Home > The Light of the Fireflies(5)

The Light of the Fireflies(5)
Paul Pen

“Since when are you allowed to come out of your room so early?” my father cut in. “Do you know what a scare you gave your mother and grandmother with your sister screaming?” Dad was pointing a finger at me. “She thought someone had stolen the child.”

I kept quiet, ashamed. My brother tried to hold in his laughter, but it heehawed out through his nose.

The frying pan banged against the kitchen sink. My mother appeared with a plate full of fried eggs. She always said they had to stay in the pan until a black line surrounded the white. That was why there was a burning smell. With her free hand she straightened the tablecloth. As she maneuvered, some hot oil dripped from the plate and fell on her fingers, beside old scars. I peered at the seven bright orange yolks.

“I wasn’t screaming because of that,” said my sister. “Who would steal him from me?”

“The Cricket Man!” I replied.

“Be quiet,” my father said.

“Who would steal him from me?” she repeated. Then she took a deep breath, and her nose made a bubbling sound. “The One Up There?”

My sister looked at Dad.

“I screamed because I can’t wake up,” she added.

The baby cried in the bedroom.

“You see?” she continued, keeping her plastic mask pointing down to the floor. “He’s still here. I can’t wake up.”

My brother’s chair shot out from under him when, without warning, he stood up and began to make his way around the table toward my sister. His stomps made little concentric waves in my cup of milk. My father held out an arm to block his path, a waist-high barrier.

“Leave it,” he said. My brother grunted. “What did you mean by that?” he asked my sister.

She didn’t respond, just sniffed. My father’s hand shot from the table to her artificial face. He forced her to look up, grabbing her by the chin. My sister looked at me first. I could see her eyes behind the orthopedic material.

“This is a nightmare,” she said.

My grandmother bowed her head. She slid her hand along the table until it rested on my mother’s. She squeezed.

“You should have thought it through better,” my father said. With a jerk he made my sister look toward the hall. “Whether you like it or not, that thing that’s crying is your son.”

My sister swallowed. The swollen veins on each side of her neck made it seem thicker. She stayed in that position until my father loosened his grip, and she let her head fall. I didn’t think she would say anything else, but then she replied: “Only mine?”

“That’s enough,” Grandma interrupted.

The hand that Dad had sent flying toward my sister again stopped in midair.

“Join hands.”

My grandmother held hers out, one on each side. Mom took her right hand, my sister her left. The rest of us did the same. When we’d formed the circle, Grandma, as she always did, gave thanks.

“We thank the One Up There for allowing us to eat each day.”

She kissed the crucifix on the rosary she wore round her neck.

Mom cleared the dishes after breakfast. She tipped one of them into the trash so that a whole egg slid off it. When she took up position by the kitchen sink, I went over to her.

“If you didn’t break them”—I pointed at the box of eggs that was still open on the countertop—“could a chick hatch from one of them?”

Mom lowered her gaze, looking for mine.

“A chick?”

She smiled from above, her left eye closing against her will. I hugged her waist, resting my cheek on her belly.

Dad laughed when he heard my question. He was the only one left sitting at the table. He was reading and passing the key that hung from his neck between his fingers. He put down his book, stood up, took an egg from the carton, and went down on one knee. He held the egg between his face and mine with three fingers.

“Let go of your mother.” He pulled me away. Then he lifted one of my hands and made me reach out. “Let’s see what’s inside.”

Dad laid the egg in my palm and closed my fingers around it. I was certain I was going to feel the chick’s heart beating through the shell. That a crack would open and lots of yellow feathers would appear between my fingers. My father closed his hand around mine. He began to apply pressure. I tried to pull away, but he kept squeezing. I couldn’t stop it. The pressure was too much, and the egg cracked open. The sticky liquid seeped out between my fingers and Dad’s. He shook it off his hand, splashing me in the face.

“You don’t want to bring anyone else into this house,” he said. “And anyway, nothing can hatch from the eggs we eat. They’re not fertilized.”

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