The Shape of Us: 04 Fireflies

His cousin Angela said catching fireflies was stupid and cruel and no one would want to live in a jar anyway. Taylor decided it was really Angela who was stupid. He made a face of great effort as he used his father’s screwdriver to push airholes through the jar’s lid. He had at least agreed not to be cruel. His aunt’s backyard flickered with the tiny lanterns and he was determined to take a jarful into his bedroom tonight and watch them glow until he fell asleep.

Hi mother and father sat smoking and talking with his aunt and her friends, all happy and enjoying what his mother called the ‘evening pick up.’ He enjoyed these times at his aunt’s house. She had a pool and a big yard and old swing set and a light hand when it came to kids running around the place. Granted, Angela was there too, all ponytail and bossy braces. But this year she spent a little less time teasing him, a little less time ordering him about and more time on the phone or on the computer. Taylor wondered if that would happen to him when he got older. He snatched another firefly out of the air and hoped not. He wanted to stay outside forever.

He was staying close to the ground having found that it was easier to grab them off of a blade of grass or as they hovered low, than trying to jump in the air and catch them. He crawled through the grass farther an farther from the deck, reaching the property boundary marked by a thick hedgerow. The top was trimmed flat and the sides were neatly contoured. His aunt said the neighbors maintained it, and Taylor believed it, trying and failing to imagine Aunt Sarah wielding a hedge trimmer. 

He’d never met the neighbors, but he knew there was a dog. He’d heard it barking. Yet every time he peeked around the corner or watched out of the window as they drove by, all he ever saw was one of the two men that lived there. His aunt told him that they were brothers, even though they didn’t look alike. She always made a weird face when she mentioned them.

Taylor knew they weren’t brothers. He wasn’t six. Eight year olds knew a thing or two about the world, Aunt Sarah. He lay down in the grass and looked through the thin trunks of the shrubbery to get a glimpse next door. A flash of silver entered his vision and he yelped. A dog! Finally, he thought, and he scurried to the edge of the hedges and rounded the corner. The firefly jar rolled onto its side, its prisoners flashing on and off, on and off.

“I knew it,” he said, not quite approaching the dog. He had learned at least this much in school. Taylor stood there, hoping the dog would notice him. It was a big dog, with long, silvery hair. It looked like one of those dogs in the competitions on television. He took a step or two forward while its nose was still in the grass. He wondered how its fur felt. It looked soft and silky like people hair. The dog lifted its head and turned. Taylor froze.

The two stared at each other for a moment, fireflies blinking in and out between them, filling the air with summer possibilities. The dog fully faced him and sniffed the air. Taylor stood very still and remembered not to smile, something about teeth being threatening. He wanted to hold out his hand for the dog to sniff, so the dog would know he was safe. He really wanted to be friends with this dog.

The silver dog approached slowly, bobbing its head up and down, sniffling the air. The little boy grew timid suddenly realizing how big this dog was, or more likely, how small he was. He started shifting his weight from one foot to the other and had an overwhelming desire to pee.

“Hold on there,” said a voice off to Taylor’s right. One of the men that lived in the house was walking across the yard. It was the dark-haired man, the one Taylor thought of as the younger one. He was handsome and looked like an athlete. He came up next to the dog and patted its head, which came up to his waist. It really was a big dog.

“Hi there, little guy. You from next door?” The young man wore ripped jeans and a tshirt that said Johnny Hog Dogs in bright pink letters. A leather bracelet wrapped around his left wrist, only the letters “S” and “Y” were visible. Taylor thought this man and this dog were a mismatch. The dog was too fancy. The man was too cool.

He resisted his urge to be shy. “Yes. My aunt lives there.”

The man smiled. “Ah, your Sarah’s nephew. She talks about you a lot. You’re taller than I imagined.”

Taylor blushed and wondered what Aunt Sarah had been saying about him. He didn’t even think she paid him much attention. He liked the idea of being tall though. “What is your dog’s name?”

The man smiled. “You can call him Sykes. He’s a big guy, but gentle. My name is Barry.”

“I’m Taylor. Can I pet him?” 

Barry looked over the hedge row into Aunt Sarah’s yard and gave a wave. “Just letting them know you’re over here.” He looked down at the dog and asked “what do you think? Can he pet you?”

The dog bobbed his head up and down and pawed at the grass. “Looks like a yes,” Barry said.

Taylor walked slowly toward the dog with his hands out. Sykes sniffed the hands and bowed his head. The fur was soft, like he imagined. He gently patted the dogs head as he got closer. “What kind of dog is he?”

“He’s an Afghan hound, they tend to have all this long hair.” He ruffled his own short brown hair and said, “takes too much work, I think. Shorter is better, right?”

Sykes was almost the same height at Taylor and the boy had an easy time of putting his hands around the dog’s neck. He pulled himself into a tight hug, burying his face in the soft fur. He could feel the dog’s heartbeat and it made him feel calm and safe.

“Taylor?” came his mother’s voice from the other yard. 

He looked up to see Barry waving again. “He’s here. He’s fine.” A moon-like face appeared over the hedgerow, eyes a bit red from too many ‘evening pick-ups.’ She smiled at Barry, a little too widely, Taylor thought.

“Oh,” she said, folding a lock of hair behind her ear. “He’s not bothering you, is he?”

“Not at all. Me and my boy were just out for an evening stroll. I think they both found a new friend.”

Taylor released the dog’s neck and took a step back, still feeling the silky warmth of the fur.

“We’re going back inside now, come along,” his mother said. “Sorry again for the trouble.”

“No trouble at all,” said Barry. The man knelt down next to his dog and said, “if it’s okay with your family, you can come by again and play, okay?”

“You sure?”

“Sure, I’m sure,” and he ruffled the boy’s hair. “Get going now. Mind your mom.”

Taylor hugged the dog one more time and then ran back to his Aunt’s yard. Halfway to the deck, he remembered his lightning bugs and his heart sank, realizing he’d abandoned them. He found the jar where he left it. Unscrewing the lid, Taylor spun in a circle, releasing the captors in a shimmering tornado. He stood at the edge of the hedge row and listened to Barry call his dog into the house. He wondered when he could go over and play again. He wanted to run around with that dog. He wanted to be cool like Barry. He hoped that Barry’s boyfriend was cool, too.

Taylor walked back to his aunt’s house, the liberated fireflies marking his path.

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