“Larissa and Family Dynamics”

 When I was ten, all of nature was bright as lightning and cloaked with mysteries we didn’t try to understand. On humid Ohio nights my little sister and I ran around the backyard, going after July fireflies as the mosquitoes went after us, but we didn’t feel their needle noses because we were cramming glowbugs into our peanut butter jar. We never put holes in the lid because we wanted the insects dead by morning. Our white mouse ate fireflies like candy, craving those crunchy bulbs. Then the mouse started glowing like a dying lightbulb, but you couldn’t see it unless you turned off the lamp or covered the mouse’s cage with a blanket and stuck your head underneath, and we didn’t do that a lot because it smelled bad.

 At night we let the mouse run around our bedroom floor and scare the cat so it hid under the bed, but the mouse was smart enough to not follow. We thought she was an angel mouse, or maybe the ghost of all mice that had been eaten by eagles or caught in traps our dad set in the garage. He said those were bad mice that carried diseases, they weren’t like our nice white mouse. My mother agreed with him and said mice chewed holes in boxes of pasta and left pellets in the kitchen. Because my parents were adults and we were kids they got to be right, but the traps were sad and gross and I still hate destroying furry life, even small smelly disease-carrying furry life that eats my cat’s food in the pantry.

 We got a second mouse (the guy at the pet shop who had pimples like constellations said it was a boy) and fed it fireflies, too, until both mice glowed like nightlights, only they weren’t bright enough to read by even when we put them on a book. One morning we woke up to hear the mice skittering in the cedar shavings, and soon after that our second mouse started to inflate like a little white balloon, and it turned out she wasn’t a boy, and that was when I learned never to believe people who work in pet shops. Somehow the babies glowed, but we didn’t know why because they hadn’t eaten fireflies.

 Then something awful happened. The father ate one of those babies and we were so mad we wanted to squeeze him to death, but our mom said we couldn’t be too mad at the daddy mouse because it was instinct and we had to understand that. We didn’t understand that nature meant eating your babies, but we didn’t kill him since neither of us wanted to be the one to do it.

 After a week we put him back in the big mouse cage because we wanted the mice to make up and be a family, but the father mouse still tried to take over, went after those babies because he hadn’t learned there were some things even adults just shouldn’t do, and my sister screamed and grabbed him too tight. We didn’t hear anything, but a little red drop of blood came out of the mouse’s mouth. That was it.

 We tried to give the mouse to the cat but she wouldn’t eat it, so we wrapped him in toilet paper and troweled a grave in the flower bed. At night we looked on the floor for his guilty glowing ghost, but never saw anything. My sister whispered to me in the dark that she didn’t mean to do it, and I said I knew that, and for the moment that made her stop sniffling, but I got a stomach ache when I looked at the mouses’ cage the next morning.

 We still had seven baby mice that crowded around their mother to nurse, and when we let them run around on the rug they left little glowing pellets like stardust. Before bed we dared each other to eat just one firefly and see if in the morning our little toe, perhaps the tip of a finger, would glow with that strange and tiny light, but we always backed out and said maybe tomorrow. Now I wish I would have done it, because it was still a time when something might have happened.