It’s the dead of night on a city street. I am standing at a window, mesmerized by the spinning light of a police car, its colorful orb pulsing in the dark. Someone is in trouble and has called for help. I am several stories above the sidewalk and feel powerless. I should do something, but what? My temples are throbbing; my heart is racing…
My eyes snapped open to the soft silhouette of my husband, his back to me in sleep. I rolled over and in the half-moon light, took sleepy inventory of our bedroom: the outlines of the sepia photos on the wall, the ghost-like cedar branch leaning in the corner, the plant I kept moving around the house for better exposure. And then I saw a flash of pale green low to the floor in the dormer.
On…off. On…off. On…
I sat up with a start. My first thought: an outlet is sparking. An anvil of terror crashed into my chest as I envisioned the house bursting into flames. I leapt out of bed and drop to my knees for inspection, my eyes now fully adjusted to the dark.
I have a memory of being six or seven at Mitchell Gold’s house on summer evenings. The Golds lived around the corner from us, and after dinner all the neighbors descended onto the property, traipsing through the yard, the adults with a lawn chair in one hand and a cocktail in the other, the kids falling away to the corner by the shed. In my mind’s eye, I can see our parents’ faces softening then blurring as dusk deepened to darkness, nights illuminated by some phase of the moon, the orange glow of cigarettes and the on-again off-again sparks from the lightning bugs. The Golds had a monument of an evergreen in their yard, and as the lightning bugs flew in and around the branches, I’d imagine it was a most splendid Christmas tree, something out of a Disney movie, with dancing luminaries and sparkling ornaments come to life. We challenged one another to collect as many as we could in jars with holes “humanely” punched in the top, then see who could “go longest,” retreating back to the shed, inhumanely imprisoning them until, one by one, their lights went out.
For three decades I lived on top of, below and squeezed among lots of other people. The fallout of urban living: a bug “problem.” For me, one bad bug did spoil the whole bunch. I was undiscriminating in my pursuit, capture and execution of anything that winged or crawled its way into my space. Oh, except for ladybugs, because that’s what my dad used to call me and they are considered good luck. Anyway, please know that before the swat, slap or whack of a newspaper that left its inky scar on a wall or counter, I always apologized. But something started to shift when I moved to the country, getting more up close and personal with the furred, feathered and hooved. I was finding it more and more difficult to say, “Yes, that groundhog munching the grass is pretty darn adorable, but the daddy long legs in the bathtub has got to go.” I mean, where do you draw the line? Does it come down to cuteness? What’s cute? Something with fur? Not always. I mean, have you ever seen a wolf spider? Speaking of wolf spiders, if an insect can be harmful, that’s another story. But generally, in the majesty of this area, I have discovered a respect for the tiniest, peskiest creatures that make their way into my home. I have cupped countless stinkbugs in my hands, coaxed all kinds of shy squirmy things onto sheets of paper, depositing them outdoors, and copiloted frenzied flies through an open screen door – while hopefully not letting any more in.
On…off. Off… Off.
Tonight, I would make meaningful restitution.
Still on my knees, I reached for the windowsill, dumped the tea candle from its crystal votive and gingerly lowered it over my charge. Then padding down the steps, I carried the encased magical treasure – my own ailing Tinker Bell – through the house and flung wide the door. “Live!” I commanded. It flitted a bit, as if regaining its senses, then hitched a ride on a breeze, its waning glow brightening against the gaining light.
On behalf of the long-ago kids from Grant, Lincoln and Lawrence Avenues, I dedicate this to all who died on those soft summer nights.