Real Stars Emulating Flies
I am about to tell you three things about fireflies. One of them is true and two of them are false. It is up to you to discern the fiction from the non-fiction, the real from the unreal. May the test begin:
When I was ten years old, a firefly crept into my ear and fell asleep there. No one suspected it until in the middle of the night, my sister woke up, rolled over in her bed, and saw my ear glowing. She was convinced that the mysterious light emanated either from an alien or a fairy. To this day, she cannot remember which creature she first considered a possibility.
The memory is a vivid one. Echoes of cries, whistles, and giggles hit the air. I was kneeling on a dusty patch of lawn by the playground, rifling through my purse. My sunscreen dripped into the tiny folds and creases of my shins, forming creeks and pools.
“Ms. Lark!” came a shriek in my left ear. Then little hands gripped my shoulder.
I fell onto my heels, twisted at the torso. I pushed myself up with my palm and turned around.
“Sorry, Ms. Lark.” She hugged me. It was Maura, age six, the smallest girl in class. Her cyan eyes scanned my face for a beat before she said, “You smell like fireflies.”
I scoffed. “What?”
“You smell like fireflies.”
Maura fingered my hair. My hand leapt to my mane.
“Why did you come here, Maura?”
She thought for a second. “I don't remember.”
I returned to digging through my purse. “Why don't you play with the other kids?”
“Why don't you sit on a bench with the other teachers?” Maura asked, innocently and not as a retort to my question.
“Because I'm a volunteer, not a teacher. Besides, there's no room.”
“Oh.” She bounced one of my curls. “Where do fireflies go during the day?”
I seized my sunscreen and started slathering it on my arms. Then I opened my mouth, letting my tongue issue whatever words it pleased without permission from my brain.
I squirted sunscreen onto my legs and began rubbing hard. Maura pressed a blob of sunscreen onto my calf and then spread it.
“Don't do that,” I snapped.
“But I just saw a firefly. It was flying, not sleeping.”
I worked some sunscreen into my feet. A second later, I swatted at something and sunscreen slid off my toes. Maura poked the blobs on the ground.
Maura continued poking. I swatted at my knee again.
“It's a firefly!” Maura shouted.
Indeed it was---a groggy, red-headed critter hovering over my thigh. Its wings shone bright, not with the look of aged stardust but with a real glossiness. Its antennae sagged with the weight of a sigh.
Gently, I clasped my hands over the bug and brought it before Maura.
“See, Ms. Lark? Wide awake. Maybe fireflies never sleep.”
I grinned and muttered, “Like me.”
Then the firefly floated away.
Light is the language of fireflies. Even their eggs glow. But what is perhaps more fascinating is that a firefly's ears cover its whole body.