Home > The Light of the Fireflies(8)

The Light of the Fireflies(8)
Paul Pen

But it was Mom who spoke.

“Goodness, son, what’s the matter? Are you sick?”

I opened my eyes as my mother bent over to take hold of my wrist. When I was up, I turned my head toward the bed.

Dad wasn’t there.

Or by the wardrobe on the right-hand wall. Or near the washing machine. He was nowhere in the room. I held out the egg to show my mother.

“No, Mom, it’s not me, it’s—”

She put a hand over my mouth, and with the other she covered the egg. I tried to speak but instead I just sucked on the skin of her hand. Rough and irregular. It tasted like my cactus pot. Of earth.

She pushed my hands farther down to hide the egg.

“If you’re sick, go and tell Grandma. She’ll know what to give you. Dad’s going to be really angry when he finds out you came in here when the door was locked.” She led me back into the hall, keeping her hand on my mouth at all times. “And you know I’m going to have to tell him.”

Unable to speak, I motioned with my hands to get my mother’s attention. She turned her uneven eyes to the egg for just a second.

“Your grandmother will know what to give you,” she repeated.

She pushed me out of the room.

In the hall, she took her hand off my mouth.

“It’s the chi—” I started to say, but Mom shut me up again.

“Your grandmother,” she said. She tilted her head to signal her room. “Don’t go to the living room, your father will be there.”

I wrinkled my nose. I’d just been in the living room.

My mother closed the door in my face.

She turned the key.

I opened Grandma’s bedroom door by turning the handle with my chin. The egg was throbbing in my hands like a warm heart. Or like a giant saturniid chrysalis, the one where you can see the insect’s blood pumping inside.

The light was on in the room. My grandmother was sitting on her bed with her back against the wall, her lifeless eyes on the child, who slept locked in the prison of shadows cast on him by the bars of the crib. In another bed, my sister slept with her sheet up to her forehead. On the bedside table lay the white form of the mask.

“The light’s on,” I told my grandmother.

She turned her head to me as if she hadn’t heard me come in.

“I know. Leave it,” she said. “It’s for him. And keep your voice down.”

She gestured in the direction of the baby’s crib.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered. “I could hear you running all over the house. Did you go into your father’s room?”

“The door opened accidentally,” I explained. “But Dad wasn’t in there.”

I went over to Grandma’s bed. She always smelled of talcum powder. Sometimes when she put it on she left white patches on her face or clothes.

“It’s going to hatch,” I told her.

I took one of her wrinkly hands and made her touch the egg. Since the fire, my grandmother could only see with her fingers.

“It’s your egg,” she said when she stroked the shell. She lowered her voice even more to add, “Your mother told me about it.”

“It’s going to hatch,” I repeated.

My grandmother frowned. One of her eyebrows had less hair than the other. There were parts of the scar where the hair hadn’t grown back again. It had disappeared forever with the fire, like her vision had.

“Hatch? An unfertilized egg?” She lifted her upper lip. “What exactly has your mom said to you?”

“She said to keep it warm. That’s how they hatch. Dad killed one and Mom gave me this one. And just now it moved. Look, touch it. The chick’s going to come out.”

Her face smoothed out as much as the furrows that had been sculpted by the flames and by time allowed.

“Oh, of course, that’s right,” she said. “Come on, give it here.”

She pulled her bed covers down to her knees. I sat in front of her, crossed my legs, gave her the egg, and rested my chin on my interlocked hands. Grandma held the egg against her ear. She put a finger to her lips to signal that I should be quiet.

“I hear it,” she said a few seconds later.

She held the egg near my face. I guided her movement to position it against my ear.

“Can you hear it?”

I couldn’t hear anything.

“Can you hear it chirping?” she insisted.

Then I heard it. Chirping. A very faint tweeting, through the shell.

“Yes, yes, I can hear it!” I cried.

My grandmother shushed me.

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