by Charles C. Cole
DARBY, somewhat disheveled, adult son, is napping in a chair, arms around a backpack in his lap. MAMA kisses him, backs away.
DARBY (A little on edge, quietly.): Firefly, firefly, burning bright. Ain’t you got no love tonight? Ain’t you got no life’s desire, all alone with your butt on fire. “Poof,” little firefly; go to God.
MAMA: You must be tired, Darby, driving all this way. You go on and rest, unless you want to talk.
DARBY: I quit taking my medicine. I told you I would one day, and I did. So far, so good.
MAMA: You shouldn’t joke about a thing like that. Give your mother gray hair. Close your eyes. We’ll talk in the morning.
DARBY: I really did. Last month. That’s why I’m visiting now. I wanted you to see that I don’t need it any longer. I’m stronger than when I was a boy, less impulsive.
MAMA (Gravely.): Your father was strong, too.
DARBY: But his daddy, Grampa Spyder, didn’t love him. You know he didn’t. And I think that made him brittle inside, even when he was an adult.
MAMA: Maybe so.
DARBY: But you two loved me something awful, didn’t you?
MAMA: We did what good parents are supposed to do.
DARBY: I’ve kept that love inside me, since long before Daddy died, even when I was at college. It’s gotten me through things that would have messed up other guys.
MAMA: You’re an old soul, Darby.
DARBY: They didn’t know me. They saw a skinny, pimple-faced kid from the sticks.
MAMA: Your father and I saw a young man with power to burn at his fingertips. A boy with a rare gift.
DARBY: I didn’t always think of it as a gift, like when I set fire to the swale grass beside the orchard. (Stretching his fingers out straight, like rays are coming from them.) Holy Hannah, Mama, that was somethin’ else!
MAMA: That was an accident, son. You didn’t know yet what you were capable of.
DARBY: Yes, ma’am. I was just so mad. Good thing Daddy brought me home before something bad happened. Eugene Phelps stole my date at the junior high prom, and I wanted to explode. I almost did, didn’t I? Boom! The human fireworks.
MAMA: You were a sight to behold, all right, sparkling at first and then “Woosh,” like someone turned on “the flame faucet” out your hands. But it was our little secret.
DARBY: Daddy said I was very “Old Testament.”
MAMA: Your father always had a way with words.
DARBY (With pride.): He soaked me down with the hose, ’member? The water hissing when it hit the flames coming from my fingertips. (Laughing.) I thought I was all-powerful, jacked up on my righteous anger, and he just put me out, (snapping fingers) like that.
MAMA: I think part of you let him, dear. You loved your father. You didn’t want to disappoint him.
DARBY: What if it hadn’t worked?
MAMA: He probably would have tossed you in the horse trough, I suppose, or maybe the firepond, but God knows what would have happened to them poor bullfrogs.
DARBY: He was so dead calm, like a real fire-fighter. (Beat.) Then, when they closed the mill, I knew what he was feeling because I’d felt that way, too.
MAMA: He’d been there nineteen years. It was a shock.
DARBY: He shouldn’t have gone drinking. Shouldn’t have surrounded himself with all those angry voices. I blame them, all of them, for getting under his skin and into his head.
MAMA (Gently.): He was one of them that night, finally, more than he’d ever been, everyone feeling the same loss, together. He needed that, late as it was.
DARBY: But if he’d just come home or called us, we could have made it better.
MAMA: Nothing was going to make it better. Took me years to admit that to myself.
DARBY: So much destruction! So many firetrucks and sirens! Like a war zone!
MAMA: What do you know about war? It was just property gone: just wood, windows and roofing. He needed . . . he gave closure to everyone. Made a statement, too. And nobody was hurt, thank God.
DARBY: Except Daddy.
MAMA: Except Daddy. That’s why you need to get back on your medicine, young man. If your father couldn’t keep his powers in check, after all he’d seen and learned, what chance have you got?
DARBY: But I’ve been reading, sometimes you need a controlled burn, a “prescribed” burn, of the undergrowth, so that when a real wildfire starts, it won’t be so destructive. I know in my heart that it makes sense.
MAMA: Know? What do you know?
DARBY: That after you die and I’m in the city and I lose my job like Daddy did – it’ll happen – when I’ve got no more quiet place to go to, I can still hold it together, even without my mood-managing meds, just by finding my calm place.
MAMA: How long has it been?
DARBY: Four weeks or so.
MAMA: You and Brenda call off the weddin’?
DARBY: I wasn’t right for her. She needed someone more even-tempered.
MAMA: You always were emotionally young for your age. That’s what started all this? I’m sorry, Darby. Are you still on good terms? You still friends?
DARBY: We’re . . . taking some space.
MAMA: You didn’t hurt her?
DARBY: Mama, of course not! I love her. I was still on my meds when it happened. I felt numb, like I couldn’t touch the hurt, like I’d been lying about my feelings, but I wasn’t; they were real. And the only way to get inside the loss was to let the fire burn. But I had to be off my meds. I had to be home, where I could be myself.
MAMA: You’re always yourself. Don’t talk foolishness.
DARBY: I miss Daddy. He was a man of action, wasn’t he?
MAMA: Darby, what’d you do?
DARBY: I drove by the strip mall where the mill used to be. They got a paper-products party supply store now, with sparkly things and balloons. It’s like they put a casino on top of Daddy’s grave. It made me mad. It made me spark. Don’t worry: it was closed; no one was there.
MAMA: Your heart’s in the right place, but your anger’s a wild thing.
DARBY: Revenge is the sweetest dessert. Nobody tells you that. (Sigh.) Sometimes I wonder how long I can last before I peter down to just smoke and smoldering.
(Mama walks away.)
DARBY: Where you going, Mama? You ain’t afraid of me?
MAMA: No, my sweet confection. I’m more afraid of cancer and old age and watching our ancient barn collapse under a heavy snow. I’m just gonna stretch my legs, use the bathroom and maybe, while I’m up, I’ll hook up the garden hose to the kitchen sink, in case we need it.
DARBY: Everything’s gonna be fine, you’ll see, like morning glories ’round the mailbox. (Beat.) What you thinking about?
MAMA: Me? Them poor, poor bullfrogs. They don’t have a chance, do they?
Copyright © 2015 by Charles C. Cole