Green is the color of wishes, the color of hope that holds itself up on shaking legs even when all seems lost. So many ways to wish: birthday candles and wishbones, tossed pennies, dandelions and here’s one you probably never heard of. My mother Clare used to say said that the fat green beetles buzzing around Auntie Sander’s fruit trees all summer came from the place where wishes could become real. She called them figgy beetles.

Being a child of action rather than contemplation, I would snatch a figgy out of the air and play with it until sometimes a leg or antenna would break off. Captured figgy beetles would dig patiently at the insides of my hand, slow and muscular. Seeing this could not have been easy for Clare, tender earth-mother that she was, but instead of getting angry with me she said that if I told a figgy my wish and let it go fastfast, my wish could come true. 

My life now is thousands of miles from the Aunties’ garden, and there are no figgy beetles in it. Sure, you might see Japanese beetles, but those look like ugly, stunted imitations. I haven’t so much as thought of figgies in over half a decade. 

The last time I was in this garden I was going on twelve years old and no longer interested in tiny miracles. The couple of months I was supposed to be away had turned into years of exile from which I had only this morning returned. The very last thing I wanted was to be back feeling the terrible roaring absence of the people who had lived here. After they had all three sailed off Highway 1 into Mar Pacifico, California had ceased to exist for me. It was a thing my mind dropped into the sea and my heart turned away from. 

The law has decided that I am old enough now to make my own decisions. I have money and there are people helping me out. The only reason for the return is that becoming a property owner has forced me into a decision. All I want right now is to get back on the next flight going east. 

Like a lot of people I hate crowded places; when I’m forced to be in with strangers there’s a rasping, booming sound inside my head. The energy of human groups feels like jagged, wavy red lines. My flight was tolerable only because I bought both seats on my side of first class, crawled under my jacket and fell asleep before takeoff. This is just one self-protective arrow from my very full quiver. The don’t talk to me, I am not your conversational prisoner body language has come in handy on buses, trains and now, airplanes. 

There’s a hotel room reserved for me but I decided to bite the bullet and come to the Aunties’ house directly from LAX. 

Once, this was my home. This is where I slept for thousands of nights, sometimes in the big front house on the Aunties’ couch, but usually in my twin-sized bunkbed over top of Clare’s in the cottage. Clare was a snorer and I’m light sleeper and I only wish that my having to wear earplugs had been the worst effect of our mismatched personalities.

I shouldn’t have slept on the plane; ever since landing here I’m feeling completely disoriented. Keep thinking that familiarity should click in at some point, but even here in this garden, standing between the Aunties’ front house and Clare’s cottage I feel tilted. The property management company did its impersonal best to keep things in order, sending in contractors to prune the fruit trees and mow the lawns, but of course the garden isn’t the same having been under the touch of strangers for so long. I didn’t realize how much trees could grow in seven years, and it never occurred to me that the cottage would have been repainted, as the management company has urged me to do for the front house before listing it. Curb appeal and all that. 

And speaking of curbs, the cab is there now with its meter chewing through my dollars like a contented cow. After opening the little gate and walking into the back yard it feels like I’ve fallen through a chink of reality into another-where and another-when.

Over a year ago I was notified that I was the legal owner but it took me this long to make the trip. Maybe I’ve come back but I haven’t come home. That’s a thing I can never do. I tell myself this is only a property I hold the deed to and which I will sell as soon as I can. With the people who lived here came the magic I remember, and with their deaths it has gone. I can hardly look at the garden, let alone the cottage where the child-me lived. 

I notice that the little cottage is white, not butter yellow like when I left. No special touches, no complementary trim color, the sort of quickie job done by painters who will never live in it. Done recently, for there are stray flecks of paint on the walkway and boxwood hedge. I have the keys but there is no reason to go inside either of the buildings. Calling the two empty homes buildings somehow helps. Only buildings, only a ten-thousand square foot parcel of land containing two residences. When I was safely all those miles away it was interesting to be holding a phone on one coast while giving orders to an attentive stranger on the other coast. Everything that was taken out and put into storage for years after my family’s obliteration had finally been auctioned, the proceeds put into a trust for me, even though now I don’t need or want the money. If I spend that money my family will finally, really be gone. 

All through my childhood, Clare and I were the Aunties’ tenants. It never bothered Clare to rent, she believed that land belongs to its carers, not its ‘owners’. She had lots of funny ideas like that. The little patio of the now-white cottage has barely anything left from the flower garden Clare planted but surprisingly, the statue of la Virgen is still there. Someone has touched her up recently; maybe the same crew that whitewashed the cottage had a Mexican guy or two. 

