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Of Fireflies and Fairies


There are ghosts in the medicine cabinet. Ellen is shifting bottles and tubes around, digging for some Neosporin to treat the cut on her finger which has grown swollen and sore. Instead, she finds a bottle of Midol, a product she’s never taken, with an expiration date from before she moved into this house with her new-to-her husband.

The ex-wife’s Midol. She chucks it with a flourish into the trash as eight-year-old Lucy slides around the doorway, worrying a loose tooth with her fingers. “How’s that tooth, little bug?” Ellen asks her stepdaughter, bending to peek into the girl’s mouth. “That looks ready to come out!”

“Noooo,” squeals the little girl, covering her gap-filled mouth with her hand. “Don’t pull it!”

“You pull it! And then the Tooth Fairy will pay you a visit.”

When Lucy’s mother left her family to take up with a biker and move to Montana, she left behind the detritus of a wife and mother, loose tampons in the back of bathroom drawers, a cheap crepe dress in the corner of a closet, cookie decorating kits from several Christmases past. But mostly she left her husband and daughter, at the time Lucy was not yet six. Ellen feels haunted by the woman every time a bit of her existence surfaces.

“Can we catch fireflies?” Lucy asks.

Ellen peers out the window, where dusk is beginning to settle in the yard. It’s nearly Lucy’s bedtime, but Sam isn’t home from work yet, so what harm will it do to let her stay up a little later?

“Sure. Fifteen minutes.” Ellen says, and the two of them go out to the patio with Ball jars, and swoop through the air with their bare feet in the grass, pretending to be fairies in the forest.

“Do you know what my mom used to do with fireflies?” Lucy asks and before Ellen can react, the girl continues, “She would catch one and pull off the light up part and put it on her finger like it was a diamond ring!”

Every time Ellen learns a little more about this missing woman, about the mother Lucy has nearly forgotten, about the wife that came before her and damaged her husband’s heart, the pain she sees in this little family makes a little more sense.

“Ooh. Let’s not hurt the fireflies like that. We can catch them and set them free. No harm done. Right? I think they know the Tooth Fairy. They are probably seeing that wiggly tooth of yours and planning to go tell her that it’s just about time for a visit to our house. We want her to get the message, don’t we?”

Lucy considers for a moment, and says, “Mama said the Tooth Fairy isn’t real. But I think she’s wrong,” then takes her thumb and forefinger and pulls her baby tooth out, all on her own, and holds it up in the dying light for Ellen to see.

Marijean Oldham is a public relations consultant and writer. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Maine Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, the Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review, The Lindenwood Review, On the Run Fiction, and Burningword Literary Journal. Marijean authored the books 100 Things to Do in Charlottesville Before You Die, Third Edition (2022 Reedy Press) and Secret Charlottesville, a Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure (2021 Reedy Press). In her spare time, Marijean bakes pies competitively.

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