I always knew where to find him. He would be in suspension just out of reach, his arms outstretched and his thoughts in self-referencing feedback. From time to time, he would treasure hunt for starfish or float towards me long enough to share a transient vision, our fingertips would touch and the connection would electrify me after its absence. I stood in front of him with a firefly in my closed hand, and I could feel its wings fluttering and see the light dripping out of the tiny gaps between my fingers. I opened my hand and let the magic spill all the way out, some of it onto the floor, a little bit buzzed away and my receptive hand was still soaked with it when I made that offering. His eyes sparkled a reflection; his hand was dusted lightly from touching mine and we both saw him illuminated there.
I mistook his admiration for inspiration. I forgot that it wasn’t his idea to go look for it in the first place, and in the single-minded ecstasy I felt while it tickled my hand until he got there, I forgot that he couldn’t have known what everything that preceded flight meant. I told him about my anticipation for firefly season, about the rush of joy when I saw the first one, about the elaborate contraption I cleverly devised to catch it, and then I let my dissertation fly out from me. I was persuasive, it was compelling, and for a minute, he stayed close enough for transference, but not integration.
Later, he would still come for the fireflies, but the familiar labyrinth of his thoughts would distract him during the grand finale and he looked away during their scintillation. He stopped coming when they weren’t there and then he stopped coming when they were. He took stubborn refuge in the world where streetlights and straight paths handed down from generations obscured all firefly activity. It was safer there, there was nothing to light up and reveal him, there were no bugs to bug him, and there was no enchantment to draw him into bold appraisal of what he saw. When he thought about the fireflies now, he thought about them the way he had thought about everything until he met them. They were just something separate from him. He lost respect for them because they let themselves be captured and then they would fly away like their restraint had meant nothing. The cast of their light was blinding and disorienting. He resented them. He started paying attention again but in anger now, and on the last day of firefly season, he grabbed the last one and for a fleeting moment, considered trying his hand at spell-binding. But before he could let go, the sweat from his hand soaked its wings and when he opened, a grotesque, flailing insect lay there.
Now, the fireflies are long gone. The days are shorter; the nights are cold and the darkness prompts reminiscing of twinkling, sputtering green. I am still chasing them; I follow their dizzying spirals until they’re out of sight, and hope they pass him by up there, in safe, easy reach of both of our memories, separated by space and time.
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