Do you like my fireflies?
I snap out of my reverie, the lit cigar in my hand, and look about. I thought I was out here alone in the chilly evening, but my thoughts were miles away; a quiet army could have walked up behind me most likely.
The cohiba’s light, sweet smoke drifts from me in a circle as I turn, the gravel of the driveway crunching under my weight. A smile begins to form to welcome my company, presumably another guest escaping the stifling heat and the boom-boom of the wedding reception indoors.
I’m surprised to discover that there’s nobody there. And there’s certainly no fireflies; this is rural England, not the American outback. There might be a few badgers out there rustling through the first throws of Autumn, but there’s no cicadas, and definitely no fireflies.
My mind must have been wandering further than I thought.
I chuckle to myself and tap a little ash from my stogie, careful to keep it clear of my best suit and tie. I like weddings, but I’m not that skilled at making small talk with acquaintances, let alone strangers; inevitably, a little overwhelmed, I’ll step outside from some cool air and five minutes to myself. I’m not a smoker, but on these rare occasions, I enjoy a cigar, usually a good one. A good excuse.
I regard this evening’s particular cigar curiously for a moment – fireflies? - and draw on it again.
The night changes around me, and for the second time this evening I’m in August 2008.
Behind me, the exclusive Princeton Golf Course Clubhouse is rocking into the night, competing with New Jersey's cicada chorus by offering up a boom-boom celebration of our circle's latest wedding. I’ve stepped outside from the heat and huff of the wedding reception and its fine display of truly outdated dance moves. Relatives, you have to love ‘em.
Above me, a moonless sky dances with a million points of light; we’re a long way from town here, and well shielded by trees; it’s rare to see this many stars. I smile, enjoying the spectacle as I drag on today’s treat of a cigar.
A brief flash of green light catches my eye, from what I can just make out as a copse of trees in the gloom. My curiosity piqued, I watch the area for a moment, and I’m rewarded with another ephemeral emerald streak. I start to amble in that direction, stepping away from the building; paving slabs tap beneath my feet in an easy rhythm, but quickly yield to the grass of the back lawn. The fearless chirruping insects continue their serenade as a third momentary flash of green scratches the darkness. If it were higher, I’d assumed it was a shooting star, but this was below the level of the trees, and its afterimage looks curved.
A dozen intended steps quickly becomes a fifty-pace exploration. I leave the half-lit back lawn of the clubhouse, stepping through an ivied archway into deeper wooded darkness. Again, fleeting emerald fires lead the way, and I’m vaguely aware that they’re drawing me away from the building towards – what?
The trees are denser now, but I’m still on some kind of path and keep a slow and even pace. I'm aware on some level that the cicadas have faded away behind me. Ahead of me, beyond the line of trees, a virid glow draws me the final few yards and out into the open.
My view is eerie and beautiful. Above a kidney-shaped, immaculate green surrounded by sand traps, dozens of fireflies circle the 18th hole’s flag. Their movement is lazy and random. My jaw drops open.
The silence swirls around me.
Do you like my fireflies?
To the right of the green, a tall, slender figure rakes the sand of a bunker. I can’t make him out in the starlight, but I’m not startled or alarmed; his voice is quiet and friendly, and the glowing insects have me captivated.
Yes, they’re beautiful, I say honestly, still gaping a little. This is amazing; do they normally do this? Swarm around the pin?
No, Sir, says the man, not pausing in his work, though they're usually where I am, I'm pleased to say. He chuckles. I can see that would make night work a little easier, though I don't vocalise that thought; it really doesn't make this scene seem any less surreal.
On the green, the cloud of fireflies widens slightly, and the scene brightens a little. The figure now appears to be wearing well-loved dungarees and an equally battered cap. His feet are bare. I'm still unsure of his ethnicity, though it seems irrelevant. I stroll down the gentle slope towards the flag, pausing on the edge.
Do you do a lot of maintenance at night? The question is obvious, but it sounds sarcastic, which was not intended. It's said that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I disagree; punning is the lowest form of wit, while sarcasm is just rude. I scramble to prop up my question. That's very dedicated of you.
