A short, odd, somewhat dark little tale.
After it was all over—after the handcuffs, the crime scene tape, and a noose crafted from a silk Armani tie—I think all of us would agree that it was Benji’s neck tattoo that caught our attention.
Of course, even here in the suburbs, we had our share of tattoos—the tramp stamps, the biceps circled in barbed wire, even a few full sleeves. But Benji’s tattoo was something else. Interlocking coils traveled his right shoulder to collarbone, across the hillock of his Adam’s apple, ending at last in a bloom below his left ear. You could imagine him leaning his head back, his throat a vulnerable canvas for the tattoo artist.
Within months, most women in the neighborhood had confessed to running their tongue along the intricate lines, as if the ink were something you could taste. By Benji’s second spring in the house at the end of the street, it was a rite of passage. Every housewife, single mom, and career woman had taken her tongue to Benji’s neck.
I wondered if that’s why, in the evenings, he chose my porch. Not that he relaxed. Even when he tipped his head back, the cropped salt and pepper hair brushing the whitewash, his form melting into the steps, the man vibrated with tension. It filled the air around him. It made some women think of sex and sin and sweat, his bare neck an invitation to lap up the ink.
It made me clutch my cell phone, my thumb on the speed dial, my feet pushing against the floorboards while I sat in the porch swing. I took short, choppy breaths. Once, my jittery thumb hit 911. When the police cruisers arrived, all sirens and lights, all I could point to were the fireflies in the bushes, the dark house at the end of the street, and the porch steps, now vacant.
Only when my porch was empty did the air feel still enough to breathe. I’d spend those moments catching fireflies and letting them glow between my fingers. Only then was I glad that Benji had chosen me.
Benji filled our days. He helped carry in groceries (and, in some cases, left several hours later). He mowed lawns—usually shirtless. He drank gallons of freshly-squeezed lemonade and martinis expertly shaken. He rescued kites from trees and organized the neighborhood kickball tournament.
And in the dark house at the end of the street, he was cooking methamphetamine.
After it was all over, you wouldn’t have recognized Benji, not from all the descriptions: the creeper, the peeping Tom, the loner with bad teeth, the guy with the Satanic neck tattoo.
Only my story didn’t match. The police interrogated me, but it was a half-hearted attempt, their gazes filling the room with pity. They released me in less than an hour, even though I had the receipt for the tie in my purse. Even though moments before the police shackled his wrists, Benji turned toward me, ran his fingers along the tattoo, then blew me a kiss.
Half an hour earlier, I’d handed him the box wrapped in silver paper, the one that held the silk Armani tie. Twenty minutes after that, I dialed 911. For real, this time. No one knew how Benji smuggled the tie into his jail cell. We all could imagine the second, permanent tattoo.
Most nights, I think he wanted to end it. Most nights, I think he wanted me to be the one to do it. This was why he chose me, chose my porch.
But on summer evenings, I stand there, gaze locked on the dark house at the end of the street, and doubt fills the night. I catch fireflies and let them burn between my fingers until they wink out, one by one.
My porch is empty, the night still, and the air impossible to breathe.
This strange, dark little piece garnered many personal rejections until it was published in Fine Linen Magazine.
One response to “Free Fiction Friday: The Life Expectancy of Fireflies”
Those zines that turned this one away, the editors have no idea what a loss it was to their publication. Hurray for Fine Linen Magazine!