Ordinary Phenomena: Fireflies in the Suburbs

It's suburban living, the sparks from the blistering street lights competing with nettled crickets

An illustration of a street lamp with a triangular beam of light illuminating a circle on the ground

The shops still don't stay open as late as you would like. It's suburban living, the sparks from the blistering street lights competing with nettled crickets, and every creature shut inside its home for the evening. Your brother asks to go bowling with you, and even though it's the last thing you'd ever want to do, you strap yourself in the passenger seat and check the size of your shoes; the lightning bugs glow fluorescent behind your teeth. He tells you the competition will be tight, and it’s because you both know you are as bad as the other. You never used to be this close, before the operation, before the cancer. You find blessings in disguise, like fireflies in a darkened field, the bed rest and the rehabilitation making the gravity moonlike here, bodies wading heavy and slow like in water. When you arrive at the bowling alley, all the lanes are booked. In the car, the radio starts playing Culture Club's ‘Karma Chameleon’, a classic learned from hours sung on SingStar ’80s, a game you forced your brother to play with you unabashedly in childhood. You learned all the lyrics by heart. You belt it out, laughing and singing falsettos beyond either of your actual ranges. You see him, like you haven't in a long time, not as a sick boy or a nuisance sibling, but as a person: a partner in crime, a friend, someone who can empathise with every childhood experience you've ever had. The silence settles gently on you, soft and restful, like a weighted blanket. You've never had to pretend with him. You find an arcade, and can see your retinas through vaulted eyelids, lit up by the strength of a hundred lights and TV screens. These were the places you lingered when you were young, trying to cheat the claw machines and bracing trembling hands as you stood rigid by the stacking game. You recall winning a beanie baby once; you don’t know what ever happened to it. At the back of the arcade are the kart simulators, your brother’s favourite. Either luck is growing from the undersides of your tongues or has attached to you both like parasites in the night, because your machine doesn't run over, doesn't ask for another two dollar coin nor boot you when you come in second place. It goes on, the credits rising and your score growing; you are winning without winning. Your brother laughs, something delicate and bright; it's gleeful and giddy as you rack up the wins. But you can't stay all night, despite the urge to linger in the laughter a little longer. You hope the credits will find another child looking for some time to kill. It is dark on your way home, and there's barely any cars on the deserted roads ahead—the road glitters under the floating haze of fireflies in the sky above. No one says anything, or maybe you and your brother joke about the absurd things your parents do: the things you got into trouble for as a kid. With every turn you are closer to home. You close your eyes, but still, even in the darkness, you can see the streetlights lit like lightning bugs in the night. 

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