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Frances Campbell tottered along the garden path with a split oak basket over her arm, the nagging pain of arthritis creeping up her elbow. Sue, her housekeeper, followed along behind her. It was early October but some of her roses—mostly the Knockout variety—were still in full bloom, and Shannon had dearly loved roses. It was Shannon’s birthday, and when the roses were still blooming, Frances put on a bouquet on her grave.
Frances shook her head, her gunmetal gray curls bobbing. She couldn’t remember what she had for breakfast that morning and had failed to recognize her own neighbors at the Food Lion last week, but every little detail about her sister remained as clear as the day each had happened. Maybe it was because she was the younger prettier sister. Maybe it was because Shannon would be young forever, never peering into the mirror trying to remember if she took her blood pressure medication while trying to smooth a sagging chin. Or perhaps it was because she died chasing Frances as she ran from the sobbing from the church, calling her name over and over as her feet skimmed along the sidewalk even lighter than the firefly for which she was nicknamed.
“She hated that nickname,” Frances confided to the roses in her basket. She clipped at a steady pace, eager to leave a remembrance for the sister she never meant harm to fall to. “She thought it made her sound fragile, and in the end, she was fragile. How I’d like to forget that day!”
“Are you talking about Shannon again?” asked Sue, making a bored face.
Shannon fixed her with a stern look and snorted. “As though anybody ever talked about anyone else!
“It was that fool Jim Whitaker. We went together two years, and I knew he’d marry me eventually. But no, no. Shannon grew up tall and sprightly, with eyes as green as Bermuda grass and a headful of wheat-colored curls. She didn’t steal him from me, but he was smitten from the day of her sweet sixteen.”
“It’s been over fifty years.” Sue shook her head. “There’s plenty of folks who remember it, but you’d be happier to quit dwelling on it.”
“Folks laughed at me.” Frances felt a ragged breath trying to free itself from her tight chest. “I loved both of them, Jim and Firefly. I thought if I showed up at the wedding and voiced my opposition, they wouldn’t marry when they saw how I’d been hurt. Look, they’ve both been churchyard dust for ages now.” Frances pointed at the cemetery across the street from her home, orderly rows of tombstones and spires pointing toward a dusk sky.
“I don’t ever see you leaving flowers on Mr. Whitaker’s grave,” said Sue.
“Well, I will this time. He was a nice man, just a fool. He married a nice girl from White’s Chapel, and he died of leukemia the next year. Shannon and I were blessed not to have to put up with that kind of lingering death.”
Frances paused to gauge how full her basket was. It was full to the brim and reminded her of the church on Firefly and Jim’s wedding day. There had been bowers and bowers of roses, orange blossoms, and azaleas. Her sister was as elegant and lovely as a white lily under the altar, but she’d looked stricken when she seen Frances crying in the doorway.
“Don’t my feelings matter?” she’d cried from the back of the church.
Jim had looked as if he had a sneeze caught in his nose, as bored as if the situation was nothing but an inconvenience, but Shannon had ran after her as she fled the church. Over half the church had ambled outside to watch, the provocation too great not to eyewitness.
“Frances! Frances! Come back!” Shannon had called, her lacey veil dragging behind her in the red clay dust of the parched street.
She’d never even heard the car coming. Probably never felt it, the coroner said.
But still! Still.
Frances looked at Sue and held her basket high. “I’m going across the road to leave these for Firefly. I’ll be back in time to peck at dinner.”
Sue made a sound of annoyance in the back of her throat and went in the house.
Frances limped toward the cemetery, a half-century of memories thick on her mind.
She’d cried, “Shannon! Firefly!”
But the green eyes before her had been as vacant as windows without curtains, and her veil torn askew just enough to reveal a thin trickle of red from the left ear. The crowd in the street had murmured impressionably, the doctor leaning down in his tuxedo and saying her neck was broken.
“It’s done. I never meant any harm though,” said Frances. Tears fell from her rheumy eyes.
A golden spark caught her eye, and Frances sucked in her breath. A firefly! And in October. The magic sparkle hovered in the general vicinity of Shannon’s tombstone. France hastened her pace.
“Shannon?” she asked. “You there?”
It made a soul satisfying tableau as she approached the cemetery. The light of the firefly against a slate gray evening with little amber stars cutting through the clear sky made her heart glad.
“I forgave you long ago. I hope you forgave me.”
Frances dropped her basket and stooped to gather it. Bother her arthritis! She looped the handle over her forearm and straightened.
The horn honked, first a short warning and then with the true blare of an emergency. She raised her free arm to shield her face. The headlights weren’t on so she hadn’t seen it. They switched on at the last second, blinding her so that she couldn’t see the end, but that didn’t matter.
The twinkle across the road told her everything she’d ever wanted to know.