Brianne M. Kohl – How To Catch Fireflies


Hannah always starts with “sorry”.

“Sorry,” she’ll say to the flanneled man in the parking lot as he steps down from his F-150. “Can you give me a ride over to Summit Street?”

He might be an older man with no family at home. A man who has stopped for a pack of cigarettes and a sixer. But, maybe, he has a wife and a baby and he just needs out of the house for an hour.

Or, she’ll say to that sweet faced twenty-something college kid, “Sorry to bother you. Would you be willing to buy some beer for me and my friends?” Sometimes, he’ll look her up and down before ignoring her and walking into the store. He’ll push her aside with his shoulder and she’ll immediately start scanning the parking lot for movement. Even at fifteen, Hannah can be politely primal when she wants something.

But, sometimes, he’ll say yes. Every once in a while, he’ll even pitch in the cash so long as one of the girls hops in his car for a few minutes.

When she still went to school, she did it, then, too. “Sorry,” she’d say and clear her throat. Then, she’d recite the Gettysburg Address or answer a question the teacher had asked.

The boys never say sorry. If she took the time to think about it, it would make her laugh: the idea of a boy walking up to her and saying, “Sorry, Hannah. Don’t mean to trouble you but would you be willing to blow me? I got ten dollars in it for you.”

No, those boys just show her the money and they aren’t ever the least bit sorry for it.

In the summer, Hannah and the other girls like to stand outside the old Prince’s Grocery Store off Douglas street in their little skirts and tank tops. They flash their fleshy middles: white and brown soft bruised skin gleaming in the street lights. Hot pink polish chipping from their finger nails. They come out at night and hover around the parking like fireflies in a concrete field. They light up, bright red cigarette butts, and blink around. Synchronized bioluminescence.

It is so obvious, so painfully obvious that these girls are flightless. They sit on the hoods of cars or brace their weight against the edge of shopping carts. They’ll wait for some boy to come along and scoop them up into a mason jar. Poke holes into the lid so the girls can breath. Wait for their light to go out before the boys dump them and race off into the dark to scoop up new. Night after night, the girls come out.

It is a secret, even to the other girls, that Hannah isn’t the least bit sorry for it, either. She’s been waiting to get trapped for months.


Hannah walks to the bus stop off Nichols Avenue and counts out the change in the pocket of her short denim mini skirt. Her thin black tights are ripped at the knee. It is early in the morning and she hasn’t been home yet. Her mother might have been worried if she’d even noticed Hannah was gone. But, her mother works nights and she works days, sometimes, too.

Hannah pulls a rat gray hooded sweatshirt out of her dirty pink Hello Kitty backpack and puts it on. The elbows are wearing thin and she’s mindful not to rip through the fabric.

A man is walking up behind her and the street light above blinks out. The sun hasn’t made it up all the way and she’s found herself in that sleepy in-between space where things often go wrong. He’s walking up fast. She pulls the hood of her sweatshirt up over her head. Hannah slows her gait and moves to the edge of the sidewalk. He’s right over her shoulder. Hannah feels his proximity in her skin. She turns to him and says, “Sorry…”

But, he brushes passed, snapping her a quick, curious look.

“…Excuse me,” she mumbles but he is already gone: walking fast, head down as he turns the corner and disappears. He’s already forgotten about her.

Hannah rests at the bus stop as other people begin to crowd around the shelter. Going to work, she assumes. An older woman watches her but she chips at her fingernails and waits for the bus that will take her home. She kicks at the shelter glass in the combat boots she took from her sister’s closet. They are too big for her and her feet shift in the soles with each swing of her leg.

“How old are you?” the woman finally asks and Hannah looks up. This woman is someone’s mother. Grandmother, maybe. Hannah recognizes the maternal glare instantly. Other people’s mothers are always so nosy. Seven people wait beneath the bus shelter and only one other person looks over as Hannah responds: a young man, maybe in his late teens. Everyone else is busy pretending to be anywhere else.

“None of your damn business,” she says and the older woman just continues to watch her with a concerned eye. But, half of Hannah’s attention is on the boy. “What?” she asks, her chapped lips a mumbled snarl. She says it to the boy but the woman responds.

“You should be at home,” the woman says.

“You shouldn’t worry about it,” Hannah replies and looks back down.

