It is July third, 2013, and a warm, soft night outside tonight. The fireflies are rising, and I am reminded of a night just like this one, many years ago –
Paul Anka was singing “Diana” on the record player, and all the other kids were lined up, doing a dance called the cha-cha. I watched from the side, and sipped my coke.
I watched Mary Lou Basler and Joy Abraham, since they were directly in front of me. Mary Lou was wearing a white short sleeved button up blouse with little pink flowers on it and a navy blue poplin a-line skirt. As she turned, the skirt flared out. On her feet, she wore a pair of Mary Jane flats. Joy was wearing the same kind of shoes, but with a calf-length straight black skirt and a white sleeveless blouse. Joy often dressed that way; black and white. Her braid contrasted with the white blouse, and stood out when she spun around during the fast dances. I always liked watching Joy's behind when she walked between classes, or up the stairs, but I never told anyone. She was an A student, and that would have been uncool.
Mary Lou Basler slipped out of the line, and came over to me.
“Why aren’t you dancing?”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“It’s easy! Com’on. I’ll teach you.”
So I let Mary Lou take my hand in hers, and lead me out to the floor. Her fingers were cool against my palm, and there was something about her self-confidence that was at once both exciting, and comforting. She showed me one, two, one two three; one, two, one two three; and I began to get hang of it.
The song ended, and a new record dropped: Tequila, by the Champs. It was a medium tempo rock tune, and Mary Lou and I stayed out on the floor, and danced to it. But I was really paying more attention to the tenor sax solo on it than to her. After the song ended, we went back to the table, to get a drink of our cokes.
She took a sip of hers, and wiped her brow, saying, “It’s hot in here. Let’s go outside to the picnic table, and get a breath of fresh air.”
As we sat together on the table, with our feet up on the bench, we watched the fireflies rising from the back yard.
“I like fireflies,” I said. “When I was little, we used to catch them and …”
“Put them in a jar with holes in the lid, to send to Hopkins,” she finished for me.
“Yes! Did you do that, too?”
“My father teaches there. He said they were doing experiments to see how they could light up, and if it was from electricity,” she replied.
“Did they find out?” I asked, interested.
“Yes, but it turned out it was chemical, not electrical, so they ended that experiment.”
“Oh. What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“I want to be a veterinarian. I want to take care of animals when they are sick or hurt, and make them well again. I love animals. I guess you want to be a musician, huh.”
“I don’t think so. I don’t know. You can’t make much money unless you’re really good, and Mr. Daniel says I don’t have the drive to excel.”
“He’s right, you know. Look at school: You could get good grades, but you don’t. You just skate by, passing by the skin of your teeth. I thought you were gonna flunk altogether this year, and we wouldn’t be in class together next year. And the only reason you were in 9-B this year is because you goofed off last year. I’m in that group because it’s where I belong, but you’re smarter than the rest of us, and could have been in 9-A, with Bob Englar and Frannie Baseman, and all those kids.”
“I don’t want to talk about school. What are you going to do the rest of this summer?”
“I am working at the humane society, helping out with the large dogs. What are you gonna do?
“Mr. Parks wants me to help him build a patio. He says he can teach me to work cement, and lay flagstones.”
She leaned over and kissed me then. I was surprised, and had my mouth partway open. Our teeth banged into each other, and she laughed.
“Close your mouth, and let’s try that again, “she said.
I put my arm around her back, and we really kissed that time. I was surprised at how warm and soft her lips were.
Then she got up, and picking up her coke bottle, went back inside.
I sat there for a few minutes, thinking. I gently rubbed my mouth with the back of my hand, still tasting the mixture of her perfume and lipstick and coke. When I went back inside, I looked for her, but she was gone. I asked if anyone knew where Mary Lou was, and Joy Abraham said she had gone home, ‘cause her dad was there, waiting for her.
I was disappointed, but didn't tell anyone. Later that evening, a group of us played "Spin the Bottle" but kissing Joy Abraham wasn't the same at all.
Many years later, David, Susan and I were sitting on the porch at Brisbane Road, sipping gin and tonic. We watched as the neighborhood kids ran around, catching fireflies, and holding them in their hands, watching them glow.
“When I was a kid, we used to catch them in a jar, and ship them to Baltimore for some sort of study,” David said.
“Yes, I said,” and told them about the Hopkins study done back in the late forties and early fifties. I almost went on to tell them about my first kiss, but had my train of thought interrupted.
“Do you suppose fireflies have always fascinated people?” Susan asked.
“I suppose,” I said, "though I don’t know if they had them in the places where people first emerged as a species."
Our discussion went on from there, talking about the birthplaces of civilization, and we never got back to the original subject.
Even though even though David, Susan and I moved in together shortly after that evening, and even though we lived together as a family for seven years after that, I never told them about my first kiss.
The subject just never came up.
Whenever it is a warm late June/early July evening, and I see the fireflies rise, I am reminded of that magical moment with Mary Lou. It is a good memory.
Mary Lou, Frannie, Joy, Bob Englar, and a bunch of others and I graduated from high school over fifty years ago. We all went our separate ways.
I became a civil engineer and a professional musician. I wonder if Mary Lou became a veterinarian. And I wonder if, when she sees the fireflies rise, she remembers that first kiss.