The cottage is nothing to me anymore. Only a place on the planet where I ate my meals and took baths, where I slept and played.

And was loved. 

And was protected. 

My childhood, when I had bothered giving it thought these past seven years, could only be seen from my own viewpoint, my hurts and frustrations, my fights with Clare. Her depressions and the times she lost her temper and shouted, immediately apologizing to me through sloppy tears while I stood stiff and straight, refusing to return her hug. I could stay mad like that for days. 

Was I ever nice to her? The thoughts tumbling down into my chest, becoming feelings that bruise my heart and organs. I welcome the pain. It’s what I deserve. I’m having trouble breathing and about to flee when a narrow sound slips between the layers of my consciousness, making a space just large enough for itself, at once barely intrusive and jarringly familiar. 

A low buzzing like a faraway lawnmower, yet close. It rises in pitch, approaching from somewhere off to my left, from the place where I was just standing under Auntie Sander’s fruit trees.

I forgot how slow they were, figgy beetles, so ridiculously easy to catch. Auntie Sander called them June bugs, but they stayed into July and even August, like this one has done. They were always focused on the fruit trees. I can’t remember ever seeing them in Clare’s garden but here one comes at my eye level, wobbling from side-to-side, then correcting. It heads directly for me, but my hands, strangely dead at my sides, refuse to catch it. At the last second I duck, letting it buzz past. 

“What the fuck?”

It circles to crash-land on the bricks under la Virgen. 

“Ow”, I say. “That hadda hurt”. 

And then, “Hi”. 

My voice sounds strange and stupid, but who is here to care anymore?

I’m looking at my first figgy in seven years. Its wing covers are a flat, almost powdery green color, yellow around the edges. Tiny head and spiky legs shimmer with a sublimely iridescent purple-green. The sturdy legs, well supplied with hooks and grapples, pull the barrel body up over tufts of moss growing between the bricks. I’ve watched thousands of figgies, and they all did the same thing after a landing- they climbed up to the highest point they could reach, swiveled the wing covers up, spread out their polished flying wings and took off.

Not this guy. This one lumbers along for a half foot or so, and at a place where four bricks meet, he starts scratching at the space between. The feet pull little strings of moss out and the beetle shoves its head and front legs into the space, burrowing down with hind legs waving and rear end in the air. I notice that one brick is chipped, with a corner gone. Figgy pulls himself down into the space till I can’t see him without putting head next to la Virgen and looking directly into the hole. An inch down I can see his pointy little ass-end shining faintly, hind legs pinwheeling without effect. Looks like he’s gotten stuck. 

“You kiddin’ me? What was that all about, Dumbshit?”

Scratch, scrabble, no progress. I remember the meter running out front, look back down at the little guy stuck like Pooh bear in Rabbit’s round dirt doorway. Can’t go in, can’t go out. Pathetic.

“Ok, just hang on. Ima try not to squash ya.”

I pick up the statue and stand her carefully on the ground. Clare had made the base out of bricks laid close together but fortunately not mortared. Figgy’s hole is two rows from the edge; I flatten back the surrounding marigolds and carefully wiggle a corner brick. Roots and soil have formed a weak glue but it comes out easy, earthworms and black ants underneath. A black centipede serpentines across the space and dives into the flowers. It takes removing the whole first row to free up the second row, where my search and rescue mission is headed. My back twinges from the bent-over position. The little dude’s hiding-place about to be opened, I’m extra careful, gripping the rough adobe hard. Underneath are bug-tunnels and empty spider egg cases and of course the figgy, who without the support of his vertical tunnel, falls upside-down with his legs waving.

“Here” I say, offering him my finger. Prickly legs grab hold of me with what seems like thanks. I bring him up to my eye.

He’s not in a hurry to leave, just holds on like a chillax-y little koala hanging out in a tree.

“Don’t you have somewhere you need to be? By which I mean, beside ass over teakettle down a dead-end hole?” We stare at each another.

“When I was little I would’a made a wish on you. But that was a long time ago. G’wan.” I wave my hand gently upward, with the other making a safety net underneath. Another hard fall on the head, he doesn’t need. 

“Look, ya gotta go now. Meter’s running. You got a freebie on this one, don’t have to carry any stupid wishes for anyone. Just fly away. I got nothing to wish for even if I still thought that shit was real.”

