animal life. The pond behind his house was home to slippery fish and croaking frogs, along with hundreds of colorful flowers spanning the entire spectrum of the rainbow. And all of it was simply waiting for us to discover and explore. But Laura didn’t notice those kinds of things, so neither did I.
The first thing to finally catch our attention that summer was the fireflies. It was a still night, and I was lying across the front porch reading my favorite book, The Secret Garden. My sister sat on the steps, flipping through one of those grown-up magazines that she started reading the year before. A girl dressed in a bikini laughed from the cover, and the one time I snuck a peek inside I’d found a quiz titled “Are You a Secret Bitch?” I’d quickly replaced the book on my sister’s desk, figuring I’d rather not know the answer to that particular question.
That night, my grandfather sat in his rocking chair as usual, humming a song I’d never heard.
“Look,” he whispered, breaking the silence, “you girls see that?”
My sister and I both looked up from our reading material lazily. To my amazement, the entire field had set ablaze in a litany of color, erratic flames dancing a wild routine in the noiseless field. Laura went back to her reading.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Fireflies,” he breathed, “I’ve never seen so many all at once.”
It surprised me that something so small could create something so big. My palms began to itch at the thought of catching one of these amazing creatures. I needed to discover the secret of their light, capture it in the firm grasp of my hands. I ran out into the field clumsily, clasping my hands around pockets of air that had once been a firefly’s resting place. No matter how I tried, I never caught one. I threw both my arms in the air with frustration, yelling at the fireflies in my most intimidating tone. I heard a chuckle behind me, and turned to find my grandfather standing there, a broad smile planted on his cracked face. The first I’d ever seen.
“Slow down,” he told me.
He took my hands in his, and slowly led me toward a patch of light. With a silent flick of his wrist, he used my hands to enclose a firefly, just before it flew away. I opened my cupped hands and smiled at the light crawling between my thumb and forefinger. I looked back to my grandfather, but he had already begun his slow retreat back to the porch.
“Thank you,” I whispered into the breeze.
I noticed that Laura had never even looked up from her magazine, and I felt sad for her.
I love feedback, so if you’ve got some, I’d love to hear!
Thank you for reading.