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#169

Lightningfly



              Quitting had felt good. Almost everything since quitting had felt bad, although it was hard for Jordan to determine if it had felt worse than working had. He had truly hated being a cop, especially the last six months of being a cop when his dad wouldn’t get off his back about not finding and arresting the Outbuilding Sniper even though Jordan had never been assigned to the case and never would be assigned to the case because he was not an investigator of any kind, he was just a regular patrol cop.

Jordan’s savings had dwindled quickly. This was due to the fact that he had never been good at saving money so his savings at the time of his quitting were meager to begin with. He’d hoped that canceling all of his streaming services would make a bigger difference to his budget than it had. Now he didn’t even have internet access. His phone service had been shut off too. He was overdue on his electric bill but he still had power. The grimy porchlight hanging over his head as he sat on his front steps and drank semi-cold tap water attested to that. What else? His car was almost out of gas. He’d left a little in the bottom of the tank in case of an emergency, like if he got hurt and had to drive himself either all, most, or some of the way to the hospital depending on how much gas was actually left. He wasn’t living well. Not by the standards of most people that he knew. Not by the standards of the people who lived around him. Fortunately, no one knew how poorly he was living. They didn’t know how grim his meals had become, although they didn’t feel that grim to him. He just knew that, objectively speaking, they were grim. Lots of bargain bread products and generic pop poured from 2-liter bottles into a plastic cup with three ice cubes in it. He was drinking tap water tonight because he had not rationed his pop well.

Next door, Jordan’s neighbors’ children – the biological ones and the adopted ones – chased lightning bugs. Jordan could never remember any of the kids’ names. The oldest one – or maybe she was just the tallest one – stood out by the mailbox next to the sidewalk and held a glass jar. The other kids, as they caught the lightning bugs, carried them to their sister and deposited them into her jar.

                “How many do you have?” called Jordan.

                The girl with the jar smiled and waved at him. “How many what?” she called back.

                “Lightning bugs,” said Jordan.

                The girl held the jar up above her head as if it would catch more light two feet higher in the air. She peered into it, holding it by its lid and rotating it one way and then the other to get a thorough look. “Four,” she finally called.

                “Only four?” asked Jordan. “You guys have been at it for a while. I’ve seen your brothers and sisters run over to put lightning bugs in your jar probably twenty times just since I’ve been sitting here.”

                “Oh, yes,” said the girl. “That’s because we’re mostly catching fireflies tonight. Not on purpose, that’s just how it’s working out. The ratio is a little skewed. But it will probably start to even out if we keep at it for a while. Or not. Maybe there’s something about the conditions tonight that fireflies like more than lightning bugs do.”

                “Hold on,” said Jordan. “You’re saying fireflies and lightning bugs are different things? I thought those were just two different names for the same insect.”

                “Nope,” said the girl. “They’re different.”

                Jordan rose from the porch. Why did his knees hurt more now that he didn’t have a job? It didn’t make sense. He was much easier on them now than he had been when he was a cop. He walked across his lawn and onto his neighbors’ lawn. Children, adopted and biological, galloped back and forth around him in pursuit of lightning bugs and fireflies, but apparently mostly fireflies if the girl was to be believed. As Jordan walked toward the girl with the jar, he tilted his cup into his mouth and accepted the one remaining ice sliver onto his tongue. “So,” he said. “How do you tell which is which?”

                “The difference?” asked the girl. “Between them?”

                “Yeah,” said Jordan. He leaned down to look into the jar. The girl had put some sticks inside of it so the fireflies and lightning bugs would not be too alarmed by the unfamiliar nature of their new environment. There were a lot of insects inside of the jar, crawling on the sticks, crawling on the glass, tumbling down to the bottom, the tips of each individual abdomen glowing intermittently with a greenish-yellow light.

                “It’s hard to tell the difference at first,” said the girl. “You have to get used to it. But once you do, it’s all you see.”

                “Is it just some tiny anatomical feature?” asked Jordan. “A little stripe on the head? Shorter antennas?”

                “Antennae,” said the girl. “But no, they look the same. Well, sort of. A drawing of one of them would look the same as the drawing of the other. Unless the artist was really, really, really good, maybe.”

                “Is it how they move?” asked Jordan.

                “No,” said the girl.

                “Point out a lightning bug to me,” said Jordan. “In the jar.”

                The girl held the jar up over her head again, twisting it like before. “There,” she said. “Crawling up the glass. Halfway up. There.” She hovered her finger on the outside of the glass. “By my finger. There. See the one I mean?”