When I was six years old wishing on a figgy beetle had gotten me a ring I still wear on my right pinky finger. At nine, a figgy had gotten me the thing I craved most in the world, a boogie board. Then I moved away. I grew up. 

Never did a figgy stay this still in my hand. Then again, I never took very long to make a wish. When I was little, there was always something I wanted, always something I had my heart set on.

So, what if?

Just, what if?

I think about the cabbie, who I’d handed a C-note to - how long ago now? No idea, I’ve lost track. He’ll get paid for his time.

“Go have your life. Leave here. It’s too sad a place even for bugs. Go get a mate and make a home, have a big happy family.”

I wait. Figgy waits. The tension is too much.

“Fine!” I shout. “Fine.” 

Just make a wish, any wish.

What are the rules again? Robin Williams as the blue genie. 

can’t bring anyone back from the dead

can’t make anyone fall in love with you 

can’t wish for more wishes

My eyes travel over the lawn, seeing what was and is no more: the big green plastic boat that was a pool in summer and a sandbox in winter, the red teeter-totter for one-two-three kids, the miniature patio table with its own umbrella where I was served tiny virgin margaritas when the Aunties had their garden parties. My sight moves across the back of the Aunties’ big house, which now that I look at it really does need painting. The garden gate stands ajar where I walked in ages ago, cottage still at my back and finally, my gaze falls on the statue by my feet, now surrounded by haphazardly piled bricks. The gentle Virgen, one hand across her breast, tenderly looking down away from me, looking at dear Juan Diego. So like my mother, but I never really saw it before, did I? No wonder Clare was so drawn to her. Clare was her. 

I say a wish, the most honest and real thing I have given voice to in more than seven years. Just a few words spoken to no human and therefore plausibly deniable. 

The wee beast is moving. Finally, climbing up to the tip of my finger where I lift him high over my head.

“Buzz off” I say, and he does. 

I glance back at the lawn but the green boat and the little table have faded away. 

And I really gotta go now. Throw this little shrine back together and walk away. Nothing here for me. I pick up a brick, rest it on the edge of the planter, smooth the dirt flat. The sound my hand makes moving across the soil is strangely hollow. For five years now I’ve worked on land in Doc’s garden and in my own little front yard, and what I hear is not usual, even for a raised-up flowerbed. I brush the soil away, feel a texture that isn’t right. In another few millimeters the thing is exposed, but even before I see it my fingertips have already remembered. When little I learned best through my fingertips, touched everything, drew comfort from familiar fabrics and surfaces. What I feel now is a grid of crossed lines forming 24 rectangles. 

Now is then

then is now

I know exactly what this is.

When I come into the front yard the taxi driver spots me from his smoking perch on the low front wall. He hustles ahead of me to open the trunk.

“You put in back. Very dirty.”

When I open the Kampkold to show him its contents, my India-born driver is visibly relieved. I’m sure a plaster statue is way less scary than the other possibilities that crossed his mind. Not that I wanted to keep the banged-up thing, but la Virgen has thousands of miles to travel before she will be home, and I don’t want her in pieces. I pull my jacket out of the back seat and tuck it around her. Before closing the lid I take out the amazing thing I found under the ground and I hug it tight against my body. 

When we pull away from the curb, I don’t look back. The amazing thing I hold is already drawing my body heat into itself.

Clare’s journal. My mother’s words.

What I wished for was to hear her voice just one more time.

July 25, 2020 03:26

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Evelyn Sims
18:04 Feb 05, 2023

This story is both well-crafted and free flowing. The use of the figgy beetles creates the uniqueness of this gem. Your writing ability gives a balance to the descriptives appropriately making the character both believable and charming. Well done!


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Edward Latham
18:49 Nov 14, 2022

The description and memory of the figgy beetles is so delightful and feels unique and genuine to the MC. Really nicely crafted story!


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Jake Mason
20:02 Jul 31, 2020

I love this!


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Jamie Limbaga
10:17 Jul 31, 2020

You write incredibly well! Every word strikes and is neither too dull or too flowery. You wrote things as they were and described everything so bluntly and it works brilliantly. You've embodied show don't tell, and it made for a great story :)


13:09 Jul 31, 2020

Thank you, have been working on just that thing with my descriptive prose.


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Batool Hussain
07:20 Jul 31, 2020

Wow! You did a brilliant job up there!👏👏👏


13:08 Jul 31, 2020

I thank you.


Batool Hussain
13:24 Jul 31, 2020

You're welcome:)


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