Capturing the Light

The bottoms of my feet were thick with calluses, grown from a steady practice of barefoot running through the wilderness of summer. Even still, they could not protect me from the thick, sharp blades of dying grass that sliced my soles to ribbons. I had learned that complaining would end my outdoor freedom; I would be forced to go indoors to put on shoes and socks, or worse, begin the arduous process of cleaning off layers of dirt, sweat, and pure joy. So instead, I continued to run.

We all did, knowing that as long as we didn’t draw attention to ourselves, this twilight could last for hours more. Our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, sat in a large circle, in aluminum chairs, holding aluminum cans. If we moved quickly enough, we could take the last sip before they tossed their empties into the trash barrel, hearing the satisfying clink that became more muffled with each can.

We went out to the field, where we played ball in the daylight, and spun in circles as the sun gave up and melted over the trees. Arms stretched out, faces towards the sky, we became a circle of circles, each spinning in our own orbit until we began to stumble, and then fell, like tiny dervishes on our backs. The universe tilted, and even as we grabbed the hand of the fallen child beside us, we still clenched a fistful of grass, holding onto the edge of the earth. We feared that Columbus was mistaken; we could easily slip from the edge into the velvet abyss of darkness that oozed out from the woods.

We lay there as the sky shifted back and forth behind our eyelids, while each star popped through the navy blue fabric, passing his flame to the next star, until they all appeared, waiting to be admired.

Balance eventually regained, we stood hesitantly, taking note of how the world had changed since our fall. The sky had widened, the trees had grown taller, and the field had suddenly become alive with the winking lights of fire flies.

We called them lightning bugs, convinced that they contained tiny fragments of lightning that had once struck the earth and become trapped in their bellies. They contained a magic that we wanted for ourselves, so we became the hunters, and they became our prey. They lit the sky one at a time, taunting us, blinking furiously, and vanishing when our hot hands grew too near.

We ran towards one, missing his brother, and turned back to find them both gone. We laughed and chased one another instead, until there were more lights than children, and our pursuit continued.

I ran with hands cupped until I caught it; a distracted flash, watching the dance of her fellows, and falling into my trap. I kept her tightly in the hollow of my hands, peeking through my laced fingers to be sure she had not escaped. I approached the Ball jar quickly, rubbing her from my palm into the wide mouth, the stale smell of last year’s sauerkraut leaking into the air. My widened palm laid flat over the top, then was quickly traded for a metal top that I had earlier prepared, holes punched through with a rusty nail. Then I watched. I had harnessed her power and tamed it, so that I could enjoy her light as my own.

Later, when it was at last noticed that twilight had given up and become the darkest night, I took the jar with me to bed. My sheets were stiff from being dried with the same fresh air that I breathed in with each gust of laughter that day. My hot cheeks rested next to the eyelet, and my eyes strained to stay open. With each blink of my eyes, she blinked her light, and as I faded away, so did she, into her own endless summer. When I awoke, crisp sheets now damp from the air that was already humid, she was gone, her performance over after only one night on stage.

That evening, when I went to the field, a spinning circle within a circle of children, all of us altering our perception of the universe, I thought of her, unmoving in the bottom of a Ball jar, dark and silent on my nightstand. When the chase began that night, as it did every night of every summer for every year of my childhood, I stood still. I cupped my hands to catch her brother and held him tight in the hollow of my hands. I brought my laced fingers to my lips and kissed them, solemnly as a prayer, and let him fly away.