                “Yes,” said Jordan. He leaned down so that his nose was almost touching the girl’s finger. It was hard to see in the dim light of the evening. The insect’s abdomen flared yellow. It fell off the side of the jar, landed among a cluster of several other insects on the glass bottom, and Jordan lost track of it. “And which ones are fireflies?”

                “Most of them,” said the girl. “All the ones on this stick are.” She tapped the side of the jar to indicate which stick she meant. The insects on the stick, as far as Jordan could see, looked exactly like the one the girl had told him was a lightning bug.

                “Huh,” said Jordan. “They look the same to me.”

                “They’re not,” said the girl. “Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.”

                “I’m sure you do,” said Jordan. He didn’t really believe her though. He had believed that the words “firefly” and “lightning bug” were interchangeable for his entire life and he wasn’t going to cease to believe that now because a child had told him otherwise.

                Behind Jordan, one of the small boys – Jordan wasn’t sure if he was biological or adopted – began to shriek in excitement. If he had undergone puberty yet, it would have been excited shouting, but he looked like he was about seven, so the shouting was shrieking. He hopped toward Jordan and the girl with the jar with his hands cupped in front of him, his long shoelaces flopping in the grass. The shoelaces weren’t untied, they were just so long that the loops of the bows flopped in the grass anyway.

                “What is it?” asked the girl. “What did you catch, Austin?”

                “I don’t know!” shrieked Austin. The other kids were running toward him, crowding him, hopping around him. “It’s something else!” He stopped in front of his older sister and extended his cupped hands. The girl bent close and Austin cracked his hands apart so she could peek inside.

                “No way,” said the girl. “No way!”

                “What is it?” asked Jordan. “Can I look?”

                “Heaven,” said the girl. “Go tell Dad to come out here! Tell him to hurry!”

                One of the other little girls, who looked to be about the same age as Austin and who looked nothing like him, nodded and sprinted toward the house, yanking the screen door open and disappearing into the indoor glow.

                Austin showed the other kids whatever it was that he had in his hands. They were all extremely impressed by it. Jordan could feel the thrill of the moment radiating off of them like a lethal fever. Then some of them started taking second looks. “Hey,” said Jordan. “She already saw it once. Can I take a look?”

                Austin looked at him, then at his sister with the jar in her hand. “Let him take a look,” said the girl.

                Austin extended his cupped hands out and up like he was making an offering to an idol.

                “You have to lean close,” said the girl. “He’s only going to open them a little bit so it can’t get out.”

                Jordan leaned very close to Austin’s hands. He felt a little foolish. Austin’s hands smelled like dirt. Summer dirt. The hands cracked apart and there, cradled within them, Jordan saw an insect. The back end of the insect’s abdomen flared greenish-yellow and Jordan saw the stains and lines on Austin’s palms, the whorls of his fingerprints, the subtly varied textures of his skin. “It looks like a firefly,” said Jordan. “Or a lightning bug.”

                “It’s not,” said the girl. Her voice quivered. “At least, I don’t think. No. No, it isn’t.”

                Austin closed his hands. The screen door sprang open and banged closed as Ian, the kids’ biological and adoptive dad, scurried down the front steps in bare feet and trotted across the lawn, his mid-parted hair flopping, his bespectacled eyes wild. “Let me see,” he said. “Let me see.”

                Austin held up his hands, his father – whether adoptive or biological, it made no difference – leaned close, and when Austin cracked his hands apart, Jordan saw the greenish-yellow glow reflected in the lenses of Ian’s glasses and, indeed, in the corneas of Ian’s eyes.

                “It is,” said Ian. He stood up straight, beaming at his kids, beaming at Jordan. “It is, it is, it is. It is!” He beamed like the tip of a firefly or lightning bug’s abdomen.

                The children, except for Austin and the girl with the jar, began cheering, hollering, hugging each other, tackling each other to the grass, rolling around on the lawn.

                “Empty the jar!” shouted Ian, grinning.

                The girl unscrewed the jar’s lid and turned it upside down. The sticks and many of the insects tumbled out. She whacked the bottom of the jar to evict the stragglers. Then, when it was empty, she and Austin carefully coordinated the transfer of the insect from his hands to the jar. Once the insect was in, the girl clapped the lid back onto the jar and screwed it into place. With this accomplished, the revelry on the lawn ceased and the kids and Ian gathered close around the jar to gaze into it with reverence.

Jordan watched from just outside their family circle. They had all forgotten about him. Not that they had been that interested in him in the first place. But they definitely weren’t going to explain anything to him unless he asserted himself. “So what is it?”

                “A lightningfly,” said Ian without looking at him.

