Home > The Light of the Fireflies(7)

The Light of the Fireflies(7)
Paul Pen

I tuned in again to see if there was any reply. There wasn’t, so I closed the drawer, leaving it open a slit so I could hear the chick tweeting if it decided to hatch overnight.

I put the book back in the cabinet and picked up the cactus. Two green balls covered in prickles surviving in a little pot. It appeared one day among the pile of things the One Up There sent us. Like the wood that Dad built the baby’s crib with. Or the carrots that Mom used to make her soup for dinner. While this cactus is OK, we’ll be OK. We must be strong like a cactus, my grandmother said when she gave it to me.

I left the bedroom. My brother was still whistling.

I lay facedown in the living room, my chin resting on my hands, one above the other. I positioned the cactus in the patch of light. A little cloud of dust danced among its prickles. As the light traveled along the floor, I pushed the pot with my finger to follow its course and keep the sunbeams on the cactus. If my brother could travel to Oz on a path as mysterious as the depths of his own unfocused gaze, I could imagine I was one of the cowboys from the Westerns that Dad watched.

I spent the whole day on the floor, walking through the desert among cactuses.


It was some time before the egg moved. “Keep it warm,” Mom had said. And I had kept it warm. Now the creature was ready to be born. What Dad had said about unfertilized eggs must’ve been a lie.

That evening when I saw the egg in a different position from where I’d left it in the morning, I had to gulp back my urge to scream with excitement, because only Mom and I knew it was there. The fact that my brother had seen me put it in the drawer didn’t mean he’d remember it five minutes later. I put my hands to my mouth and looked around, not knowing what to do.

A feeling of paternal responsibility made me act quickly. I carefully picked up the egg and held it to my belly button. The shell was warmer than usual. I felt the chick’s heart beating through it. I ran to find Mom to get her to help with the hatching.

There was nobody in the living room. I swiveled around to scan the whole room. There was no one in the bathroom, either, so I went to my parents’ room. Their door was metal and it didn’t have a handle like the rest of the doors. From outside it could only be opened with a key that Mom and Dad hung from their necks. My father didn’t want us to go near his room, but I was so excited by the egg and the chick inside that I banged on the door several times with my forehead to get Mom’s attention.

“Go to your room,” she shouted from inside.

“Mom, it’s important,” I said to the crack in the locked door. “It’s going to—” Before I finished the sentence I realized Dad would be in there, too, so I swallowed my words. “I need you to come out.”

“Not now,” she said. “I can’t right now.”

“Please,” I insisted.

I pictured the helpless chick hatching in front of me, and me not knowing what to do. Mom had dealt with my sister giving birth, an emergency, and this was an emergency, too. I pleaded with her with my whole face jammed into the corner of the doorframe. Slobbering on the metal. Dad didn’t like it when I cried. And I knew he was about to start shouting at me from in there at any moment.

There was a short silence, then I heard my mother’s steps as she came to the door. I suppose she wanted to open it a crack to see what the matter was, not knowing I was pushing against it. As soon as she turned the key, the door gave way under my weight. Mom couldn’t hold it. I rolled forward, unable to hold out my arms to stop my fall as I attempted to shield the egg from harm. In a rapid succession of images I saw the ceiling of the room, the washing machine in one corner, the floor, my mother’s face, my mother’s feet, and a door closing. I ended up lying on my back at the foot of my parents’ bed, my hands still held against my belly.

Mom looked me in the face. Then she noticed my hands. The eye that she still controlled opened in an expression of understanding. The folds of burned flesh that surrounded the other one barely moved. Just then she glanced somewhere to the right of the bed.

At Dad. Who would now ask me what I was hiding. And he’d see the egg. And he’d put it in my hand. Wrap it in his. And squeeze. Until the shell broke and a load of slime poured through my fingers. Only now it wouldn’t be slime that came from the egg, but a body, with bones and feathers. It wouldn’t leave a puddle on the floor that Mom could clean up with ammonia, but would hit the ground with a hollow sound. Because it would be the dead body of the chick I was waiting for, which I still had in my hands, all warm. I closed my eyes waiting to hear Dad’s voice.

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