Lightning Bugs

by Eric Andrew Newman

Honorable Mention – Flash 405, August 2017: “Blue”



I’m standing outside in the field behind my house and catching lightning bugs in my mother’s glass Mason jars. I always choose the blue-tinted jars from off the kitchen shelf, because when they light up they look like old-fashioned lanterns. I stand barefoot in the cool, wet grass to feel the evening dew on the soles of my feet and wear only my white nightgown, so I can feel the gentle breeze on my skin.

But then I come to in the hospital and realize it’s all just a reverie. That I haven’t caught lightning bugs in Mason jars in many years, and I’m really catching lightning bolts from the electroshock machine in the bowl of my skull. After the treatments, my head is always fuzzy and buzzing, as if the humming from the florescent lights above the white hospital bed is coming from behind my eyes.

Now I’m a mother myself, I have my own kitchen shelf stocked with blue-tinted Mason jars. My children, however, have no desire to go outside and catch lightning bugs in the backyard. They’d much rather stay inside and watch the new color TV. Whenever I return home from a long weekend in the hospital, it’s hard to remember all the things that need to get done. In addition to the electroshock therapy, my psychiatrist prescribes me a medication called Elavil, little yellow pills that look like lightning bugs all lit up.

My favorite time of year is Christmas. Not because of the presents, but because of the lights. I insist my husband string up the bare trees in our front yard with little yellow lights, rather than the bigger multi-colored bulbs he prefers. The little yellow lights are known as fairy lights, because they twinkle in the twilight the way one might imagine a fairy would. Of course, I always think they look more like lightning bugs than like fairies.

I often convince my husband to leave the Christmas lights up in the yard well into the spring. Then I wait until everyone else in the house is asleep and all the lights on the block are out. I walk outside wearing just my white nightgown and stand barefoot in the cool, wet grass once again. I pretend the lights on the trees are lightning bugs flickering at me, as I sway back and forth in the breeze.


Judge’s Comments:
This piece has such vivid imagery and colors throughout—the blue-tinted Mason jars, the “little yellow pills that look like lightning bugs all lit up”—despite the dark topic. Dreams of a childhood filled with wonder come face to face with the “fuzzing and buzzing” of electroshock therapy. It’s a dreamscape within a dream that’s rich in description, feeling, and detail.

Eric Andrew Newman currently lives in Los Angeles but is originally from the Chicago area. He works as an archivist for a nonprofit foundation by day and as a writer of flash fiction by night. He has previously been named as a finalist for the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Contest and the Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Prize. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Heavy Feather Review, Necessary Fiction, New Madrid, and Quarter After Eight.

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