                “What’s that?” asked Jordan.

                “A hybrid,” said Ian. “The offspring of a firefly and a lightning bug.”

                “That’s uncommon?” asked Jordan.

                “This,” said Ian, “may be the only one that has ever existed.”

                “How is it different?” asked Jordan.

                “Different than what?” Ian asked, finally turning to look at Jordan.

                “How is it different than a firefly?” asked Jordan. “Or a lightning bug?”

                “It isn’t,” said Ian. His face kept alternating between solemnity at the importance of the occasion and rapturous joy at the beauty of the occasion. “It isn’t different at all.”

                “From which?” asked Jordan.

                “From either one!” said Ian. “It’s exactly like both of them! At the same time!”

                “But for that to be true,” said Jordan.

                “Stop,” said Ian. “I know what you’re going to say. But that’s why this creature is so incredible. They are unlike each other. It is like both of them.”

                “Can I look at it again?”

                “Carefully,” said Ian. “It’s fragile.”

                “How fragile?” asked Jordan.

                “As fragile as a firefly and a lightning bug,” said Ian. “Simultaneously!” He took the jar from his daughter, who seemed a little perturbed at no longer having the honor of being the jar-bearer, and held it out toward Jordan with both hands.

Jordan looked at the insect crawling on the bottom of the otherwise empty glass jar. The end of its little abdomen glowed, faded, glowed, faded. “I don’t know,” he said. “It looks like a lightning bug to me.”

                “Exactly,” said Ian. “And?”

                “And a firefly,” said Jordan.

                “Exactly,” said Ian. He nodded with immense satisfaction. “Come on kids, let’s go inside. You need to take baths.”

                “Even the adopted kids?” asked Austin.

                “Yes,” said Ian. “All of you. Adopted, biological, all of you.”

                All of the kids groaned, but they followed their father, who carried the jar containing the lightningfly in front of him like a holy relic, into the house. A moment later, the door opened again and Heaven ran back out into the yard and picked up a stick. She held it up and smiled at Jordan. “For the lightningfly to crawl on,” she said. Then she ran back inside.

                Jordan returned to his porch. He sat down on the steps and squeezed his cup, feeling the plastic flex in his strong fingers. A lightning bug landed on his arm. Or a firefly. Or, heck, maybe it was the second lightningfly to ever exist.

 

                The following afternoon, feeling headachey, Jordan walked two miles from his house to the Multioak Public Library. Two middle-aged men stood at the foot of the front steps leading to the library entrance. Their creased and tanned skins glistened. Were they sweaty? Oily? It was hard to tell. One smoked a cigarette and the other wore a dirty green backpack. Both had graying stubble on their chins and cheeks. They appeared to be in great moods. Their conversation was mostly mutual chuckling.

                Inside the library, Jordan went to the front desk to ask how to go about using a computer. There was only one librarian at the desk and she was occupied with a man who was checking out a stack of at least fifteen DVDs. When Jordan saw the man, he felt a small twinge of panic because he was almost certain that he was one of the men he’d just seen out front. But that was impossible. But the man looked identical to them. To one of them. Didn’t he? Jordan gave the man a long look, memorizing his appearance, then returned to the library’s front door and looked outside. The two men were there at the foot of the front steps, still chuckling. Neither of them looked like the man checking out the DVDs at the front desk. Not in their specific details. The man at the front desk was wearing denim shorts whereas the two men outside were both wearing long pants, one in ill-fitting khakis and the other in droopy, never-fashionable jeans. The man at the front desk wore all-black basketball shoes and shin-high white socks. The men outside were not wearing basketball shoes. One wore sandals with black socks, the other wore flip-flops and the toes on his left foot were bruised. Still, the similarity between the man at the front desk and the men outside was striking. What was it?

                Jordan returned to the front desk as the man took his backpack full of DVDs off of the counter and slipped it onto one shoulder. “Thanks,” said the man with a happy wave, making no effort to keep his voice down, perhaps even making an effort to ensure that his voice was louder than a merely conversational tone. The librarian gave him a tight smile. Jordan expected the man to walk past him toward the front door, but instead, he turned and headed back into the depths of the library, striding out with force of purpose, disappearing among the stacks.

                Jordan approached the front desk with his library card in hand and asked about the procedure for using a computer. The librarian told him he would need to sign up on the sign-up sheet. There was a long list of names on the sheet, nearly all of them gouged onto the paper in minor variations of dark, sloppy, masculine handwriting. Many of the names were crossed out with a single line from a blue pen, which Jordan took to mean that they had already had their turns on the computers, but there were several names which had not been crossed out. These were the people – the men – who were ahead of Jordan in line for the computers. Jordan turned to look at the rows of computers positioned just across from the front desk where the librarians could keep an eye on them. There were ten computers in all. At nine of them sat middle-aged men in soft-drink logo t-shirts with the sleeves cut off, in faded sweaters inappropriate for the weather, in tank-tops clinging to their strangely proportioned bodies, in solid-color pocket t-shirts so large that the sleeves hung to their tough, hairless elbows. Men with stringy hair ringing gleaming baldness, with backward adjustable baseball caps too tight for their big bony heads, with loose ponytails growing looser by the second. Men leaning forward so their faces almost touched the monitors, leaning back so they had to extend their arms as far as they could to use the keyboards, men looking rapidly back and forth between their monitors and open notebooks full of crumpled pages on their laps. Men grinning without appearing to realize it, men frowning with misapplied concentration, men blinking too much, men loudly glugging water from bottles which had not originally contained water and from which the labels had been torn, men turned all the way around in their chairs to see what was happening behind them, men saying things to each other with absolutely zero effort to keep their voices down. At the tenth computer, a teenage girl with a dark complexion worked on an online job application and tried to ignore the busy energy of the library men all around her.

                “I’ll call your name when a computer is available for you,” said the librarian. “But don’t wander too far, because this is a library. So I don’t call the names very loudly.”

                “OK,” said Jordan. “How long do you think it will be?”

                “A while,” said the librarian. “It depends on how things go.” Neither the way she looked at Jordan nor the way she spoke to him was friendly. He looked down at himself. He wore low-top sneakers, gray jeans, a t-shirt he’d gotten at a Heathen Hemorrhage concert a few years back. Was the Heathen Hemorrhage shirt throwing the librarian off? He’d purchased their t-shirt with the least violent image on it but just the name of the band was enough to upset some people.

                “I’ll stay within earshot,” said Jordan. He didn’t know where else to go while he waited other than in among the tall, gray shelves full of books. He walked up an aisle, looking back and forth at the books rising above his head on both sides, not to mention the books down at the level of his feet, books he would need to squat, crouch, or kneel to access. Plus the books at all the height levels in between: books at knee level, at waist level, chest level, eye level. And the next aisle Jordan walked down was the same. And the next. The library – and this was perhaps predictable – but the library was filled with books. As befits a library. A true library. And then something occurred to Jordan: he could look up the differences between lightning bugs and fireflies in a book, if there were indeed differences. And if there were no differences between fireflies and lightning bugs, then a book would be fully capable of telling him that too as long as it was the right book. If Jordan could find the right book, he wouldn’t need to wait for his name to be called so he could use one of the computers. Why should he wait for who knew how long to use a computer to look up a simple fact, the entire process of which would probably take a maximum of one minute unless the list of differences between a firefly and a lightning bug was very, very long? And even if it was, he’d probably just skim. No, it would be better to find the information in a book now and then be on his way. Besides, books were more reliable than the internet. Books got fact-checked and edited and verified and stuff. The more Jordan thought about it, the more sure he became that Ian and his family had gotten their information about fireflies and lightning bugs and lightningflies from the internet, not from a book like he was about to do.

                Jordan came to the end of an aisle where he encountered a middle-aged man with heavily pock-marked cheeks and the deepest forehead furrows he had ever seen. The man sat in a gray upholstered chair that had clearly been stationed where it was by the library. It was clear that the man had done nothing to contribute to the fact of the chair’s presence, he was merely taking advantage of that fact. The man wore a blue flannel shirt and fraying cargo shorts. He nodded at Jordan and lifted a fruit cup to his face, consuming it like a beverage, slurping greedily. “You looking for something?” asked the man, making no effort to keep his voice down. The fruit cup in his hand was now empty. He had eaten it entirely in one go.

                “Do you work here?” asked Jordan.

                “I’m Lee,” said the man. He extended his hand toward Jordan as if expecting a handshake, but the empty fruit cup was still in his hand. Jordan took the empty fruit cup from him and Lee retracted his hand as if the fruit cup exchange had functioned as an acceptable, perhaps even preferable, substitution for a handshake. Jordan wished he had not accepted the empty fruit cup for it was trash. Lee had not answered Jordan’s question, and yet he had.

                “Do you know where books about insects are?” asked Jordan.

                Lee tapped his head and smiled. The slyness of his smile made it clear that by tapping his head, he was actually indicating his brain. “No,” he said, an answer that to Jordan’s way of thinking was at odds with his deliberately chosen body language.

                “All right,” said Jordan. “I’ll keep looking.” He tried to hand the empty fruit cup back to Lee. Instead of reaching for the fruit cup, Lee leaned forward and peered down into it as if he thought maybe Jordan wanted him to see that he’d accidentally failed to eat a little fruit still clinging to the bottom. Upon seeing that the fruit cup was as empty as he’d thought when he’d first handed it to Jordan, Lee leaned back in the library’s chair and said, “Graham’s seen the insect book. The insect book for us.”

                “Who’s Graham?” asked Jordan.

                “He’s here somewhere,” said Lee. “Unless he got kicked out today.”

                “Why would he get kicked out?” asked Jordan.

                “Too loud,” said Lee.

                “So you guys do know that you’re supposed to be quiet?” asked Jordan.

                “Sure,” said Lee. “It’s a library.” He said this without the faintest effort to keep his voice down.

                “How do I find Graham?” asked Jordan.

                “It’s tough,” said Lee. “Graham’s usually on the move.” He pulled a battered backpack out from under the chair and unzipped it with violence. He thrust his hand inside the backpack and seemed, from Jordan’s perspective, to just be jumbling its contents. “Speak of the Devil,” said Lee, and Jordan had the absurd thought that he was going to pull Graham out of his backpack. But no, Lee was referring to the fact that a middle-aged man had just burst out of the end of an aisle to Jordan’s right and had taken a hard left turn toward them, walking at speeds as inappropriate for the library as the midweek midday library men’s speaking voices were.

                “Stop for a second, Graham,” said Lee.

                Graham came to a sliding halt that in a cartoon would have been accompanied by the sound of squealing brakes and screeching tires though he was in no way a car.

                “This guy wants to know if you’ve seen the book they’ve got here about insects,” said Lee. “You probably know the one, right?”

Though Graham’s gray and sand-colored hair was not long, it was in desperate need of being cut. He had the flared nostrils of a man who has recently bitten another man on purpose and in anger. He wore painter’s pants stained with dirt, but not paint, and a t-shirt advertising a local folk music festival that had been canceled because of rumors. “I’ve seen all the books,” said Graham, his voice somehow both deep and piercing.

                “Can you direct me to the insect books?” asked Jordan.

                “I’ll lead you there,” said Graham. His shoulders went up and down as he breathed. “This way.” He blew past Jordan and Lee and made another hard left down an aisle. Jordan didn’t have time to say goodbye to Lee. He scurried after Graham, struggling to keep up without running. Graham wound his way through the aisles at a reckless speed and Jordan followed, worrying that he would crash into someone and split a lip, his or theirs or both. Fortunately, there were not many people in the library who were among the books, and those who were knew to press themselves flat against the shelves as Graham and Jordan whizzed past. Jordan began to doubt Graham’s utility as a guide when he noticed that they had traveled down some of the aisles more than once, but then they arrived at a staircase and descended it to a basement that Jordan had not known existed. The basement was full of bookshelves, each one fully engaged in justifying its existence by fulfilling its intended purpose. The basement ceiling was low. The tops of the bookshelves almost touched it. Jordan thought he saw a sign on the end of one of the shelves that said “Science,” and although Graham did not lead him down that aisle, Jordan was encouraged. A few moments later, he ran into Graham’s back and split his lip on the back of Graham’s head. Graham had stopped. “Ow!” Graham said or shouted, it was hard to tell which.

                “Sorry,” said Jordan, rubbing his lip. “I couldn’t stop in time.”

                They had arrived in a corner of the library’s basement. Jordan was too disoriented to know which corner. There were three padded chairs arranged around a triangular, shin-high table covered with what seemed like many backpacks, but which was actually only two backpacks. In two of the chairs sat middle-aged men. One wore dark sunglasses, the other wore tinted eyeglasses. The one with the tinted eyeglasses had four Band-Aids on his face. The one with the dark sunglasses had old-fashioned, on-the-ear, padded headphones around his neck from which came the tinny sound of galloping thrash metal.

                Rubbing the spot on the back of his head where Jordan’s face had struck him, Graham pointed at the man with the dark glasses and headphones. “This is Lorne.” He pointed at the man with tinted eyeglasses and Band-Aids on his face. “This is Rupert.”

                Jordan nodded at the men.

                “This guy’s looking for the insect book,” said Graham.

                “Why?” asked Rupert. Talking made one side of the Band-Aid stuck to his left cheek pull loose. It flapped as he asked, “What do you need to know?” Jordan would have expected nothing else at this point, but Rupert did not make an effort to keep his voice down.

                “I want to find some information on lightning bugs,” said Jordan.

                “Are you doing some kind of investigation?” asked Rupert.

                “No,” said Jordan. “What do you mean? I just want to look up some facts about them.”

                “I mean you used to be a cop,” said Rupert. “Didn’t you?”

                “Oh, yeah,” said Jordan. “I used to be. But I quit.”

                “I’m not like these other guys,” said Rupert. “I’ve got my ear to the ground. I know what’s going on around here.”

                “He’s looking for a book about insects,” said Graham. “Do you know it or not?”

                Lorne moved his headphones onto his ears and began to hum along with the music, crossing his arms over his chest and tapping his shoulders to the rhythm.

                “I want to know what he wants it for,” said Rupert. “Specifically.”

                “I want to know if there’s a difference between fireflies and lightning bugs,” said Jordan.

                “That’s it?” asked Rupert.

                “And if there’s such thing as a lightningfly,” said Jordan.

                “Good questions!” said Rupert, rising to his feet. Jordan hadn’t noticed all the tortilla chip fragments on Rupert’s lap until they cascaded onto the table and floor when he stood. “I’ll show you the book you probably want. This kind of inquisitiveness would have served you well when you were on the force.”

                Graham made a decisive face and bolted down the nearest aisle and out of sight. Neither Rupert nor Lorne seemed surprised to see him go and Jordan supposed he wasn’t surprised either. He did notice for the first time that as loud as Graham’s voice was, his footsteps were quiet, almost silent.

                “This way,” said Rupert. His footsteps were loud but the trip to the insect book was not far. It was called The Guide to Insects Which Fly for the Grown-Up Man with Time on His Hands and it was surrounded by books about entrepreneurship. “I keep it stashed over here so people who want it can’t find it without me,” said Rupert.

                “Have you read the book?” asked Jordan as he pulled it off of the shelf.

                “No,” said Rupert. “But I’ll tell you this: ‘lightningfly’ sounds like something you’d find on the internet, not in this book.” He tapped the book, an action which somehow caused one end of the Band-Aid on his forehead to pop loose. He now had two Band-Aid halves flapping whenever he moved his head.

                Jordan looked in the insect book’s table of contents. “There’s a chapter about tadpoles. Tadpoles aren’t insects and they don’t fly.”

                “Listen,” said Rupert, snatching the book out of Jordan’s hands. “I’m not homeless, OK? I have a place I could be right now. But I choose to be here. And that’s the same for all of us.” He waved the book in a circle around his head as if to indicate everyone in the library, but Jordan knew who he really meant. “So don’t give me guff about the book I’m showing you. Trust me, this is the book you’re looking for. I never said everything in it was right. Did I?”

                “All right, all right,” said Jordan. “Give me the book back. I just want to look at the lightning bug chapter. If it has one.”

                “Excuse me.”

                Jordan turned around to find a librarian he had not seen before glaring at him. Her pants were covered in a floral pattern but her summery top was not. She wore her glasses on top of her head in a way that Jordan thought looked cool. Her nametag claimed that her name was Heloise.

                “Is it my turn on the computer?” asked Jordan.

                “No,” said Heloise. “I’m asking you to leave.”

                “Leave?” asked Jordan. “Him or me?”

                “Both of you,” said Heloise. “I heard you talking from upstairs. Upstairs! You’re being very disruptive.”

                With a jolt, Jordan realized that he had been making no effort to keep his voice down for he didn’t know how long now.

                “Who are we disrupting?” asked Rupert. “Who?”

                “Everyone within earshot,” said Heloise. “Which is almost everyone in the library. But it was Mr. Diller who complained to me directly.”

                “Mr. Diller!” shouted Rupert. “Mr. Diller? He’s homeless!”

                “I don’t care if he’s homeless or not,” said Heloise. “He’s using the library for its intended purpose. And even if he isn’t, he’s not preventing other people from using the library for its intended purpose. He’s keeping his voice down.”

                “We have homes,” said Rupert. “We have other places we could be!”

                “I’m not with him,” said Jordan, pointing at Rupert. “I’m not with any of them. I’m here to research insects. Fireflies, actually.”

                “With that book?” asked Heloise. She pointed at the book in Rupert’s hand.

                “Yes,” said Jordan. “Well, maybe. Unless there’s a computer open?”

                “No,” said Heloise. “You’re banned for the day. You can come back tomorrow and try to behave properly.”

                As Jordan walked up the steps from the library basement to the ground floor, Graham came careening down them and there was a bad collision that, by a miracle, did not result in any broken bones. It did result in Graham also receiving a one-day ban though. And Jordan’s one-day ban was stretched into a ban of the two-day variety. Leaving the library, Jordan passed two different middle-aged men standing at the foot of the library steps. Or maybe they were the same two. They nodded at him as he walked by. Jordan grappled with whether or not he should nod back at them, and then, once he was past, he couldn’t remember what he had decided.  Around the corner from the library, Jordan threw his library card into a garbage can.

 

                “Well, look who it is,” said Jordan’s dad, Gerald. He was a fat, healthy man who never wore formal clothes but always looked as if he had just changed out of them. “Did you knock?”

                “No,” said Jordan. “I just came in. What are you doing?” It was the first time he’d been to his parents’ house since he’d quit his job. He was not one to voluntarily seek out conflict, a fact which probably should have precipitated his quitting the police department years earlier.

                “I’m working,” said Gerald. He sat on the former living room couch that now took up a third of his den. Jordan had once fended off death when he was a teenager by performing the Heimlich maneuver on himself while sitting on that couch. The stain from the partially-chewed meatball that had burst out of his esophagus was still visible on the couch’s arm. In front of the couch on the floor, there was a piece of black poster board with newspaper clippings glued to it. As Jordan watched, Gerald slid off of the couch and knelt to glue another clipping to the poster board. Jordan could see what the clippings were about. He could read their bold headlines upside down.

                “Can I use your internet?” asked Jordan. “I want to look something up.”

                “Old-fashioned techniques work best,” said Gerald without looking up from the poster board. “In this town, they still do. Breaking a sweat. Pounding the pavement. Talking to people.”

                “I’m just trying to look up some facts about insects,” said Jordan.

                “You don’t understand what I’m talking about,” said Gerald. “You never did. That’s why you never found him and that’s why you quit. You thought the Outbuilding Sniper would just send you a text message. You thought the Outbuilding Sniper would just send you an email.”

                “I already tried the library,” said Jordan. “That didn’t work. It’s been overrun by men.”

                “I’m going to solve the Outbuilding Sniper case,” said Gerald. “I’m going to restore our family name. Everyone in town knows you’re the son of the man who solved the I.D. Vandals case, Jordan. Everyone knows. We all expected great things from you. Everyone was sure you’d be the one to crack the Outbuilding Sniper case. And then you quit. You didn’t even try to solve it and you quit. You quit!”

                “How do you know I’m not working on it at home?” asked Jordan. “How do you know I don’t have Outbuilding Sniper articles glued to a piece of poster board in my den?”

                “Do you?” asked Gerald. The tentative hope in his voice made Jordan sad.

                “No,” he said. “I don’t.”

                “You could,” said Gerald. “You could have one and I could have one. We could work on it together. I could show you my techniques. The same techniques that cracked the I.D. Vandals case, Jordan.”

                “Dad, come on,” said Jordan. “Those vandals left their driver’s licenses at the scenes of the vandalisms. Anyone could have solved that crime.”

                “But ‘anyone’ didn’t,” said Gerald. “I did. I was the only one who didn’t just automatically assume the driver’s licenses were planted to divert us from the real perpetrators. I was the only one who drove to the exact addresses that were printed on the driver’s licenses to confront the suspects whereupon they immediately confessed.”

                “Well, the Outbuilding Sniper hasn’t left his driver’s license by any of the outbuildings he’s shot,” said Jordan.

                “But do we know that?” asked Gerald, rising to his feet as he spoke as if to make the question that he clearly intended to be provocative sound even more provocative.

                “You really think that’s going to be the answer for the second time in your life, Dad? The perpetrator is just going to leave his I.D. at the scene of the crime again?”

                “There’s no mention in the paper of the authorities looking for a driver’s license at any of the scenes of the crimes,” said Gerald. “They may still be there.”

                “Maybe he can’t drive,” said Jordan.

                “Maybe it’s a passport this time,” said Gerald. “A driver’s license isn’t the only I.D.”

                “Can I use the internet or not?” asked Jordan.

                “We lost the paper with the password written on it,” said Gerald.

                “You know,” said Jordan. “It’s really stupid that they call him the ‘Outbuilding Sniper.’ It doesn’t take a sniper to shoot an outbuilding. Outbuildings are big. Any idiot with a gun could shoot one. And he might not even be shooting them from far away.”

                “It’s just a name,” said Gerald. He gave Jordan a hug that conveyed loving disappointment and Jordan left the house and began his long walk toward home.

               

                By the time Jordan got back to his street, the sun had set and the sky was mostly purple but for a red smear just above the horizon behind which the sun had performed its aforementioned setting. Fireflies, lightning bugs, and the like – for they all still seemed alike to him – flew around Jordan and blinked their abdomens according to their private rhythms as he followed the sidewalk that he knew for a fact would lead him to his home. His feet were sore from a day spent standing on them and walking on them. He was also hungry. He had been too proud to eat any of his parents’ food. He had worried that they would think that asking to use their internet had been a ruse to get free food from them.

                On Ian’s front lawn, his adopted and biological children were shooting at each other with squirt guns, indifferent to the flying, blinking insects all around them.

                “Hey,” said the girl who had first told Jordan that fireflies and lightning bugs were different. If he had learned her name at the time, Jordan had forgotten it now. “My dad wants to talk to you. I’ll run in and get him.” She trotted up the front steps, losing both of her floppy sneakers in the process and leaving them behind, and disappeared into the house. The screen door clapped closed behind her. Jordan waited. He watched the remaining kids play and tried to determine who was adopted and who was biological based on the dynamics of the squirt-gun fight. He couldn’t. The screen door opened and Ian came out by himself, trotted half-way down the front steps, tripped on one of his daughter’s shoes, and fell sideways into the flowerbed where he crushed many Gerber daisies beneath his body. Some of his children laughed and some were concerned. Was this the adopted/biological divide revealing itself? And if so, which origin corresponded with which reaction?

                Ian stood and limped over to Jordan. “Well, that was embarrassing,” he said. Dirt stuck to one side of his body and to one lens of his glasses. There was dirt clinging to one side of his mid-parted hair.

                “Accidents happen,” said Jordan. “It was kind of interesting seeing the whole chain of events, at least.”

                “No one ever sees the whole chain,” said Ian. “Anyway, I thought you should know that someone shot my shed earlier this evening. I didn’t hear it, but the bullet hole definitely wasn’t there this afternoon.”

                “Oh, sorry,” said Jordan. “But I’m not a cop anymore. And when I was a cop, I wasn’t investigating the Outbuilding Sniper.”

                “I know that,” said Ian. “But I found this stuck to the side of shed with chewing gum. Right next to the bullet hole. I scraped the gum off of the back.” He held something card-shaped out toward Jordan.

                Jordan took it. It was his library card. “It wasn’t me,” said Jordan. “I swear.”

                “I know,” said Ian. “I just figured you’d want your library card back.”

                “I don’t,” said Jordan. He didn’t mean it to sound as hostile as it came out.

                “No?” asked Ian. “I thought you seemed like a library man.”

                “A what?” Now Jordan did mean to sound hostile.

                Ian took a step back. “Like, the kind of guy who likes to spend time at the library. I didn’t mean it as an insult.”

                “Sorry,” said Jordan. “Sorry, sorry. I don’t like to spend time at the library. When I go there, I go for a specific purpose and then I leave. Sorry. I had a rough day.”

                “Being out of work sucks,” said Ian. “Just watching that number in your bank account get smaller and smaller and never bigger.”

                Jordan didn’t want to talk about that. “How’s the lightningfly doing?”

                “Oh, pretty good,” said Ian. He turned to look at his children. “The kids aren’t interested in catching fireflies or lightning bugs anymore though. Not even my biological kids. I guess catching what’s very probably the only lightningfly in existence makes it hard to go back to the usual.”

                “If you don’t mind my asking,” said Jordan, “where did you get your information about lightning bugs, fireflies, and lightningflies?”

                “Oral tradition,” said Ian. “The only reliable source. The only way to convey the complexity of certain information without sacrificing any of its beauty.”

                Jordan nodded – not that he actually agreed – and slipped his library card into his front pocket. Doing so felt dangerous. He looked at his house. The windows were dark. When he went inside and flipped the switch, would the lights come on? The evening breeze touched the back of his neck like a creep. The light in his house either would or would not turn on when he went inside and flipped the switch, so why did it feel like he would never know? He wondered how it would feel to be exactly like two unlike things. He wondered if it would feel better than being a little like many unlike things. It had to, right?




Discussion Questions

  • Where do the midweek midday library men come from? Where do they go when the library closes? How are they allowed to check out that many DVDs?



  • Is the light produced by the insect in question more akin to fire or lightning? Should the answer to this question be relevant to one’s decision regarding which term to use?



  • What’s the proudest you’ve ever been of something you’ve done that wasn’t especially smart, it was just not dumb?



  • If you were a cop who had recently quit the force, what do you think would be the most likely reason?



  • To what extent will the fact that I’ve finally gotten a job help lift my characters out of poverty?



  • What or who is the most reliable source you know for esoteric insect information?