by Devin Murphy

When my father was eight years old, his father told him that fireflies were carrying off the soul of his mother piece by piece. They were on the front steps of their farmhouse looking over their wide, full fields of barley, sugar beets, and tulips. The twitch and blink of the illuminated bugs floated everywhere like a shattered lightning bolt flung loose on the breeze. There had been a flu epidemic and his father told him he would never see her again, but the good part of her, the part that really mattered, would surround him until the bugs no longer glowed. Hans spent his evenings on the porch after that saying goodbye to his mother until the first early snow that fall. Then he went crying to his father, saying that the last of her was gone.

“Nonsense,” his father said. “You just can’t see them because everything else is white. We’ll have to wait until next spring for this snow to go away to see if she’s still with us.”

And in the late spring, with the first shimmer of that subtle green light above the layered darkness surrounding their home, that desolate feeling of an empty winter melted off his heart. In the growing light he saw his mother had not yet left him. The fireflies were still working on her brimming soul. They took years to nibble away at it, and for years he knew that in the space between their brightness was something of her they had not yet found.

Devin Murphy’s recent work appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, The Michigan Quarterly Review, The Missouri Review, Shenandoah and The Shoutheast Review as well as over 40 other literary journals and anthologies. He’s also been a winner of The Atlantic Monthly’s 2009 and 2010 Student Writing Contests. He holds an MFA from Colorado State University, a Creative Writing PhD from the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and is currently an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Bradley University. He lives in Palatine, Illinois, but says this story was inspired by a visit to the South.

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