Ephemeral

He tried to pay attention, but her words were like dandelion seeds, wisping away in the wind.

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Ephemeral. I chose it because the “ph” sound reminds me of words like “phosphorescent” or “fluorescent” which both mean, in essence, producing light. I hope you enjoy. Thank you!   

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The Death of Fireflies

Ephemeral (adj): lasting for a very short time.

The summer heat was suffocating him. He wanted to be back in his studio where it was cool and shaded. Where the gentle ebb of the breeze brushed against his damp neck and the only sound to break the silence was the soft strokes of his brush on canvas.

His daughter tugged him along, babbling like a brook about something or the other. He tried to pay attention, but her words were like dandelion seeds, wisping away in the wind. She skipped next to him, looking up at him with adoring eyes. His own softened with fondness.

They passed by a little park on the edge of the woods.

Dusk was starting to bleed into the sky. They should probably go home soon…

Little fireflies sparked into existence, like winking candles in the summer evening.

His daughter was immediately fascinated, letting go of his hand for the first time since his wife had pushed him out the door with the firm declaration “go and spend some time together.”

“Daddy, look! The fire bugs are out!” she called out, hopping in excitement like a little bird about to take flight.

She looked up at him pleadingly.

“Stay close,” he told her, settling on a nearby bench, pulling out his sketch book.

With a squeal of glee, she tumbled off on her tiny legs, the white summer dress his wife picked out that morning puffing up like a little cloud around her.

Her soft black hair was cut in a short, angled bob, framing her face with longer strands, but leaving the back of her neck exposed to the sun.

She was already proving to be quite artistic for her age, and Jin held a tiny seed of hope that she might someday become an artist. Of course, Jin would be fully supportive of whatever she decided to do, but he couldn’t pretend he didn’t want to one day paint a masterpiece with his little girl.

He felt his lips curl up into a smile, and he reached for the charcoal he carried in his pocket and began sketching out the scene in front of him.

His daughter, her back to him, surrounded by the glowing vortex of light from the fireflies. They surrounded her like floating lanterns in the darkening sky. The brooding trees of the woods hung in front of her, giving the scene an undeniable depth, almost chilling. He was pulled deeper and deeper into the scene, transforming the field into a glowing river of darkness and light. The stark white of his daughter’s dress, painted in soft hues of gold by the fireflies light. Her wispy dark hair crowned with a luminous, aurelian halo.  

He needed to put this on canvas now. It was time to head home. Inspiration had sunk its claws in him once again and he needed to get all the images down before they vanished.

He called out to Hana, not bothering to look up from the sketch in front of him.

No response.

Getting annoyed, he called a little louder, looking up to see an empty field with fireflies sputtering out like the dying sparks of a flame.

His heart dropped like a stone. He ran.

“Hana.”

No response.

“Hana!”

Nothing.

“HANA!!!”

Choking for breath, he stumbled into the forest still calling. He could hardly think straight, the fog of adrenaline and fear smothering around him like the summer heat.

He called and called and called.

Finally, he found a little bunny slipper by the creek’s edge. His daughter’s slipper.

He stared emptily at it, unable to comprehend anything.

No… No… No…

He couldn’t breathe. Crashing to the ground, he tried to calm himself. But how could he possibly be calm when Hana…  He started hyperventilating, reaching for sparse oxygen with constricted, collapsing lungs. The heavy air pushed in on him at all sides.

“Hana…” he heard himself whisper.  

“Daddy?”

He turned and looked up, and she stood there in the middle of the creek, looking back at him curiously, one slipper in hand, her previously pristine white dress now stained with streaks of grass and mud.

Finally, he felt oxygen flood into his lungs, along with a panicky kind of anger.

How could she do that to him?

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“Sit there,” he ordered, pointing at the metal stool in his studio.

“Daddy?”

“Sit there,” he repeated, grabbing a fresh canvas and making sure all the windows were shut.

“What did I do—”

“You will sit there, quietly, until I tell you to! Time out!”

“Bu-”

He silenced her with a piercing gaze, reaching for his favorite oil paints.

She pouted, puffing up her cheeks like an angry rabbit.

Jin could barely stop his hands from trembling long enough to reach for his brushes.

His daughter had always been a tall, unshakable sunflower to him. A constant ray of light that he assumed was infallible.

But today, he realized that she was, in fact, more like the fireflies.

It would only take a breath of air to extinguish her light.

And that filled him with an undeniable dark trench of fear, clawing up from the pit of his stomach.

For months after, he kept a close watch on her, making sure he always walked her home from school and kept track if she was at a friend’s house or in the backyard or with her mother. He framed the image of his daughter among the fireflies as a reminder to himself to keep his head out of the clouds.

But after a while, he started drifting back to his usual ways, drawn back to the quiet allure of his artwork.

The night with the fireflies became something of an occasional nightmare. A dismissable memory of a momentary lapse in attention that could practically be considered a rite of passage for all parents.

And one day, when he had crammed as many paintings as could possibly fit in the crumbling wall space of his studio, the painting of the fireflies was replaced with a sweeping canvas of a grey lake in the winter.

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