Night lights

Last Friday night my mom called my name about two in the morning. “Wally,” she called.

It’s my name, but she never calls me that. Wally is my dad’s name.

I was home, in south Florida, for a family reunion and for her 70th birthday. So I got up and went out and sat out on the back porch with her. The moon was full, and quite still. Across “Lemon Bay,”: three clear pinpoints of lights marked docks on the opposite shore.

We watched for boat lights in the channel, but saw none although I heard a fishing boat in the distance. It was so still there were no waves lapping against the sea wall.

Of all the lights we did see, the most compelling was a host of lightning bugs nestling into a cabbage palm in the backyard. The tree was shimmering, aglow with the warm light of hundreds of them.

“Man thinks he invented the Christmas tree,” Mom said. “But he didn’t.”

We sat there in silence for a while, absorbing the implications of this. There was nothing to say, really.

We didn’t speak of bioluminescence, the chemical process. Or how “fireflies”: in the summer are mostly attracting each other for a mating ritual, which results in the male being eaten by the female. And we didn’t talk about how it might not be the fireflies at all, but the eggs or larvae (glow worms) laid there on some warmer summer night. We didn’t talk about Christmas trees.

We sat in the silence with no name. Finally she said, “I miss him.”

“Me too,” I said.

The fog began to roll in and the lights across the bay faded into nothing as the air became moist and warm. We turned in, and slept soundly under the hum of ceiling fans.

The next day we went to the reunion, near Lake Placid, where the menu included fried fish, grits and “swamp cabbage.”: And my aunt’s key lime pie. It was a reunion on my dad’s side of the family, but it didn’t feel like home. It didn’t feel like him.

That night, as we drove back to the house, there was a lunar eclipse. The moon turned red, and I went to bed and finally fell asleep, longing for home.

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