Fireflies and Mosquitoes
Long, lazy summer night at Grandma and Aunt Florence’s house on Bostic Creek, 1958, maybe 1959. We sit on the front porch—never screened, just a broad platform of weathered boards with steps down, wide enough for sitting and leaning back—Florence, Uncle Norman, Aunt Selma, and me. Fireflies begin to swarm in the lingering northern twilight. It all feels magical. It always does out here in the woods, by the water, with just the wind in the trees and the whippoorwills who never get tired of singing the same song. Even then at 8 or 9 years old, I understand that it is different for the adults. Pleasant but not magical. Or maybe—I think now—they just didn’t have the words for it. I would be happy just to sit here forever, listening, watching the fireflies blink on and off like little flying stars. But not my Uncle Norman, who is never quite settled, especially when it’s quiet. His mind jumps like a June bug. You never know where it will land. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s like tickling that won’t stop. Tonight it’s the mosquitoes. One alights on his arm. He doesn’t brush it off. He lets it sit there. Watch this, he says. The mosquito feeds and feeds. Before our eyes its tiny blood bag inflates as it sucks away at my Uncle Norman’s arm. It wobbles, suddenly obese, but still unable to stop. Until finally gravity takes over, and its enormous belly rolls off the arm, carrying it to the porch boards, where it lands—splat!—and bursts like a paint ball. That’s how you teach them! My uncle, triumphant, holds up his bloody arm. Oh, Norman, says Aunt Selma, the older sister. The fireflies continue, undeterred.