San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913

The Daily Aztec

Dancing with fireflies

The lightbulbs coughed when everything went black.

At first they weren’t sure if it was a blown fuse or a blackout, so Cheryl lifted her heavy body from the couch and balanced the weight of the dark on her shoulders. She coughed into her fist. The electricity in the house downshifted mechanically the way a motor dies.

Wade pressed “power” on the remote for the television. Nothing.

“That’s just as well,” Cheryl said. “It’s too damn hot for anything, even television.”

Outside their tiny house, the wind from the desert brought in the sounds of armadillos cracking moonlight from their backs. The fragments glowed like salt on the desert floor. Burrowing owls snapped the wooden piccolos of crickets, causing a sudden, brief hush from the chorus. A school of cicadas, once gathered on the window screens, shattered separately back into the gathering darkness. The couple listened with wide eyes until the hum faded away.

Wade looked at his wife, but in the dampness of night, he could only make out the swollen shape of her silhouette. Cheryl’s sweat almost glowed. He pushed off from his armchair and walked clumsily into the kitchen. Wade opened a familiar drawer and found, with his blind fingertips, a book of matches. He lit one.

Her nearly empty pill bottles flickered in galloping shadows against the countertop. Wade struck matches while walking down the hallway. At a cabinet tucked in a wall he found a flashlight. When he pressed its belly button it woke, sending a hazy beam of light into the house. Wade watched for a moment as motes of dust sank into the stream of light, then fell away.

“What’re you doing?” Cheryl called from the couch, her legs foreign now as she rubbed them. “Hurry up,” she said.

Wade came into the room and handed her the light. She took up the heavy baton in her hand but found it difficult to lift, so she turned it off. “We’ll make do in the dark,” she said, and shut her eyes against the nausea, shut her eyes so when she opened them again she could trick herself into believing everything had stayed in its place, believe the coffee table hadn’t suddenly moved, the books on their shelves hadn’t stacked themselves into steps like Mayan pyramids on the hardwood. She imagined walking up her own pyramid, built by her own tired hands. Not made of pillboxes, but of jade stones, tied together with the sun-painted petals of azalea.

In a way she already had braved the impossibly tall stairways. And if she had the strength to lift her hands above her shoulders, she knew she would poke the soft underbelly of God. But she could not. “Once the strength returns,” she promised herself, “I’m going to stab my fingernails into God’s stomach.” She imagined his overstuffed belly pouring life back into the flatlands, thick, green cataracts.

Cheryl took solace in being able to stand even during her sickness. So she walked to the backdoor and watched the black, empty horizon spit up new stars.

Wade opened the screen door. Cheryl balanced herself in the doorframe.

Wade walked outside. Fireflies lifted like green streamers from the grass. At the end of the house and above the flowerbeds, Wade opened the fuse box. None needed to be reset. The moon lit tall sunflowers, which slept slumped against the heat. The orchids gargled midnight dew, caught stars with open palms. Wade breathed in the scent of wet dirt and smiled.

Back in the house, Cheryl had disappeared. He found her in bed, back in their bedroom.

Wade placed his hand on her shoulder. “Cheryl,” he said, “Wake up, Cheryl.”

She opened her eyes weakly. “What? What’s wrong?”

“I want to dance, Cheryl. Let’s have a slow dance outside, while it’s still dark.” He could still smell the last laughter of summer. “Come on, Cheryl, let’s go right now.”

She didn’t move, only shifted her neck. “Are you crazy? Can’t you see I’m sick? I’m sick, Wade. I ain’t dancing nowhere. Christ,” she said, “Can’t you see I’m sick?” She kept saying.

Back in the backyard, Wade shuffled lonely steps. His arms wrapped around the blackness of memory, green lightning bugs floated in between like paper lanterns down a slow river. The stars above him streamed light. He wondered what it would be like to stand at the canvas of night, if the holes of starlight were the size of knuckles, or if they truly held the mass of lost suns, rolling in the same, tired history.

He wondered if she’d ever get better. He wondered what happened to the souls who died while fighting chemo. Then a firefly landed on his stomach.

“Cheryl?” The tiny green burn of it turned hotter and hotter, brighter and brighter. It burrowed itself deep into his stomach, and he let it. It was hot and chemical like the feeling of certainty. Pretty soon he was covered in fireflies.

Pretty soon he knew he was alone.

-Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.

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San Diego State University’s Independent Student Newspaper Since 1913
Dancing with fireflies