From Issue 21: "Flicker" by Nicole Schnitzler (Flash Nonfiction)


Nicole Schnitzler

Reading Time: ~3 minutes

In reading this essay, which originally appeared in Issue 21 of Tahoma Literary Review, I was struck by the connections the author made between the miraculous creatures that are fireflies and the very tactile memories of her mother. In so few words, Schnitzler evokes a sense of awe, exposes its many facets, and makes us feel awe, too.

How do you react to fireflies? What memories do they conjure? We'd love to hear from you over at our Facebook page, on Twitter or Instagram. Thanks so much for reading.

Ann Beman
Nonfiction editor


Midwest summer: damp and hot air that wiggles above pavement and under scorching sunlight, and the only time that matters is that which stands between me and my dripping popsicle—a disappearing act daring with each passing second to dye my skin red and blue; blue and red. It is the day’s only call to urgency.

But it’s only now, when the sun tucks into its slumber and motions for moonlight to move in, dusting the atmosphere in dusk, that I am able to see one, seven, twenty of them: flickers of joy; a vanishing game of connect-the-dots.

Some fireflies lack the ability to produce light. But not ours—ours beam big and bright, unabashedly loud in their prowess. They hypnotize me, the glow—entrance me to follow them, from the front door to the sidewalk to the end of the block, staying ever so kindly at my height.  When one disappears for a moment, it doesn’t fail to reveal itself yet again, letting me capture it—so long as I stay. 

When I come home, you envelop me in your arms, warm whatever parts of me have cooled now inside the fanned house. You spin me around to the dinner table, a spatula in one hand and the other on the space between my chest-stomach. Before I reach for my fork, you waddle me to the sink to rinse my sticky palms, a faint stream of purple—your hue. You cradle a phone between your ear and shoulder, and I tangle myself in its cord, vying for your undivided attention; realizing, too, I already had it.


Fourth of July at the farm, sparklers in hand, you give me my very own because now I am old enough. I share with Daniel because older brother he may be, the autism interferes with things like emotion and words and holding fire. The dogs run circles around our legs and through open fields awash in starlight, celebrating an independence of their own. 

Mine now extinguished, you pull me close and give me yours, its sparks dancing across the shared iris of our eyes. 


Fireflies are fleeting; vanishing before us. There are more than 2,000 species of them, though, which only further begs the question: Where did they go, only to leave our days dimmer, year after year?

You didn’t technically leave gradually, but rather, all at once, in one fell swoop of a night. Five p.m. pie at Baker’s Square with Dad and Daniel, six p.m. at the hospital, and even then we were too late.  

But it was, in fact, not so fast. First your hair, followed by your steady gait, your hand on my head, as if counting me twice. 

I could capture less and less of you.


Fourth of July, this time without the farm; without you. We arrive early to the field, camp out in the car, and when I search for a bathroom and round a corner of the parking lot, I find them—every last one of them, all 2,000 species, the fireflies of my youth, of my life, in a field aglow in alternating twinkle; a cacophony of wonder that would never come to cease. 

I stood there, unbound by time or abandonment or motherless names and let the light pour in, let all of you re-enter me in the places that had missed you most: my scalp; my popsicle-stained hands; the heart place between my chest-stomach.

It was all there in front of me, and, as I looked back at Dad and Daniel in the car, directly behind me. You were everywhere at once.

And only then—a far-away whistle, a gold thread pulled high into the sky, like God casting a line and reeling it back in, a burst before He did. Its purple sparks trickling down the sky, reaching, longing for my fingertips. 

We had so much to celebrate.


Reprinted with permission of the author

Schnitzler had this to say about her piece:

When an instructor gave our class the prompt of writing from “awe,” I instantly thought of the time I encountered a field of fireflies on a recent Fourth of July. I was spellbound by the sight of them—thousands it seemed—and just as quickly, I remembered how much I missed them; how they had illuminated fewer of my summers as I aged. I started to draw the parallel between their magic and that of my late mother. To find the fireflies reminded me that I can find her, time and time again, if I open my eyes in awe and wonder.

Nicole Schnitzler (she/her) is a Chicago-based freelance writer who is working on a collection of essays about family and the evolution of grief.                            Website:  Twitter: @Write_To_Eat

Photo credit: Mandy Bruggeman