Cynthia and Mia loved being outdoors. Late in the evening, after dark, the two young sisters would stroll down to the end of their sleepy cul-de-sac, quietly talking, or singing, listening to the breeze in unseen oak leaves, gazing up at the ever-changing moon. Night was a place for dim lights and deeper feeling. In the darkness they’d steal aboard the slow backyard swing to float among infinite stars. Those beautiful nights were better than any dream.
“There it is again!” said Cynthia.
The firefly had returned. It seemed to show up every night an hour after sunset. The small light zigged and bobbed above the ghostly lawn. It disappeared behind the black shed. Suddenly it appeared right in front of the two sisters, who sat motionless on the swing.
“We should try catching it,” suggested Mia.
“We could bring it inside and use it for a night light.”
“You should never catch a firefly. You’ll be cursed.”
“I don’t know.”
It remained a very great mystery–why there was always one firefly. Cynthia and Mia watched the small light flit here, there, here again, but always a shade beyond reach. Both young sisters understood that the small insect’s ballet was not arbitrary. Windblown, indecisive–but not without purpose.
The following night the two sisters walked down the cul-de-sac looking for bats. But it was getting too dark, almost a new moon.
After returning home, Mia couldn’t resist her desire. She darted into the kitchen through the screen door. A few minutes later she plunged back into the darkness clutching an empty glass jar. She showed it to Cynthia on their swing. “I’m going to catch the firefly!”
“Because I want my own lightning in a bottle!”
“But a firefly needs to be free. If you trap it you’ll kill it.”
“I punched air holes in the lid.”
“The poor thing will die.”
“I don’t care.”
Mia unscrewed the jar’s lid and sat on the swing with her sister quietly waiting. They could barely see one another. Infinite bright stars whirled above. Somewhere in the night, a lonely cat yowled. An owl hooted. The firefly appeared like magic.
For a long while the two watched the dim light swing through the air like a falling star. With a bound Mia jumped up clutching her jar and raced beside the star.
The firefly darted away.
“Almost got it!” Mia laughed.
Cynthia laughed with her.
Mia chased and veered. A metal lid clapped on glass.
“I got it! I got it!” Mia shouted.
“Quiet! You’ll wake everyone up.”
“But look! I really caught it!
Mia crossed the gray grass and quietly came up to Cynthia with the dark jar in hand. “Look!”
Trapped at the bottom of the jar was a small, indistinct shape. The sisters put their noses to the glass to see better. The captured thing looked like nothing but a plain beetle.
“Are you sure that’s the firefly?” asked Cynthia.
“I’m pretty sure.”
“Well, there. You got your lightning in a bottle. I hope that makes you happy.”
Mia carried the jar into her bedroom. The firefly was in reality just a tiny, rather plain-looking beetle. It crawled awkwardly around the bottom of the confining glass jar, its chemical light off. Mia stared at the hobbling beetle for several minutes, then placed the jar on the corner of her nightstand. She switched off the bedroom light and lay on her back in bed. Her eyes were on the jar. The room was pitch black.
Mia waited. Her eyes focused on the exact spot where the jar should be. She anticipated, hoped, held her breath, waiting, waiting. She wished for a star. She yearned for a rising star. A star of her own. But why would anything happen? It was merely a dull beetle.
Out of the darkness a soft light appeared before her. It grew slowly brighter, slowly brighter, filling the room. The light intensified, enveloped her, blazed and shimmered, lifted her into a dazzling universe of infinite stars.
The alarm clock jolted her from the dream.
Sunlight streamed through the bedroom window. Mia sat up and looked at the jar on the nightstand. The beetle was dead.
Mia stared at the dead thing.
Somehow she stopped her flood of tears when she finally joined Cynthia for breakfast. Mother as usual was drunk and said nothing. The two young sisters headed out into the glaring daylight and trapped themselves in the school bus.
. . .
“I told you you’d kill it,” chided Cynthia.
The two sat motionless on their swing in the darkest of nights. A cold night with no moon and no firefly. They sat outside anyway. Alone in blackness was better than nothing.
“I told you,” insisted Cynthia, “but you wouldn’t listen. Why did you have to catch it? Why did you have to kill it? Now our one and only firefly is gone. There’s nothing left. You murdered it.”
“Stop it! Shut up!”
The two sat motionless on the swing, like twin dead planets in that cold, black night. They didn’t see the bright stars. They didn’t look up.
Cynthia broke the silence. “Now that our one firefly is dead, what’s the point in sitting out here? I’m starting to freeze. Let’s go back inside.”
“I don’t want to go inside,” protested Mia, thinking of their abusive mother.
“But there’s no longer any reason to be here.”
“I don’t care.”
The two sisters had nothing more to say. Each young girl had reached a dead end. Inside and outside, nothing was possible but the suffocating emptiness. There was no place left in the world for either to go.
Two hearts had died.
They sat like gravestones into the night.
A new moon night.
Suddenly, in the emptiness, a ghost light appeared. A light flitted in space before the two sisters.
A firefly zigged and bobbed in front of astonished eyes.
Mia caught her breath. “Look! I don’t believe it! There’s another one!”
The tiny light had appeared from nowhere.
A new firefly bobbed and danced, twirled and weaved, like living magic suddenly risen from a well of utter blackness. Where it came from, neither girl understood. Where on Earth had it come from?
The firefly was a spark from an unseen fire, moving mysteriously, from silence to silence, from heart to heart.
Cynthia turned on the swing to face Mia. “That was terrible what I said to you. I promise I will never hurt you again.”
“I’m sorry, too,” replied Mia. “I’m sorry I was selfish.”
The new firefly danced: simply, brightly, joyfully.
In two hearts, new life.