FLASH FICTION: SECOND PLACE
Light is one of three flash pieces I wrote with the word of harvest in mind. The other two stories are Seeds and Glass. Those three have grown into a collection of short stories about things people keep in jars, which take place in the fictitious town of Wilda Point, Maine. Each piece has a taste of the magical, the obsessive, and the desperate. Light was inspired by my grandmother’s giant mason jars filled with her secret combo of teas and herbs she left in the sun pocket on the small landing outside her kitchen door to make the best tea I’ve ever had.
From the vernal to the autumnal equinox, Phoebe amasses jars filled with light, preparing for the bleak winter months ahead. She and her ancestors have gathered the beams of the natural world for as long as they can remember. Her neighbor’s ancestors have long forgotten the joy in harvesting instead turning to electricity for warmth and sight.
She leaves jars open on the deck on sunny days while working in her gardens and tending her chickens, goats, and pigs. Even steeping her sun tea in a giant Mason jar filled with a mixture
of black tea, herbs from her garden, and spring water for her afternoon break. Before shade touches the jars holding light, she closes their lids tight and stores them in the cabinet at the back of her root cellar.
At night, she ventures out with empty jars to a clearing in the forest behind her house. Running her fingers through the moss as she lay on her back, absorbing that evening’s celestial show.
The jars sit open on a flat rock nearby, collecting beams from full moons, constellations, comets, and meteor showers, which she seals before returning home and stores next to the sunlight. On lucky nights, she captures fireflies—poking holes in their lids with a hammer and nail.
As the days grow short and snow covers the leaves on the ground, she carries jars of light up from the root cellar to illuminate her house. Sunlight gives her warmth and brightness to make dinner and read a book. The stars and comets cast a calm glow throughout her small home.
Phoebe gathers the Northern Lights to celebrate the equinox. Once trapped, the reds and greens swirl both inside the jars and across her walls. If her light waxes as the winter trudges on, she bundles as best she can and wades through the snow to collect crystallized fragments of the Aurora or moonlight.
When friends visit, she decorates tables with fireflies that dance and blink. Luciferase combining with luciferin shine wonder and delight across their cheeks and chin. She would offer to send fireflies home at the end of the evening, but friends would always tuck their hands away like little children and shake their heads. “I would just kill them,” one said.
At Imbolc, the midway point between the winter solstice and vernal equinox, Phoebe prepares for the blizzard of the century. She checks her animals, ensuring they’re safe and warm, and secures the barn against gales. Her shovel stands ready by the kitchen door for the several feet of snow predicted. She snuggles under her covers to listen to the winds scream through the bare trees. She keeps her sunlight jars by her side.
She awakes to a thunder-like crack in the middle of the night, but no flash of lightning. She winds herself more tightly in her hand-stitched quilt and falls back to sleep.
The next morning a slab of cloud continues to hang thick, shedding more flakes. Phoebe shovels her way to the animals to see that they’re safe and fed, then continues her way to the street. She sees her neighbors gathered around a downed pole.
“Is everything ok?” she calls to the group.
“Didn’t you notice there’s no power?” a neighbor yells.
“She wouldn’t. She doesn’t use electricity,” someone else spits.
Standing in her driveway with the snow piled up over her knees, she doesn’t know how to respond. Their backs turned to her, leaving her out of their misery.
“If it helps, I have some extra jars of light I could spare.” She points to the soft glow in her windows.
The crowd shifts. Their faces disclose no gratitude or need, just the sourness of disgust. A cloud grows thick over their heads as they breathe harder.
“We don’t need your witchcraft,” a sharp voice cuts through the silence of the snow.
“I’d rather freeze to death,” another grumbles.
Phoebe no longer recognizes her neighbors. She’d always shared her eggs and goat’s milk with them. A few weeks ago, she delivered lavender sachets she made from her garden during the summer for the solstice. They’d always accepted her offerings with a polite thank you. Maybe they never invited her to sit at their table, but she thought they were civil, at least.
“I’m only offering to lend you warm and light until they can fix the pole,” Phoebe mumbles. The handle of the shovel growing heavy in her hands.
The crowd returns to their cold dark homes, leaving behind Phoebe and their boot prints filling with snow.
Christy O’Callaghan is a graduate student with UAlbany and is managing editor of their literary magazine Barzakh. When she’s not writing or reading, you can find her walking in the woods, swimming, snowshoeing, gardening, and collecting sea glass. Her writing has appeared in Under the Gum Tree, The Los Angeles Review, Trolley Journal, Flyway Journal, Splash! from Haunted Waters Press, New Pages, and more. Her work and blog are on her website christyflutterby.com.