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Ellie’s Fireflies
By Callie Wise

Even now, after 71 years, I can still see the look of wonder on her face as I handed over the Mason jar with the little lights dancing around inside. She held the jar up in the fading light of that humid Alabama evening, her sun kissed cheeks occasionally glowing as the bugs lit up.

Ellie was only twelve. I had just turned thirteen a few months before. I didn’t know what would happen next would change everything.

“These are beautiful, Martha. Thank you.”

I smiled big and proud. It always made me feel good when Ellie was happy, but I played it off with a shrug. “It’s just some silly bugs.”

Her face turned serious suddenly. I had learned hard that she didn’t like it when I talked down to myself or put down the things I did.

“But they’re from you and I love them,” Ellie stated with finality. Then before I could budge, she leaned over and kissed me on the lips, before jumping to her feet. She started to run off with the jar tucked under her arm. Then she stopped and ran back to me, handing over the jar.

“I forgot. I can’t take these in the house. Mama will wonder where I got ‘em ‘cause I didn’t leave with no jar.” Ellie’s words always got a little loose when she got excited.

With a flash of a smile, she was off again. I watched through the trees as she neared the house, her tiny body silhouetted against the glow of the porch lights.

With a sigh, I twisted the top of the Mason jar off. One by one the small bugs escaped their prison, seemingly to light up more at the realization of being free. Once they were all gone, I covered the jar again and stood up. My walk home was harder as I kept well behind the tree line to avoid being seen by Ellie’s dad. He was a fairly decent man, but it made me nervous the way he sat on that porch at night with a shotgun across his legs. I’m sure if he took a shot at me his excuse would be that he thought it was that wolf pack menacing his chickens.

Eventually, I made it home. It was pretty dark on the outside, but the soft glow of a lantern was visible through the windows. One of the windows was open and as I passed underneath it, I could smell the tangy sweetness of my mama’s barbeque pork. I hurried the last few feet to the door and flung it open happily.

“Marty Bee, where you been, girl?” My mama stood by the fireplace with one hand on her hip and the other stirring the pot of barbeque as it bubbled over the fire.

“Just catchin’ fireflies, Mama.” I held up the empty jar as proof.

She huffed at me disbelievingly but turned back to the pot to remove it from the fire. “How many times I gotta tell you though? Don’t go walkin’ ‘round after dark. You know that man can’t see you when it gets dark. He libel to go off and shoot ya.”

“I know, Mama. I’m sorry.” I walked over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and for a brief moment, I felt a little weird and guilty about it because it made me think of Ellie and how I’d lied to my mama.

“Alright,” she muttered, lifting the heavy iron pot and carrying it to the small table a few feet away. “Go clean up and wake up your father, but do it gently. I think that new fella gave him a whippin.”

I was almost to the washroom when that last comment stopped me in my tracks. “For what?” I asked. The anger was obvious in my voice though I tried hard not to show it.

“I honestly don’t know, child. And you know he hates to talk about it so don’t go askin’,” she said as she waved her spoon at me, telling me in her own language to get moving.

When I made my way into the bathroom, I set the jar on the windowsill, the ascending moon’s light refracted by the carved design in the jar. Looking out into the darkness of the night, I could see millions of fireflies dancing happily oblivious to their short existence, and at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to be one of them.
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