Plays with her fingers.

Pretends to be bored.

Swings her feet.

The boy continues to stare.

He is not good looking but he is older and Hanna finds something likeable in his face. He is rough, but she knows rough. His black T-shirt has a large hole in the neckline and in the waxing sunlight streaming through the glass of the shelter, she can almost see his skin beneath the faded stretched cotton.

The State Street Express Bus pulls up and everyone boards. Hannah watches the back of his head as he pays the driver and finds a seat. His mutt brown hair stands on end and she imagines it is from his pillow. Hannah wonders if her kohl black eyeliner is bleeding down her cheeks. She swipes beneath her eyes and smears black on the sleeve of her hoodie. She was drunk five hours ago and as she boards the bus, she feels queasy and hot.

Hannah’s hands sweat a little as she follows behind, sitting kitty-corner from his seat. She can watch him out of the corner of her eye.

More importantly, she is allowing herself to be watched.


When the bus pulls up to State Street, there is a moment when their bodies are drawn together. Each pulled to the center aisle, moving towards one another as the bus comes to a stop. She feels it in her stomach: that moment he scoops her up and puts her in his mason jar. Her vision is tinged with the swell of the curved glass all around her. He starts to screw the lid on and her breath catches.

It is his nearness, she thinks. It is the smell of his body and the smell of her own body and the smell of the diesel engine of the bus. He motions for her to go in front of him and he walks so close that she can feel his warmth. This has been the nucleus of her nights: finding him. She doesn’t even know his name but she has recognized his flash pattern. She tosses her hair back and exits the bus imagining that she is somehow tugging him along with her.

She pulls her cigarettes from the little side pocket of her backpack and lights the tip. She waits for him but he’s begun talking to a younger boy at the State Street bus stop.

She should be walking home, sneaking back up to her room and laying down on her bed before her mother gets home from work. She should be slipping these black combat boots back into her sister’s closet before anyone notices they are gone. But, she doesn’t because he is taking his time. She stands beside a garbage can awkwardly biding hers. If he looked up, would he find it weird that she is waiting for him? In the space of several heartbeats, she’s already imagined his lips on hers, biting and uprooting her out of herself.

But, then, he is pulling back his fist.

But, then, he is slamming it into the face of the new boy and they are on the sidewalk  and they are fighting and kicking and his fists are smashing their way into bone and flesh. People are yelping all around them, trying to move from the fray. She is drawn closer.

It sounds like nothing she’s heard before. The girls outside of Prince’s Grocery will back-bite. Practically eat each other whole in big gagging swallows. They will tear each other down but Hannah has never heard fighting like this. Almost sexual, with groans of pain and promise. He is on top of the younger boy, punching and punching. The boys reverse positions and she cries out as he is punched and punched. It doesn’t take long for someone to pull the young men apart.

Her hand is on the cold early morning glass of the bus shelter.

A quick resurgence of the fighting erupts as two older men haul the boys apart but there is punting and wiggling hips and maneuvers of escape. Eventually, however, it is over and everyone begins to disperse.

“What is the matter with you boys?” one man is saying.

“Jesus, you fucking idiots,” another mutters. The fighters drill holes into each other before the younger one stomps away from the bus stop. He has, apparently, missed his bus. It came and went, sweeping away while they were still locked together on the ground and a crowd of people swarmed up around them.

Hannah remembers her cigarette and takes a deep drag before swiping it against the bottom of her boot and tossing it away. She senses him moving towards her.

“My name is Caleb,” he says. He is standing in front of her, bleeding from a cut above his eye. Already, his cheek is bruised.

“Oh, sorry,” she says and moves closer to him. “I’m Hannah. Are you ok?”

“I’m fine,” he answers. “Are you ok?”

“Uh, yeah. But, I’m not the one that just boxed some stranger at a bus stop.”

“He isn’t a stranger,” Caleb answers and when he smiles, she notices that his lip is split. “That was my brother, Ian.”

“Why did you hit him?” she asks and together, they begin migrating down State Street.

“He had it coming,” Caleb said and laughed. “It isn’t a big deal. Sometimes we just fight.”

“I have a sister,” Hannah tells him. “We don’t fight like that.”

“How do you and your sister fight?” he asks and she is surprised that he genuinely seems to want to know.

