Put your hands around like you’re holding the world, you said. You’d always joke that if I squeezed too hard, the glowing juice of the fireflies would stain my hands and mark my softly-lit shame for weeks.
I was happy to believe you. With your pool-wet hair draped over my arms, it was easy to forget that I was the only one of us terrified of bugs, or that the fickle lights always seemed to fade as soon as you thought you had them. Twinkling softly round the giant oak tree in your yard, fireflies had a funny way of becoming something more than their usual yucky selves, and hearing your laughter tinkling after me in the dark, I was happy to chase after those never-warming, ever-receding lights with you. Drunk on the smell of your mother’s gardenia, it’s funny that I can’t remember ever catching any, only how their dance forever out of reach mesmerized me. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Between those moments running into trees swiping at lights and screaming at each other for two guys named Marco and Polo whom we didn’t know, I no longer feared the dark, or bugs, or leaping into the unknown.
Never mind that your oak tree doesn’t seem quite so big anymore, or that that was the last time all five of us met. Never mind that one by one, your faces all seemed to vanish from my life like the fleeting light of the fireflies. Because incredibly, inexplicably, years and arguments and countless school moves later, your voices still echo as high and sweet in my memory as always—and the sight of a firefly never fails to bring me a smile.
Jessica Lao (17) is a senior and Writing Fellow at the Westminster Schools of Atlanta. Her work has appeared in Rising Phoenix Review, Menacing Hedge, and After the Pause, and her art will be exhibited in Paris, Beijing, New York, Rio de Janeiro, and Nairobi in the coming year. Jessica has always loved the power of words to transform and to illuminate, and she hopes to pursue a future in literary criticism or nonprofit management.