By Minyoung Lee
On summer nights, you would catch lightning bugs in plastic pop bottles punctured with a dozen tiny holes, holding them up like your dad’s camping lantern. You buried potatoes wrapped in tin foil under the burnt charcoal mound dying inside the little black grill, the way your uncles used to do when they still came to these backyard cookouts. They would always bring a ribeye steak.
The uncaught lightning bugs drifted in the thick summer air, as if their bodies were too heavy for them, like jellyfish dragging their flimsy tentacles through the saltiest of seas. You watched your bugs held in their clear capsules, their black, spiny legs, their ant-like heads, their giant glowing bellies slowly brightening then gradually dimming, over and over again, slower and slower as the night deepened and the potatoes softened.
Inevitably, your bugs’ lights shut off, sooner than their friends’, though they too would turn off in the next few weeks with the arrival of the first morning frost.
Years later, you are lying on a fuzzy blanket on a sandy beach, far away from lightning bugs, between a boardwalk amusement park and the chilled waves of the Pacific, surrounded by the shrill screams of thrillseekers synchronizing with the gasps of the compressed air from the drop tower, the honking of a flock of seagulls threatening the children kicking up sand, the whisper of the restrained ocean waves piercing through the cacophony. You feel the warmth of the man lying next to you as you nestle in the nooks of his body, embracing the scent of his skin as it seeps into your own. You feel his breath stroke your face. You look up to see his eyes meet yours.
The world falls silent.
You remember hoping your lightning bugs would continue to glow in the bottle for at least another day. But year after year the captives never survived the night.
Minyoung Lee is a writer living in San Francisco, CA with her well-traveled calico cat, Matisse. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Riggwelter, and The Drabble. When she is not writing, Minyoung enjoys looking for hidden oil fields and visiting small towns named after famous places. You can find her at https://myleeis.com/.