“It got dark real slow and then real fast at the end, the way it always did, even in the summer, like daylight realized it had to be somewhere right away. Somewhere else.”
-From “Origin Story,” Get in Trouble: stories by Kelly Link
The wind had died down, she noticed, and the water was so smooth now, it was as if a maid had come in to make the bed, stretching out the sheets with flat precision.
“Did you ever notice how fireflies rise up when they glow?” she asked, scooting a little closer to him and pointing at one, though by the time her finger extended the rising had ceased and the bug’s light had already dimmed.
“Oh yeah. We always called them lightning bugs.”
“We did, too, sometimes. That’s one of those things. I don’t think I ever made my my mind to pick just one.”
“So what is it, you think? Like a mating call, probably.”
“It’s the male signaling to the female. And if she doesn’t flash back the right pattern, he won’t fly to her. There are all different signals, flashing patterns. There are 2,000 kinds of fireflies.”
“No way. That’s crazy.”
“That’s what I read somewhere. They’re beetles. This one kind imitates the flash of another species or whatever to attract the males, and then they eat them. Femme fatale fireflies.”
“Huh. You never hear about male bugs eating the females, do you?”
She knew he was kidding. It’s not like male humans were so harmless. She wanted to lean in and kiss him on the cheek, breathe in his scent, but he was still too far away. So she poked him in the side just under the ribs. He folded a little in surpise.
“We used to count them, the flashes. And when you reached 100 you could make a wish,” he said, searching for her eyes in the dark. “I usually lost count though. ADHD. What did you used to wish for when you made wishes?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think I believed they would come true.”
“Oh come on. When you were little?”
“I don’t remember. I didn’t want things like that, to be rich or famous or a princess or anything. I just wanted friends. Not to be ugly. Maybe some clothes that didn’t come from the bargain basement of Hess’s. I wanted my Mom to be happy.”
“You didn’t want to go to outer space or live in a castle or ride a unicorn or something?”
“Are you kidding? No. I didn’t believe in fantasy. That’s what books were for. I could tell the difference.”
“So what do you want now? If you were going to make a wish?”
“I can’t answer that.”
“Just pick something. You wanna go to Paris? You want a theater, don’t you? Wish for that.”
“It’s silly. I’ve spent most of my life trying not to think about what I want. It’s not like I’m ever going to get it.”
She untied the knot of hair from the top of her head and let it fall down over her neck and across her shoulders, combing through it with her fingers. She should have brought her sweatshirt down her to the dock. She forgot how cold it got here when the sun went down.
“You’re so dramatic.” She could hear his smirk.
“You’re so patronizing,” she countered.
“Don’t get mad. It’ll be a long weekend if you’re mad at me. I think it’s cute.”
“What could you possibly want so bad that you can’t have? That it would hurt you to dream?”
“I don’t know.” She did not want to get annoyed. “What’s wrong with this moment right here, right now?”
“Nothing. This is great.”
“This lake was always my favorite place in the world. At least that’s what I used to say if anyone asked. My happiest memories were here. Not doing much of anything – digging in the dirt making clay pots, taking walks and picking berries, swimming for hours – just floating out there on my back in the middle of the lake. Waking up before everyone else and watching the mist slowly retreat as the sun rose higher. Reading old pulpy paperbacks that someone left behind in the ’60s. I love it here. And now you are here with me. We are here. What else could I possibly ever want again for the rest of my life? It just doesn’t matter.”
“OK.” He took her hand but didn’t say anything else.
“Do you remember when we went to Manhattan that first time and we didn’t do anything?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“No. We walked around Central Park. And ate from that food cart outside the Natural History Musuem. But we didn’t go inside. You kept asking me what I wanted to do, but it didn’t matter. I said, whatever you wanted. Because I didn’t want to pay attention to art or exhibits or whatever. I just wanted to be there with you. Walking next to you, catching your eye as often as I could without staring. I didn’t want to learn about history. There was still so much I didn’t know about you. But I didn’t know how to act. I guess I was nervous. But it was like a nervous excitement. I couldn’t think. I just needed you to tell me what to do.”
He gave her hand a light squeeze. “And then I started to feel sick. I shouldn’t have eaten that hot dog.”
“And so we just got tea and went home. And I was happy. Just to be there. We drove into that unbelievable sunset. I can’t picture it. I wish I could remember better. I just remember it was amazing, like we only get a few sunsets like that and that was one of them.”
“I wouldn’t have picked that day- I mean, I wouldn’t have dreamed it. But it happened in the quirky unimaginable way that life happens and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
“Like this moment now, here in the dark by the lake,” he said, releasing her hand and slapping a mosquito on his arm as if for emphasis or punctuation. “We should go back before it gets even darker. I should have brought a flashlight.”
He stood and reached down for her. She gathered her skirt in her left hand and accepted his help. She could barely see his face.
“I’ll go first,” she said. “Stay close.”
She stepped carefully like they did on those sunrise hikes at camp, knowing the dock was straight and there was nothing to trip over, as long as they took their time. They would reach the grassy field and then the campsite where they might light a fire. Or was he tired? They could just climb inside the sleeping bags they had left zipped open inside the tent like a twin-size and call it a day.
“This is a really great moment, too.” she agreed. “Except I did dream this one. Well, something sort of just like this.”