I tried talking to my mother. There had to be a way out of this. “I don’t want him to come over tomorrow,” I said. “I was going to go play with Clara next door again.”
My mother frowned. “I thought I told you you weren’t going over there again. Not after what they let happen to your hand.”
I held up my hand for inspection. It was still wrapped in the gauze, and I began to take it off. “No, it’s all better now, see? Ms. Cleary fixed it.” It had improved in the little time since Ms. Cleary had taken out the heartstone. The swelling had gone down significantly, and while it was still slightly pink, it no longer looked infected or abnormally discolored.
My mother leaned down to look at it. “Hmm,” she said. “It isn’t swollen anymore, that’s good. Keep the bandage on honey.” She wrapped the gauze back around my hand. “I’m sorry, but I refuse to believe that a dirty leaf helped it more than standard first-aid. It’s only better now because I took that gross thing off, so you’re welcome.”
I thought about just taking my chances, and telling her everything that had really happened then, but I remembered what Ms. Cleary had told me, and knew that she was right, and trusted in her. My mother would not believe me. She, like almost all of the adults I knew, was certain that she already understood everything about the world, and was incapable of having her foundations shaken, especially by a little boy, and most especially when that little boy was her own son.
“And what do we say, when someone does something nice for us, even if we don’t appreciate it?”
“Thank you,” I said.
She nodded. “And that’s exactly what you’ll say to your Uncle Martin tomorrow. He’s taking the rest of the week off from work. Just so he can help you build your treehouse. That’s how nice he is being to you, so you make sure and thank him.”
“Okay,” I said. “I will.” I would not. I would not thank him, not ever, because I knew that the thing that was coming over tomorrow would not be my uncle. And I would not let him in, when he came, and he would be stuck outside all day, where he could never come inside to get me.
“You’d better be. And I don’t want to hear any stories from him about you being naughty. You two had such a good time together today, I’m sure you’ll have even more fun tomorrow.”
“Can I go play outside, please?” I asked, It was only eight o’clock, and it was still light out. The sun wouldn’t go down until sometime after nine. Considering how nice my mother was trying to be to me that night, I was near-certain that I could get away with staying up a little past my bedtime, so long as I stopped arguing with her.
She smiled at me. “Of course you can,” she said. “That’s what summer nights are for, go get some fresh air.”
I went out the back screen door in the kitchen, and into the backyard. Ours was about the same size as Ms. Cleary’s, but enclosed by a metal, chain-link fence half as tall. Between the two fences was a narrow strip of grass that ran into the hedge in the front.
The yard felt both larger and smaller than Ms. Cleary’s garden. There was more space to roam around, enough room for a swingset or vegetable patch if we wanted, but there was nothing in it now. Only bare grass with a few trees scattered about, in a perfect rectangle of a yard. I could see everything that was in it, and that was what made it seem small, and boring. Over the high wooden fence next door I could see the tips of flowers and plants and trees, and I remembered what it was like in that garden. The tangle of wildlife was like being in a jungle, you couldn’t see the borders of the fence, and it seemed like it could just go on forever. That was what I really wanted to play and explore in.
Instead, I walked along the edge of our fence, kicking at dirt and looking out across to other yards. We had one tree, a smallish maple, that looked good for climbing. I went over to it and hoisted myself up and onto the first branch, shoes scraping against the bark. The evening air was cooling, and pleasantly warm, and I climbed into the middle of the tree, where many branches sprouted from, and joined into one. I sat there, and picked at leaves and tiny branches, until the fireflies came out.
I loved catching fireflies. It was my favorite outdoor summer activity. While I was still sitting in the tree, one flew over, and landed on my arm. I watched it crawl along, moving toward my hand, and remained perfectly still, so as not to disturb it.
The firefly’s wings were black, and closed to resemble a shell like a beetle’s, with a thin yellow stripe running down the middle. Its head was red, and it had long antennae, that twitched and probed as it inched forward. It wasn’t lit up, the butt a pale yellow. I wondered what made them shine, had seen children at school smashing them with shoes, scraping neon green smears across the pavement, but I didn’t want to have to kill them to find out.
I cupped a hand over the firefly, and trapped him in a closed fist. Then, I jumped down from the tree and went back inside, found a glass mason jar, and plopped the insect in. That was one. I looked out at the yard again, and saw flickering yellow bulbs, blinking in hesitant rhythm.
The chase was on.
I left the mason jar in the grass, and was running around in the yard like a maniac, arms flailing, trying to grab as many fireflies as I could at once. I knew this was not the best strategy to go about, but it was how I always began. It was like a ritual dance. This was how they were meant to be chased. The wind tore through my hair, and there was not a thing on my mind except the swarm of lightning bugs all around me, and it was good.
I ran out of steam shortly, and slowed to a walk, panting in the night air, which now felt warmer for all the running about. Then I went about with the easy way to catch them. I walked slowly around the yard, in the general vicinity of a cluster of them, and I let them come to me. Fireflies were friendly and trusting, far too trusting for little boys, who either wanted to squash them across the ground or in their fingers, or trap them in jars and keep personal nightlights until they all died. I was one of the latter, but felt no shame because of it. In my mind, this is what fireflies were made for, though I tried not to let mine die.
I managed to grab three or four of them, before the others became suspicious and flew away, and I went over to my mason jar. I had to be careful not to let the one that was already in there out, blocking it from leaving with the same hand that ushered the new ones in.
I caught eight more fireflies before my mother called for me to come back inside. It was getting darker now, and the sun was low in the sky, threatening to dip down below the horizon in just a matter of minutes. I put the last couple lightning bugs in the mason jar, closed the lid tight, and brought it with me inside. I showed it to my mother.
“Very nice,” she said. “Are they going to keep you company tonight?”
I nodded, and went down the hall to my room, and placed the glowing mason jar on my nightstand. Then I went through the normal, not yet monotonous routine of getting ready for bed, putting on my pajamas, and brushing my teeth, and making sure to go to the bathroom so that I would not wake up in the middle of the night.
That night was hot. My mother had mentioned that a heat wave was coming on, and that it would only get hotter as the week wore on. She came in my room to tuck me in bed, and when she left she turned off the light and set the overhead fan on, so that it blew around the hot air, creating a nice breeze, so that it was no longer like another blanket that I could not escape from. I lay in bed with only a thin sheet covering me. Both the sheet and my pillow were cool on my body and head.
I turned onto my side, and faced the my makeshift nightlight. The light from the jar pulsed and glowed, and flickered as the thirteen fireflies I had captured fluttered about, some trying to escape and pushing against the glass, others crawling along the side or bottom of the jar, lights extinguished.
I knew that tomorrow I would have to deal with larger problems and scary situations. I knew that my imposter uncle would be coming over, and that he would try to come into my home and do whatever it is that boggarts did to people. Whatever it was, I did not want to find out. But I trusted Ms. Cleary and Clara, and I remembered everything that they told me.
But right then, while I lay watching the fireflies in my jar and my eyelids drooped, I didn’t much care about the troubles that tomorrow would bring. I let myself forget about such things, and worried my mind with only the things that any other boy my age would be worrying about while watching fireflies in a jar.
I wondered if my fireflies would live throughout the night, and I hoped that I would wake up in time to let them safely out again.