“Well, we steal each others’ stuff,” Hannah answers. “And, we get each other into trouble.”

Caleb nods and wipes blood from his lip with his bare hand. Hannah takes off her backpack and pulls out one of her old T shirts. “Here,” she says and hands it to him.

“You sure?” Caleb asks and she nods. She loves that T shirt but she doesn’t mind.

They walk in silence for a few moments while she panics for something to talk about. She’s usually better at this. Finally, she says, “I’m heading home. I live down off Jackson Street.”

“Yeah?” he asks. He is a lot taller and she has to look all the way up to meet his eyes.

“Yeah. You heading home, too?” she asks him. “From, like, being out?”

“No, I’m walking you home,” he answers and she hears the sound of holes being poked through  the lid of the mason jar. She can breathe again. “I live back the other way. The way Ian went. He’s probably already home, crying about getting his ass handed to him.”

“Will you get in trouble?” Hannah asks him.

“No,” he says. “Our Dad don’t care. What’s a little blood between brothers?” He sounds bitter when he says it.


When they reach Hannah’s house, she wonders if Caleb notices the rotting porch steps or the way the white powder paint has begun to slough off the aluminum cladding. He presses in close to her, though, his finger tips playing against hers. Morse code: on-off touches, dot, dot, dash. Neither says a word. She pulls him into the house and sneaks him up to her bed and they lay down together. Some men are always strangers – like her father and her grandfather and all the men walking in droves into the grocery store. But not Caleb.

Hannah hears her mother come home from work, those tired foot steps up the stairs and the shuttering of her mother’s bedroom door. She is laying on top of Caleb and he’s warm against her bare breasts and belly. The house whispers like a vacuum as she feels her mother disappear into the dark but Hannah has her blinds open and the sun is peeking hot into the room. The sheet is tucked up around them and Hannah stretches until it tickles her like grass in an open field.

They ask each other questions. Silly questions. Favorite color catechisms.

“How old are you?” Caleb asks and rubs little circles on her back with the palm of his hand. His knuckles are bruised from the fight. His right eye has begun to swell closed and purple.

“Fifteen,” she answers and looks up at him. “How old are you?”

“Seventeen,” he whispers. But, he hesitates and looks away before gently pushing her to the side of the twin sized bed. The springs squeak out as he shifts away from her. “No, nineteen,” he says. “I’m nineteen.”

“Are you seventeen or nineteen?” she asks and really, she doesn’t know the difference and it doesn’t matter to her but it matters to him, she can tell. He’s pulling on his pants. His shirt is in his hands.

“Hannah, I’m twenty,” he says again and his voice sounds different now. Far away, as if he’s standing outside and she’s standing inside and they are talking between a plane of glass. He is upset, she can feel it. He isn’t the oldest man she’s ever been with but how can she tell him that? How can she tell him not to worry?

“Sorry,” she says and sits up. “What’s wrong?” She pulls a sheet up to cover herself and looks at the clock. Ten in the morning. Her sister will be up and moving soon. Her mother will be asleep for hours. Hannah is so tired, she wants to cry. But, she doesn’t want Caleb to go.

“Nothing is wrong,” Caleb says and looks around the room. His head shakes a little, frantic, as if he’s just woken up and has no idea where he is. “I should go, though. Check on Ian. I lashed him pretty good.”

“You can stay,” she offers and although she wants so desperately to sound seductive or confident, the words come out mewling. Her body feels sore and although he wasn’t her first, not even close, for a few hours he had caught her so completely.

Caleb closes the door behind him and creeps out of the house just as Hannah’s sister begins to stir. Hannah grabs a T shirt from the floor – it is her favorite, the one with his blood on it, dried now. She puts it on and pulls the collar up over her mouth as she watches out the window. Her breath is hot between her face and the fabric.

Caleb is walking down the street, a limp in his gait as if his body is sore, too. And, of course, it is. He’d been fighting on the sidewalk. He wasn’t sore because he’d pulled another person into his body. He wasn’t sore because he’d allowed himself to be caught and in the catching, discovered new parts of his body that could ache.

Hannah watches him through the glass until he disappears down the road. Never once does it occur to her that wanting to get caught is entirely different than allowing it. She rests her forehead against the window and thinks only of the way he’s lit her up inside.