Home > The Light of the Fireflies(11)

The Light of the Fireflies(11)
Paul Pen

The muffled gurgling continued.

“He’s not breathing,” said my grandmother. She shot to her feet. The chair balanced on two legs, the back resting on the wall. Grandma bit her lips, her lopsided eyebrows creased above eyes that struggled not to cry. She paced through the room’s half-light, rocking the little boy, and sang to him like she did on any other day when it was time for his nap. Then Grandma forced open the baby’s mouth and stuck two fingers inside. They disappeared up to the knuckles. When she took them out they shone with dribble.

“I don’t know what else to do,” she whispered. Then she shouted it. “I don’t know what else to do!”

She turned the little boy around. Then tipped him over. She slapped his back again and again. She shook him.

The baby was almost blue.

“I don’t know what else to do!” The light from the bulb reflected in the moisture around her eyes.

“We have to get him out of here,” my mother said. “He’s going to—”

“We won’t get there in time,” Dad cut in.

I looked toward the door that was on the other side of the room, near the table. The one that had always been unlocked. The one I’d approached for the first time many calendars ago, on the night when my family had been five years in the basement. When my hand slipped on the knob because of my own saliva, I’d grasped it again. But I hadn’t found a reason to turn it. I didn’t even try. In the basement there was my mother. And my grandmother, sister, and brother. And Dad. That night I went back to his lap, and we ate carrot soup as I swung my legs in those pajamas, the ones that have feet.

“We won’t get there in time?” Grandma’s sobbing became anger. And all of a sudden her eyes seemed dry. “Let’s find out.”

She rested the little boy against her chest, still slapping his back. She rounded the sofa, but instead of heading toward the door that was always unlocked, she walked out into the hall.

I leapt off the sofa, my feet sinking into the cushion as I propelled myself forward, excited it was me who’d come up with the final solution to the problem. I grabbed my grandmother by the elbow to stop her.

“Grandma, the door’s there,” I said as I ran across the room. “Come on, we can get out through here.”

She raised her eyebrows halfway up her forehead when she understood. My father took a step forward with an arm outstretched as if he could pick me up just by thinking about it.

I clasped the doorknob.

And I turned it.

Or I tried.

Three times.

Dad lowered his arm. He stared at me for a few seconds. Then he spoke to Grandma. “And you’re not going anywhere, either.”

“I’m not going to let this child suffocate,” she replied. Ignoring Dad’s orders, she began walking toward the bedrooms again. He followed her, driving his heels into the floor.

“You don’t even have a key to that door,” he shouted at her. “Or the one up top.”

At that moment the baby produced a long gurgle that ended in a cough.

He started to cry.

And to breathe.

My father stopped dead. From the constant volume of the baby’s crying, I figured Grandma had stopped, too.

Mom ran into the hall.

I was still gripping the doorknob. Dad had lied to me. That door had never been unlocked.

It was just another wall.

The last wall.

There was a lot of movement in the hall and bedrooms. And in the bathroom. When Dad got back to the living room he found me still holding the doorknob. I noticed a blink of surprise. “Go to your room,” he said. “Go on.”

He switched off the light, leaving me in total darkness.

I heard the door to his bedroom close.

I let go of the knob, now warm, while the shapes in the room formed around me. I made for the hall, successfully negotiating all the obstacles. Before going to my room, I paid Grandma a visit.

First I went up to the crib to check the baby’s breathing. It sounded so easy, so healthy, it was as if the choking had never happened. Then I went up to my grandmother. I shook her by what I thought was her shoulder under the blanket. She groaned. I jiggled her again. An almost undetectable trembling told me she had woken up.

But she didn’t speak.

I shook her again.

My grandmother touched me at chest height. “Oh, it’s you,” she said, recognizing me by my feel. “What is it?” she asked. She moved under the covers and spoke louder. “Is it the baby again?”

“No,” I said. “The baby’s fine.”

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted