Contest #136 shortlist ⭐️

Of glints, and collecting fireflies

Submitted into Contest #136 in response to: Start or end your story with someone saying “You’ll never know unless you try.”... view prompt

26 comments

Fiction Sad Inspirational

This story contains themes or mentions of suicide or self harm.

When Alice confessed to John that she felt empty, there was static on the other end. It had taken her every ounce of her being to admit that. It had surprised her too, to use that word.


Although when she said empty, what she really meant was, I came close to ending it last night. In fact, I still have the blade by the edge of the tub, and the water, once warm, is now cold, and the tub isn’t drained yet. I have climbed in and out of it a few times, and felt the coldness of the blade on my wrist. But I can't do it, John, and I don’t know why.


"Oh Alice," the voice on the other end said, softly and knowing. She felt seen, a dagger piercing through her sorrow. She burst into tears, loud, heart wrenching tears that tightened her stomach, ripped through her shoulders, and came out as a wail. She wanted to wrestle someone or a god, and punch and punch, till the darkness flowed out of her. And ask, why did you ever put it there. Why does it hurt so much? Instead she let the phone drop from her hand, a heavy thud on the wooden floor. Her wracking tears, like punches in her gut. There was so much anguish, and so much relief too, it was strange.


John let her cry, not saying anything, just breath finding breath, a shared existence in an envelope of pain. When she finally came up for air, she leaned her head against the window frame and looked out at the grey skies. It was February, it was cold still, and the trees were bare. Life felt baren, a strange land where nothing grows.


She picked up the phone and said in a scratchy whisper, "John, I don't know how to do it anymore." 


She wanted to say more, but she didn't have the words to describe it. How life felt heavier now. How she woke up each morning wishing she hadn't. How she felt rudderless, purposeless, a drifting box in an endless ocean. How she ran 5km each morning, not out of pleasure, but as an act of prayer, please give me strength. How she exhausted the strength on Zoom meetings, smiling sweetly at the people she worked with who cannot see through her charade, or will not see, or perhaps were playing the same charade. How she showed up each morning anyway, so she could keep paying rent, so she could have something to do. How when she goes out, she wants to scream at people on the street and peel off their masks to find a trace of her anguish on their faces. She wants to look and find something, and say, I recognise that. But they were buried deep, behind the masks, the makeup, the squinty happy smiles. Are you not feeling what I am feeling? She wants to shout, but keeps mum and smiles blankly, her body moving to the drums of routine. Shoe laces tied, time to run. Toilet paper out, time to shop. The absurdity. Can you not tell that it is all wrong? All of it. Can you not tell that the universe is spinning the wrong way? 


When John had messaged her months ago, to be his light partner on the online life, loss, and light anonymous group, she had been reluctant. She’d only joined the group at her therapist’s insistent suggestions. A light partner sounded weird, and frankly arrogant. How can you, who can’t see the light, want to guide me through the darkness? Also, there was the burden of it. She didn’t want to be beholden to another person or have another thing to be accountable to. She wanted to keep her circle thin and light, so that one day, some day, when she would find the courage to dig the blade in, there would be less damage. 


I don’t think I need a light partner. I already have a therapist, she’d replied to his message. 

I’m an old man, who’s seen my fair share of pain, do me an honor of bearing witness to my darkness, and more importantly to my light. I’ll only call once a week, I promise. I won’t be a bother, he’d countered.


She had checked his profile afterwards. He was 83, and lived in a hospice. Fought in the Vietnam war, and had in his bio: The love of my life passed on 3 months ago. I’m left adrift, but determined to sail.  


She’d messaged a day later with a reply, I’ll be your partner, but feel free to cut me off if it doesn’t work for you. She had done it out of pity, with the expectation that he would drop her soon and find a more suitable partner. But it had been 3 months now, and he still called every Sunday evening at 7pm. Mostly he’d talk and she’d listen, and give her usual huh huhs, until he’d say, “Okay dear, talk to you next week.”


Now she hung onto the phone like a zipline to the other end. "I don’t know how to be okay.”


"You don’t have to be," John said, his voice getting vibrant like he was standing tall now, like he was fifty years younger, "You just have to find the glint in today’s darkness. The light will come eventually, but it won't come all at once. Our despair lies in our expectation that there should always be light, and our mistake is in being too comfortable with the darkness not to see the glints. It is your job now, my dear, to navigate the dark, finding and collecting fireflies. It's a mission only the bravest among us attempt, to find miracles in a void. That is your purpose now, to do your daily routines, to remember to brush your teeth, to take a shower, and watch out for the glints in the little things. And one day, you will wake up, and be surprised at the brightness of your life."


She’d sighed, and John had stayed on the phone longer than usual, just listening to her breathe, in and out, a glint in his own darkness, and then finally said, “Alright dear, talk to you next Sunday, and tell me all about the glints.”


