Creative non-fiction / September 2015 (Issue 29)

Flickering Little Lights

by Michelle Robin La

Fireflies are called flickering lights (đom đóm) in Vietnamese. As a child in the Mekong Delta, my husband saw them darting around the fruit trees and tall grass near the canals behind his house. Too scared to go into the dark alone to catch them, he got the neighbour kids to join him. The first time he grabbed one of the flickering little lights, he held it in his cupped hands, then stretched out his shirt pocket and dropped it in. He caught another and another. Fireflies glowed under the thin cloth of his shirt. Worried they'd be crushed, he opened his pocket wide and shooed them out. The next time he saw the flickering lights he brought a jar. He thought the fireflies would light the dark upstairs room where he slept with his brothers. In the morning, they were dead. After that, he'd release them into the mosquito net tented over his sleeping mat. Little lights turned on and off above him as he lay next to his brothers. He'd watch the brightest ones trace a path along the edge of the net. Some lights flickered less often. After a while, some turned off. Before he went to sleep, he lifted the net and the fireflies flew out the open window into the night.

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