by Misty Yarnall
“Do you want to light it?” Uncle Mark pinches the top of a Chinese lantern. He pulls a cigarette lighter from his jean jacket pocket. My mother and aunt sit in Adirondack chairs on the back deck. Smoke and sparklers choke the air.
Standing from the bench, I watch his thumb run across the edge, triggering a flame. The lighter was like another one of his limbs, always in his pocket, prepared to light a cigar or set off fireworks. Adult things.
I take the lighter from him and ignite the center of the lantern. The thin paper expands with heat and floats from my uncle’s grip, wobbling in the breeze. A speck of light reflects in my mother’s eyes.
The side door to the cottage smacks behind my father. Boots thump against the ramp. His eyes paste to the lantern hovering above the roof.
The summer when I was six, the farm down the road burned down to the soil. The smell of singed cabbage circulated for miles. Sitting in the front seat of my father’s pickup, a lasagna mom made warming my lap, we rode towards the singed land to offer our condolences. Started by one of those lantern the farmer told my father in the driveway, squeezing his hat in his fist. Got caught in the barley I suppose.
Collecting my jacket off the bench, I chase my father down the ramp.
His headlights flicker, and the truck swirls out of the parking space. Running across the stones, I wave my hands through the sky. He slams on the breaks.
I open the passenger’s side door. The interior lights shine through the cab.
“Can I come?”
Rolling his eyes, he swipes Pepsi cans and a Styrofoam to-go box onto the floormats.
I slide onto the seat, clicking my seatbelt over my chest, and he pulls off.
The truck tires screech onto Route 12. His foot falters, easing and pressing against the accelerator.
“It’s over there. See it?” I point to the tree line. A light floats across woods, too low to be a shooting star. “Turn onto Weaver Road. It’s heading that way.”
My father’s calloused hands slouch over the top of the steering wheel. He makes the turn.
Racing down the backroads of town, we explore each patch of trees, scanning wheat and corn fields, spying the tops of silos over the hills, anticipating a spark that could set acres ablaze. How could I have been so foolish?
I imagine my aunt and mother still sitting on the back deck, smores squished between their fingertips. A laugh trilling from my mother’s lips. Her smile.
“Where do you think it’ll land?” I ask.
My father blinks a little too long for a man who’s driving. “I don’t know.”
Turning back out the passenger’s side window, I lose sight of the tiny speck of light.
Misty Yarnall’s fiction can be found in a handful of literary journals. She has won the Sixth Act Playwriting Competition, the Langlois Award for Short Fiction, and the POV Screenwriting Contest. She is currently working on a novel.
One response to “Chasing Lanterns”
I loved this! Beautifully written and organized. Thank you. Our “harmless pleasures,” each one, need close inspection!