The man leans on his rake, perhaps reflectively; it's hard to tell in the half-light.
Oh, you know how it is, Sir; a work of love is never a chore. I like his upbeat outlook, but don't mistake his good manners for deference. There is a quiet confidence about the man; he truly belongs here. Circling the edge of the green, I close the gap between us, and he steps up from the bunker to meet me.
My name's Roth. Indigo Roth. We shake hands briefly; his touch is dry, warm, elusive. My eyes are adjusting to the night, and I'm surprised when I meet his gaze; he has a hint of the Middle East about him. This is unusual in this neck of the woods.
I have a lot of names, Indigo, he smiles quietly as I detect a hint of an exotic spice in the air, but round here they just call me The Groundskeeper.
The moment feels significant, though I have no idea why.
What brings you out here onto the golf course? My company gestures down the faint approach of the fairway. I don't see many folk at this time of day.
Oh, I followed the fireflies out here. And I grunt, stifling a laugh; it sounds stupid now I say it. But my new friend raises a hand and shakes his head minutely, as if I'd confessed my reservations out loud.
I understand. And your curiosity does your credit, my friend. Besides, he raises an eyebrow, maybe they wanted you to see this?
I don't know how to respond to that.
They're tiny creatures, says the Groundskeeper as one firefly detaches itself from the cloud to circle his capped head slowly; he raises a kind hand towards its light and smiles as his eyes follow the insect. But who knows what they think?
Again, I have no idea how to respond. This sounds like Theology.
Are you a man of Faith, Mr. Roth? Well, that's definitely Theology; this would normally make me wary, but I find myself thinking about it.
No, not really. The Groundskeeper nods, not looking my way; the firefly still has his attention. I was raised as a Devout Atheist. I grin to myself; my mother would be proud. These days, even though I have no Religion, I find it hard to dismiss everyone else's.
Good grief, have I become Agnostic while I wasn't paying attention? A few more fireflies have drifted our way; it must be the warmth.
It's good to be open-minded, my companion concedes. How does it go? "Only the madman is absolutely certain".
That's good, I'll have to remember it. I meet zealots of both persuasions occasionally. I'm just as uncomfortable with unshakeable Scientists as I am immovable Evangelists; both are Fundamentalists in my book.
The rest of the fireflies have moved to surround us. They seem to like you, Indigo. There is a sense that we are deep underwater. Or among the stars.
This is awesome.
The Groundskeeper waves an arm, perhaps in farewell, as the insects retreat to the flag; I'm uncertain of the causal relationship of this. Deprived of their light, my eyes struggle to adjust; the silhouette opposite me chuckles kindly.
But they're fickle, and easily scared, like all simple creatures.
The moment has passed. My instincts tell me it's time to get back indoors.
The Groundskeeper steps back into the sand trap and retrieves his rake. I hope you'll excuse me, but I must get back to my work.
Of course. Nice to meet you! I retreat across the green with a cheery wave, but stop to fish about in my pocket. Retrieving a quarter that shines with darting points of light, I creep beneath the fireflies and drop it into the cup at the base of the flag with a clink. I feel this deserves an explanation; my actions often do.
Life is full of surprises, but it's nice to add to them. There's no reply. I shrug, and raise my voice a little, Whoever putts out first tomorrow will find a small-but-shiny surprise.
The laugh drifts across from the bunker, I knew the fireflies liked you for a reason!
I stroll towards the woods, and offer up a cheery, Maybe they did!
That's the spirit!
As I retreat to the clubhouse, the moment feels as elusive as the Groundskeeper's handshake. By the time I find the back lawn again, I have a gossamer memory of my walk in the cold night air. As I reach the back door, I notice that my cigar has gone out. How did that happen? And my feet are cold; how long have I been out here?
I rejoin the boom boom of the wedding, pleased to be back in the warm.
Back in the now, I smile at the indistinct memory, a fragment of my life. I blink, and it's gone again. Looking around, I'm still alone out here.
As I walk back to the wedding reception, I take a final drag on the cohiba.
Do you like my fireflies?
This blog entry is protected by copyright © Indigo Roth, 2012