Home > The Light of the Fireflies(9)

The Light of the Fireflies(9)
Paul Pen

“It’s about to hatch,” I added under my breath.

My grandmother nodded. She put the egg under her pillow.

“Now you have to close your eyes,” she said.

“Close my eyes?”

“They don’t hatch if they know someone’s looking.”

She put the palms of her hands on my eyelids. For a moment we sat in complete silence.

“It’s here,” she said.

She removed her hands but turned to the pillow in such a way that, for a few seconds, I couldn’t see what she was doing anymore. When she turned back she had her hands cupped.

“See it?” she asked.

I examined her hands with surprise. They appeared empty.

“Can’t you see it?” she insisted.

At first I didn’t see anything.

“Look,” she added, “it’s here.”

Then I saw it. A bright yellow chick. Feathers like cotton. And chirping so loudly I thought it would wake up the baby.

My grandmother smiled at me as she cradled the chick. Then she put it on her shoulder. The chick perched there, picking at locks of white hair, as if its first meal was in among them. My grandmother laughed and shrugged her shoulders. It was tickling her.

“See it?” she asked.

I nodded, speechless with excitement.

“See it?” she repeated, unable to see my head move.

“Of course,” I now said, so she could hear me. “It’s just as I imagined it would be. All yellow.”

My grandmother took the chick from her shoulder in one hand. The bird’s head poked out between her fingers, looking all around. It wouldn’t stop tweeting.

“Hold out your hands properly,” she said.

I did, and moved them toward hers until I brushed against them. The chick leapt. I felt its claws dig into my palms and its down brush my fingers. I held it to my face.

“I’ve been waiting for you for two rows,” I told it. In the basement there was a calendar stuck to a wall in the main room, near the bike. The boxes were the days, the rows were weeks. When all the boxes had crosses in them, Dad tore off the sheet. And that was a month. The whole calendar wasn’t changed very often, but when it was, a year had gone by. Years also went by when we made a cake for one of us. My family looked at the calendar often. To me all that mattered was whether it was day or night, and for that I had the patch of sun. “I saved you from being fried in the pan,” I added.

My grandmother laughed.

That was when my father shouted.

He shouted my name.

My grandma’s bedroom door burst open. So hard the handle hit the wall and dented it.

I stood up with my hands behind my back, hiding the chick.

I saw one of my sister’s arms come out from under the sheets. She grabbed hold of the mask and put it on with barely a movement.

The baby began to cry.

“Did you go into my room when the door was locked?” Dad asked.

“It was an accident.”

I looked at Grandma as if she could back up my story, but she said nothing.

“Come here,” my father said.

I hesitated.

“Now!”

I walked forward until I stood in front of him.

“What have you got behind you?” he asked.

“Nothing.”

I could still feel the chick’s claws and feathers between my fingers.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing’?” said Dad.

Before I could react, he grabbed me by a shoulder. His hand went down my arm like an aphid toward the elbow. And then to my wrist, behind my back. When he got hold of my hand, he forced me to show it to him.

I closed my eyes, as though it would make the chick disappear.

But the hand was empty.

“Show me the other one,” he ordered. “Come on.”

Slowly I held out my other hand. There was nothing there, either.

Not a trace of the chick.

I was as surprised as my father.

“Explain to me why you went into my room,” he said. He put his open hand on my forehead. “Your mother says you’re sick.”

I didn’t know what to say.

I observed Dad’s hair scar. His nostrils opened and closed in time with his noisy breathing.

“Are you?” he asked. “Are you sick?”

I remained silent. All I could think about was where the chick had gone.

“It’s nothing,” my grandmother cut in. “He’s got a bit of fever, but not much. We won’t need anything.”

My father touched my forehead again.

“I’m going to explain to you now what a lock is,” he said.

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