by Nicole Sharp
Fireflies blink on and off in the overgrown Spanish moss trees outside my bedroom window. My brother used to tell me that if I ever got lost, all I had to do was find the fireflies that winked and blinked in the long green hair of my trees. He told me that the fireflies would be my own personal beacons of home.
When I was younger. When I sat on the front porch with my grandmother who told stories of her childhood. When my skin stayed sticky in the height of the summer months. When I had faith in my widowed father who liked to bring his dates home. When life was a perfect blend of all these things, I had faith in my fireflies.
Daddy’s found a wife since then, since I was younger. Actually, he found himself three wives since then. They were all the same. They loved him at first, smiled at him in the mornings over the kitchen table. With grandma sitting next to me, her head bowed in prayer, I watched the looks between my daddy and his new wives. They loved him at first. They would smile, unashamed about the night noises that banged and screamed from daddy’s room. Daddy used to stare at the red lipstick painted on his new wife and lick his lips like he could taste it.
“Amen,” Grandma would say. We’d all eat biscuits and gravy and grits with a lake of melted butter in the middle.
When grandma died we’d eat Captain Crunch or peanut butter toast or leftovers for breakfast. Grandma never taught me how to cook. I go to the grocery store and don’t know what to buy. The shiny wrappers look more appealing than the stacks of earth tones in the produce section. I buy the shiny packages. No one complains. But most of the time I miss steamy grits with a lake of butter and heavenly biscuits.
Doreen, who laughed like a frightened bird, was daddy’s first wife. After mama, so I guess Doreen was really daddy’s second wife. Carla, who chain smoked cigarettes in her bathrobe while sitting in the kitchen, was his third wife. Tammi, with an ‘i’, who rearranged the living room furniture every afternoon, was his fourth wife. I didn’t like any of them. What they thought of me I didn’t much care. We passed each other like strangers on a street.
Daddy spends most of his nights back at the bars now, looking for a fifth wife. I sometimes wish he’d bring home one that could cook grits the right way.
Somewhere in between the second wife and the third wife, grandma died. We put her in the back yard in a pine box daddy and my brother built. We could have buried her in the cemetery, but that wasn’t how my people did things. That’s what daddy said at least. We buried her next to my favorite dog that was killed when my brother was learning to drive the pick-up and my mama who died bringing me into the world.
A preacher came out and said a few prayers over grandma’s box. He held out his hand to daddy, to console him, to shake like a man, but daddy just grunted and walked away. I took the big hand instead. The preacher gave me a sad smile and I regretted putting my hand in his. I pulled my hand away and he asked me if I’d be okay, nodding toward our house. Nodding toward the screen door that was slamming with daddy’s anger. I didn’t answer, just turned and walked away. I wanted him to hear me slam the screen door closed too.
Soon after grandma the muggy swampy heat of the summer brought Tammi who rearranged the furniture. It also pushed at my brother who announced one night that he found Jesus and was going to become a preacher man.
Daddy just stared at him, the night he made the announcement. Daddy shook his head. I looked between them and didn’t know what to do, so I bit my lip and looked out the window at my fireflies. We stood in our silent triangle for years, weeks, moments. I looked out at my fireflies winking at me in secret codes I didn’t understand. My brother moved to leave and our triangle shattered.
Three days later, wife number four stood at the front door and looked at the furniture that had been rearranged so much I no longer knew where it had started. She sighed and told my father she was leaving. He muted the TV from the chair she was sitting on and nodded his head. I thought maybe he’d say something, but he just turned the volume back up then. She looked at me then, into my eyes and smiled. Then she asked daddy why he always forgot he had a daughter.
I didn’t feel forgotten. I had the house with the graves of the people I loved, I had my own room. I had quiet nights when daddy left to look for a new wife. I had my fireflies. I didn’t mind being invisible to him. I knew it was better than being as visible as Sally. Her daddy saw her all the time and reminded her of her existence every chance he got. Sally always talked about leaving while she hid the newest bruises on her face with her hair.
I’ll leave one day too, I suppose.
That’s what daddy said one morning when I stared at the back of the glossy Fruit Loops box. You’ll leave and go away and marry a man or get a job and move to a bigger city.
I thought about that for a long time.
Does it bother you? I asked.
He shook his head.
I didn’t think so. He had more important things to worry about, he needed a woman with red lips to sit across from him in the mornings.
But you can always come back here, this is your home. Not much of one, but it’s yours. You’ll want to come back and visit one day, he announced.
I thought then, I might leave. And if I got lost I could always look for my twinkling fireflies.
I was gone the day daddy brought home his fifth wife. I never knew what she did.
is a fiction writer.
She swigs coffee the way a dehydrated sailor with scurvy would whiskey. The writing of Arrested Development gave her faith in humanity once again. She is a purveyor of the perfect Italian Cappuccino and world travel. And after all these years of writing, she’s pretty sure she’s just trying to write one good sentence.