Holly crouched low by the bushes near the porch clutching the jar she’d taken from her mother’s cupboard. Even from this distance, she could hear her mom washing supper’s dishes through the kitchen’s open back door. Darkness had just taken hold of the summer evening with just a hint of quickly fading daylight. Holly shivered slightly but whether from the slight chill brought on by the deepening night or anticipation of her adventure — and that is how she thought of this, an adventure! — she couldn’t say.
At eight and a half Holly didn’t care overly much for the everyday. Summer was a glorious freedom from the drudgery of going to school, piano lessons, homework and chores. Well, she still had chores but even those she could turn into something fun when she had nothing else to do. And there were so many adventures to be had. Like tonight.
If her brother possessed half the spirit that Holly did, he’d be out here with her. But no, he’d rather stay inside on this warm July evening playing video games, going on pretend adventures. Although she couldn’t put voice to the way that made her feel, she just knew that her heart wanted something else. Something real.
Sucking in a deep breath, Holly realized that night had now fallen, and darkness surrounded her like a blanket fort. A sudden sting on her bare arm made her jerk despite knowing she wasn’t the only creature in these bushes. She tried not to make any noise as she swatted at the mosquitos. If Mom heard, she’d turn on the backyard lights and ruin everything.
Holly switched hands holding the jar because it was sweaty and warm making her scared she’d drop the glass container. Nervously, she unscrewed the lid which promptly fell into the surrounding foliage, buried among the pachysandra and azalea bushes. Holly held her breath while she felt around for the lid and almost lost her balance in the doing. Finally, her hand landed on the metal, still warm from her hand, and she let out the breath she’d been holding in a puff. She grasped it to her chest and made herself calm down.
That was when she saw the first glint. Its existence so brief that she wondered if it had been there at all. But then another glow winked on and off and Holly knew it was no imagining on her part. She stared in wonder as the darkness started to light up with the ephemeral beauty of fireflies’ soft flares. Their mating calls transforming her backyard into an alien landscape full of strange patterns of light.
Holly slowly rose from her crouch feeling less like a predator and more like Alice in Wonderland — now there was a girl who had adventures! Moving cautiously into the open yard, she looked around noting how many more fireflies surrounded her. She stole a quick glance toward the porch. Mom had apparently finished the dishes and Holly couldn’t hear her anymore. She hoped Mom wouldn’t figure out where she’d gone and call her in just yet.
Holding the jar out with an extended hand, Holly tried to scoop up one of the glowing insects. Darkness had dulled her senses and she just couldn’t seem to react fast enough to catch one. She danced around the yard, following one flash of light after another yet still her jar remained empty. Frustrated and disappointed with herself, Holly stomped her foot and grumbled only to realize how loud it sounded in the quiet of the night.
As if by magic she felt the teasing brush of an insect crawling along her arm. Peering down without really being able to see, suddenly her skin glowed with the light of the firefly resting on it. Carefully, she covered the bug with her jar and shook her arm downward. Once it dropped into the bottom of the jar with a brief blink of phosphorescence, Holly quickly screwed the lid on top and held it up to her face. She stared in wonder as the firefly continued to flare in the darkness likely unaware of its trap.
The sound of her mother’s footsteps in the kitchen reminded Holly that she should be helping with the cleaning up. She turned and ran up the porch steps, flung open the backdoor with a bang and burst into the kitchen to her mother’s surprised face.
“Was that a herd of elephants running onto our porch?” her mother admonished.
“Mom! Look, I caught a firefly!” Holly blurted out breathlessly. She held the jar up to her mother’s wide eyes.
Mom peered at the caged insect. “Is this one of my canning jars?”
“Yeah,” Holly cringed, “but I needed something I could see through.”
Her mother’s face was unmoved, “The poor thing is going to suffocate if you keep it in there and I won’t appreciate you poking holes in my good equipment.”
Holly wandered outside and sat down on the porch steps feeling the unforgiving boards beneath her. The porchlight’s feeble glow was just enough to see her captive. The little thing was crawling up the side of the jar trying to find a way out. She imagined his frustration and maybe even fear. Staring into the jar she suddenly felt sad. Poor firefly!
So carefully she unscrewed the lid, place the jar on the ground in front of her and watched the bug quietly crawl out of the container, hesitate at the rim and then take flight. And just before it passed into the darkness, out of Holly’s sight, it emitted one last flare of light and was gone.
Elizabeth Seip is a longtime employee of a Route 1-based business and says the piece above reminds her of her own childhood summers.