Years later, twenty-two years long, Alice would give that same speech to Frank, her light partner. This was long after John had passed and was a firefly roaming and brightening the darkness of outer space, long after she met Henry, a dancing goofy firefly, and with whom she had adopted Deborah, a brilliant bright firefly. She had collected these fireflies slowly, boringly, drowsingly, glint by glint, until one day she’d had enough light to sit, and actually enjoy the view. 


Now she sat with Frank in a coffee shop and held his hands. “That’s easy for you to say,” Frank, who was in his late twenties said. They’d been light partners for 3 weeks and this was their fifth check-in. “You are so much stronger than I am.”


“No, I’m not. I’ve been where you are.”

“I don’t think I can,” Frank insisted. He was wearing a nicely cut suit. He reminded Alice of herself, decades ago, hiding the pain behind the polished appearance.


“Well give it a try, will you. Look out for a glint today. Something to point at and say, that’s not absolutely terrible. It’s a muscle you see, this art of collecting glints in darkness. And you can get so good at it, and the little lights can amass to become a comfortable life, a good life…, but you’ll never know, unless you try.”







March 11, 2022 15:21

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26 comments

Amanda Lieser
04:30 Mar 28, 2022

Oh my goodness! Welcome to Reedsey! This was a STUNNING piece to enter with. I can’t sing praises of it enough. I loved how this was a dialogue heavy piece and I admired the themes you incorporated as well as the way you did it! Congratulations on getting shortlisted! It was so very well deserved. I recently finished my piece for this week titled, “Summer Loving.” And I’d welcome any feedback a writer like you may have to offer. Congrats again!

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J.C. Lovero
03:03 Mar 21, 2022

Congrats on your shortlist! Well-deserved.

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22:37 Mar 20, 2022

Very nice, I wasn't able to like it for you, on the like button. So you have one extra like than you have recieved. Lee

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Bee O
07:40 Mar 21, 2022

Haha, thanks Lee, appreciate it!

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16:08 Mar 20, 2022

Congrats on the well-deserved shortlist -- woo hoo! Are you interested in reading this story for posterity? Maybe check out: https://bluemarblestorytellers.com/podcast-2/

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Bee O
18:39 Mar 20, 2022

That sounds great! I wouldn't mind a guest reader reading it on my behalf.

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18:59 Mar 20, 2022

russell@bmpublish.com Would you like a male or female voice? Russell is Australian :)

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Bee O
07:39 Mar 21, 2022

I've listened to Russel's voice and liked it. Let's go with that :)

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15:54 Mar 21, 2022

Just send Russell Norman an email and a link to your story, and he'll get it in the queue. Wonderful! russell@bmpublish.com

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Russell Norman
21:18 Mar 21, 2022

What a great story, and thanks for the complement. We will make it happen in the next week or so. However, would it be possible to get a little more information about you. 1. Guidance on how to pronounce your name correctly 2. Country where you live (both originally and now if they are different) 3. Any other information you wish to share about you as a writer. As Deidra mentioned, you can send the information to my email address (russell@bmpublish.com), if you don't want to post it here.

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Russell Norman
17:14 Apr 02, 2022

Thanks for allowing us to read this story on Blue Marble Storytellers (bluemarblestorytellers.com).

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Riel Rosehill
19:15 Mar 19, 2022

Hi! Congrats on making the shortlist with your first submission, that is incredible! This was a beautiful, heartwarming story full of hope (much more wholesome than what I've done for this prompt!) - and I loved the motif of fireflies. Nice work!

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Bee O
18:33 Mar 20, 2022

Thank you so much! And thanks for reading, appreciate it!

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Aeris Walker
02:19 Mar 24, 2022

I like how the theme comes full circle. Well done.

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Kevin Broccoli
16:34 Mar 21, 2022

I loved this story! What a knockout, well done.

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Philip Ebuluofor
18:34 Mar 19, 2022

One submission, one shortlisted and next time, one win. Welcome.

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Bee O
18:33 Mar 20, 2022

Thanks for the warm welcome!

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Philip Ebuluofor
06:19 Mar 21, 2022

My pleasure.

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15:33 Mar 18, 2022

Congratulations! Well done, sir.

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Bee O
09:59 Mar 19, 2022

Thanks a lot!

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Shea West
15:10 Mar 18, 2022

Congrats on your shortlist Busayo! This was a lovely story.

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Bee O
09:59 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you!

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L.M. Lydon
23:55 Mar 16, 2022

The relationship between John and Alice was beautiful. That she can carry that beauty forward into later relationships is touching.

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Bee O
08:53 Mar 18, 2022

Yes, I thought so too. Thanks for reading!

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Victoria Luu
21:31 Mar 14, 2022

That was a lovely story with beautiful prose. Your description of Alice's pain in the beginning was so evocative.

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Bee O
08:52 Mar 18, 2022

Thank you for reading!

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