here first. until we are there.


I didn’t like it when dad would come home from work. He was a toxicologist, and was always around these dangerous chemicals. There was always a certain smell that would accompany him home, on his coat, on his skin. My younger brother and I would guess what he had been working on that day. Yesterday was rotten eggs —– sulfur. The day before was almonds, my little brother guessed cyanide.
It was a game, whoever would be playing in the garden would kiss-smell him and we’d ask him during dinner what he’d been working on that day. The winner would get to swap chores for that evening. My little brother had to clear the table for a whole week.
One evening, I was outside counting the fireflies as they courted in bright morse code when dad came home. He bent so that I could greet him, but there was nothing on his skin, on his clothes. I sat back down on the front steps looking up at him and he just shook his head.
Dinner was in hushed tones, as if speaking too loud would spoil the food. I watched as my little brother plied my father with questions in between mouthfuls of my older sister’s rosemary chicken. He would fend them off with grunts and more servings of mashed potatoes.
I kicked my little brother into silence and we finished the meal with scrapes on our shins. My older sister gave us a whole lecture with the different muscles on her face that we didn’t even protest as we cleared the table, washed the dishes or went up to our rooms without watching some late night TV.
As I lay in bed that evening, I watched a lone firefly flicker across my room.
“Did you get to smell dad today?” My little brother asked from his bed.
“No, did you?”
“I don’t think he went to work today,” he yawned.
“ He did, he dropped us off first at school remember?”
“That doesn’t mean he went to work.”
“I don’t think dads can play hooky.” I replied.
“Sure, they can. When you’re an adult, you can do anything. Look at Claire, she left after dinner.”
I rolled my eyes in the dark.
“You think dad’s okay?” I shifted in my bed and found my brother looking out the window behind his bed.
“He’s smoking.”
He slipped back into his bed and I turned my attention back to the lightning bug.
“You think they ever run out of light?”
“Maybe they eat or drink something. Like cars. You know, we put gasoline and they run.”
“That’d be cool, one of the trees would drip sap that would make you glow,” I glanced out the window and watched my dad’s back.
“I’ll find that tree, and I’ll be glowboy.”
“But you’d be depriving one of them his supply or a whole bunch of them in fact.”
“Then we’ll have a bunch of fizzed out fireflies.”
“Don’t find that tree.”
“I’m sure someone will or has already.”
“I haven’t heard of a glowing man.”
“How would you? You don’t watch the news or read newspapers.”
“What about the fireflies without their glowjuice?”
“You’d never see them. They’d probably kill themselves. Firefly harikiri or they’d go kamikaze into a puddle of water.”
“Don’t find that tree.”
“I’m sure someone’s found it.”
“Don’t find that tree.”
The door opened and the smell of Camel Lights wafted into the room.
“Why aren’t you guys asleep?”
I quickly shut my eyes and stayed as still as possible. I didn’t even breathe. I felt a soft kiss on my forehead and inhaled the cornflake smell of my dad’s cigarettes.
“Go to sleep, sweetheart. You have school tomorrow.”
“Good night, dad.”
I opened my eyes as he shut the door.
“Don’t find that tree.”
“I’m sure someone has already,” my little brother murmured into his pillow.
The lightning bug’s soft glow lulled me to sleep as it circled our room looking for love.


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