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Firefly's turning

by Athan Y. Chilton

copyright © 1993

   She had watched him for over a year. Still she could hardly put it into words, the strangeness sensed in him at odd moments, the inhuman intensity that infected his music, and, sometimes, his eyes.

   Maybe that's it, she thought, gathering up strewn music, packing away the venerable twelve-string guitar. His eyes. I've never seen a man with amber-colored eyes.

   Other than the eyes, Gypsy wasn't particularly remarkable to look at. Not six feet tall, he was well-formed enough, with a peculiar gracefulness uncommon in men. But his hair was plain brown, straight, falling in his face and over his collar to spill down his back. His nose was anything but shy, and his bushy moustache hid a mouth that could look stern or sensitive by turns--if one could but see it beneath the wiry brown hair. No, he was not handsome.

   Yet when he stepped behind the racks of hanging chimes, the congas, the black steppingstones of the trapset, something altogether strange emerged out of his ordinariness. Then the pale and distant planes of his face shone with abandon, and his odd yellow eyes became fierce and direct. Charisma and command--these words fell into her mind when she moved to Gypsy's drumming, when she looked back at him from her place at the front of the stage. His hands moving with absolute certainty drove her music, defined the complexity of the rhythms she could hear but never count. He could. There was no rhythm which did not fall, domino-like, into submission to him.

   I will never know him, she thought. Yet he haunts my dreams, asking me some question, again and again. Why can't I understand it? Why won't he speak of this when we are together?

   Or does he, and do I simply not hear him? Does he speak to me in the thousand sounds he makes? Do those unflinching eyes beam me a Morse code of a message I am too blind to see? Is there an answer or a question hidden in his teasing, his affectionate playfulness with word and name?

   It was June. The prairie was lush, coming alive after long snows. Down in the blue-lighted cellar, the four musicians played all afternoon with the tiny windows ajar to let in the hushing sweetness of the wind. Finally only the two of them were left; the band leader and the singer, relaxing now that work was done.

   He looked over at her. "Hey, what are you doing this evening, Skeets?" he asked. His voice was quiet, with something that might have been hidden laughter warming it. "Want to go to the river, watch the fireflies, Firefly?"

   "Sure. I don't have to be anywhere." Skeets, she said to herself. Firefly. Nobody else in my entire life ever called me such funny names.

   They drove out into the country. Bradbury knew this country, she mused, its gentle hills, its woods crowded between the farmed fields. I wonder if he ever knew of a man like this one. A man everyone calls "Gypsy" and nothing else.

   They climbed down the riverbank and found a log that had fallen into the river long ago. They climbed out on it, draping themselves to conform to its lines and curves. In so doing, they inhaled the long, quiet stillness of the wood, the sleek, nearly noiseless river, the dimming violet sky laced by newly-leaved trees.

   They sat in silence which deepened as the darkness overtook them. In the rising dusk, the fireflies began to emerge from their secret daylight fastnesses. At first singly, then in twos and threes, and finally in clouds of scintillating sparks, they danced above the river. Sometimes they landed on her or on her companion. She saw the faint gleam of his teeth as he smiled, one small glowing creature intermittently lighting his face.

   He stood with unconscious grace and utter ease upon the log, as if there were no question, could never be a question of his falling. As she watched, bemused, she saw, fainter than the shine of his yellow eyes, the flickering movement of translucent wings at his shoulders. She was too amazed to speak; she dared not speak and break the spell.

   He smiled down at her as he silently lofted above her wooden perch. She glimpsed his silhouette patterned against the shifting tree-laced sky; then he was gone. Clouds of fireflies danced green-yellow-green around her, their signals a rhythm she could almost understand, almost follow in her beating blood.

   "Firefly," came his voice out of the darkness. "Dance with me, won't you?"

   "I...I can't," she said aloud, straining her eyes in the deepening violet night. "I can't fly, Gypsy. I didn't know people could fly!"

   "Of course we can," he said, alighting on the log beside her. "You only have to believe in yourself, in your wings. Didn't you know? We're all born to fly, but most human beings turn themselves off, lose their wings, before they're very old. Such silly stories they tell of a few of us, simply because we never stopped flying!"

   "But you..." she started, and then stopped short. Gypsy knelt on the narrow log before her, took both her hands in his own. "You're not human...are you?"

   "Well...mostly," he grinned. She could see the grin, though she couldn't see much of the rest of him. "I'm human least, in the ways it counts!"

   "And the other ways?" she countered, letting herself rise to her feet. Of course you won't fall into the river, she told herself. And even if you do, so what? You'll only get wet!

   "Ah...the other ways," he chuckled. "Dance with me, Firefly, then you'll know the answers, won't you? Aren't you the one who wrote the song that said 'the truth is not found in the words but the music? You are."

   He leaned forward and before she could back away he laid his mouth on hers in a swift warm kiss. She gasped with surprise, and put her hand up to touch her mouth. But when she would have spoken, he shook his head, and somehow she knew he meant her to be silent, even though she could hardly see his face.

   "Relax," he said in a whisper. "Let go. Let be. Dance with me."

   She let him lift her from the old log, let her feet tread the darkness as if she could fly indeed. Oh, this was lovely, wasn't it? Whatever craziness he believed, it was purely wonderful to dance with the fireflies while the frogs tuned up their orchestra down below.

   "See?" he asked, his hands lightly grasping her elbows. "Do you believe now, what you've got inside you, what you are, what you've always been?"

   "Me? What do you think I am? I'm an eighteen-year-old girl. I can sing and write songs and play the guitar, sort of. That's all..."

   "You haven't been listening, then," he chided her. She caught a flash of gold from his eyes as he laughed. "And what's more, you're not paying attention."

   He suddenly released her, let his hands fall away. Again she gasped--for she did not fall. Surprise and then glee gripped her by the throat. "I'm flying!" she said in a rush, rising instinctively, feeling her ricepaper wings sift and slice the humid river air. "How did you...what are you really? Tell me!"

   "Ah... in time it'll be plain to you," he said kindly. "All in good time. I have waited so long for this... just to dance with you. Dancing with the there a more wonderful thing on earth? Don't you know how you shine, my little Firefly? You think you're earthbound, but I know better. I knew the first time I met you that you were destined to find your wings. I have longed for this moment for a year. You have made me very happy!"

   He flitted above her, and she saw him swooping and flashing against the darkness that was like indigo velvet now; heard his lilting laughter above the small chuckles of the river, the strumming and drumming of the frogs. His eyes flashed down at her, green-gold-green, signalling...

   "Dance with me," she whispered, reading his signal, understanding the rhythm now perfectly. "Yes..."


   Above the river, the two fireflies rose, signals flickering their messages of need and recognition. They spun away into shadow, to mate and mate again all through the short summer night.


   Lying in his arms, returned to her mortal earthbound body, she murmured to his ear, "Why do they call you Gypsy?"

   He seemed asleep; only his eyes moved beneath closed lids. He did not answer, but words formed in her mind as if written with phosphorus on a white wall in the darkness. We are all gypsies in our hearts.

   She said then, "What happens when we make love, Gypsy?"

   He stirred, stretching in her languorous embrace. The golden eyes flickered open, and Gypsy smiled, a slow good-natured smile full of a delightful secret.


   "We make music, of course," he said. "Rhythm. You know! Magic."