by Teresa Milbrodt
Larissa and Elementary Chemistry
This was when we were ten and eight: my sister and I fed our white mouse fireflies until it started glowing like a lightbulb about to go out, but you couldn’t see it unless you turned off the lamp or covered the mouse’s cage with a blanket and stuck your head underneath, and we didn’t do that a lot because it smelled bad. At night we let the mouse run around our bedroom floor and scare the cat so it hid under the bed, but the mouse was smart and didn’t follow. We thought she was a mouse like an angel, like the ghost of all mice that had died when they were eaten by eagles and foxes and cats, or mice that died in traps our dad set in the garage. He said those were bad mice that carried diseases, they weren’t like our white mouse, but it was sad and gross and I still hate destroying furry life, even small smelly disease-carrying furry life that eats my cat’s food and leaves pellets in the pantry.
But when I was ten all of nature was bright and shining and on July nights my sister and I ran around the backyard, going after fireflies as the mosquitoes went after us, but we didn’t feel their needle noses because we were cramming glowbugs into our peanut butter jar. We never put holes in the lid because we wanted the insects dead by morning since our mouse ate fireflies like candy, only wanted those crunchy bulbs.
We got a second mouse (the guy at the pet shop who had pimples like constellations said it was a boy) and fed it fireflies, too, until both mice glowed like nightlights, only they weren’t bright enough to read by even when we put them on a book. At two in the morning we woke up and heard the mice skittering in the cedar shavings, and after that our second mouse started to inflate like a little white balloon, and it turned out she wasn’t a boy, and that was when I learned never to believe people who work in pet shops. Somehow the babies glowed, but we didn’t know why because they hadn’t eaten fireflies.
Then this awful thing happened and the father ate one of those babies and we were so mad we wanted to squeeze him to death, but our mom said we couldn’t be too mad at the father mouse because it was instinct and we had to understand that. We didn’t understand that nature meant eating your babies, but we didn’t kill him since neither of us wanted to be the one to do it.
After a week we put him back in the big mouse cage because we wanted the mice to make up and be a family, and he went after those babies because he still hadn’t learned, and my sister screamed and grabbed him too tight. We didn’t hear anything, but a little red drop of blood came out of the mouse’s mouth. That was it.
We tried to give the mouse to the cat but she wouldn’t eat it, so we wrapped him in toilet paper and troweled a grave in the flower bed. At night we looked on the floor for his guilty glowing ghost, but never saw anything. My sister whispered to me in the dark that she didn’t mean to do it, and I said I knew that, and for the moment that made everything okay. We still had seven baby mice that crowded around their mother to nurse, and when we let them run around on the rug they left little glowing pellets like stardust. Before bed we dared each other to eat just one firefly and see if in the morning our little toe, perhaps the tip of a finger, would glow with that strange and tiny light, but we always backed out and said maybe tomorrow. Now I wish I would have done it, because it was still a time when anything might have happened.