The Lights in the Jar [fiction]



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Annoyance

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I've been wanting to write something like this theme for a while, and I plan on getting it published in my college's lit mag next semester so I'd like any advice, critique, advice, compliments, attention, etcetcetc.
Thanks friends.

The mason jar’s lid scratched my fingers as I held it shut. Tiny holes in the top to let them breathe, poked from the bottom of the lid, with sharp pieces of metal jutted upwards and sliding against my skin. Their light glowed onto my hand in a soothing green show of nature. Erika continued on chasing; cupping her hands together, and peeking to check for triumph. She hurried over to me to add another friend in the jar. The sun had set just ten minutes before and we continued along the backyard, catching any illuminating friend Erika could trap into her hands.

Suddenly, she stopped.

“What do they eat, Mom?”

I wasn’t sure. Other bugs? Leaves? I had left my phone in the house and couldn’t check.

“Won’t they die if we don’t feed them?” she asked.

Admittedly the sound of the word “die” coming from the mouth of my six-year-old shocked me. Did she truly understand what “to die” meant? Did she fear death like I fear my own? Did she fear that I will leave her life like my mother had left ours?

“I’m not sure,” was all I could say, biting my lip.

I thought about my mother leaving peacefully in her sleep the year before. Simply breathing her last holding my father’s tired worn hands on the hospital bed, the peaceful look on her face. The sun was baking on my face as I heard children laughing outside, and I closed my eyes away as the monitors confirmed what had happened. I feared leaving Erika much too soon. I feared what she would feel without her mother. Would she cry when I could not?

With closed eyes and a deep breath I eventually said, “Let’s find more friends, Erika.” I regretted deflecting her question.

We continued on adding our friends to the jar. Some of the friends in the jar began to glow slower, dimmer, and held to the walls of the jar without movement. I worried Erika would notice.

“Erika,” I called to her, but she didn’t respond. “Erika, we should go inside.”

She ran to me smiling, her hair bouncing. “Can I keep them on my dresser tonight?”

I knew she feared the dark. I could only react at first by pulling my lips inward and biting them.

“No, honey,” I finally responded. I could see her expression drop, despite it getting darker by the minute.

She began to object, “But Mom…”

“Won’t they die?” I could only ask.

Erika responded in imitation to my own reaction, pulling her lips inward. I noticed two friends glow as they escaped her small hands. “I don’t wanna sleep in the dark,” the words slipped out from her. She looked away from me.


“I know, honey. I know you don’t, but it isn’t right to use them like that. Do you love them?”

“Yes!” she immediately reacted, eyes wide with conviction.

“Sometimes… it’s better to let them go. We sometimes have to let friends go, to let them breathe. You had fun playing with them tonight, and look how many friends you made!”

Erika brushed the bangs out of her eyes and put her finger to her chin to think about what I said. She responded slowly, “But why can’t we be friends forever?”

“Forever is a long time, but even longer to them, I think. And you won’t stop being friends, this will make your friendship even stronger. You’ll see them tomorrow night.”

“How long do they live?”

“I’m not sure… I’m thinking much less time than us, though. That’s why it’s important, to enjoy the time you have together.”

Erika grinned at the thought of helping her new friends find happiness.

“They need to be free, and we need to sleep, Erika. It’s late. Would you like to open the jar? We’ll watch them off.”

She took the jar from my hands with a determined look on her face and wrestled with the lid to eventually spin it off. We placed the jar in front of the sliding door to the house. Together, we watched our friends fly off into the night from the comfort of a blanket and a warm embrace as she drifted into sleep.

If you'd like to support it on Medium, you can find it here: https://medium.com/@Annoyance/the-lights-in-the-jar-8cc0362bb1f1
 

KingdomKey

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I adore this story. This time it has a much lighter feel to it with a not so bittersweet ending. I thought for sure it'd be quite sad at the end, but I was mildly surprised when the girl removed the jar with such determination. I really like how both the mother and daughter reacted to the question of death. It shows they're quite alike and related to one another. Furthermore, it was nice to see more in depth of how the mother felt about loss.

In the meantime, I think everything in this story appears solid and checks out okay! I hope entering it in the magazine goes well. :D
 

Annoyance

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I hope so too! Thank you sooo much Cinder for your kind words and introspection. Maybe I can enter more than one piece for once, too! We'll have to see. It's only fall semester, got like 7 more months to think about this stuff.

I'm so glad people are liking it. I was so nervous for this piece at first.
 

Wire

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The mason jar’s lid scratched my fingers as I held it shut. Tiny holes in the top to let them breathe, poked from the bottom of the lid, with sharp pieces of metal jutted upwards and sliding against my skin. Their light glowed onto my hand in a soothing green show of nature. Erika continued on chasing; cupping her hands together, and peeking to check for triumph. She hurried over to me to add another friend in the jar. The sun had set just ten minutes before and we continued along the backyard, catching any illuminating friend Erika could trap into her hands.
Suddenly, she stopped.

This is an interesting introduction. I love stories that start in the middle of things, so this is right up my alley. There are, however, some hiccups. The first one I noticed is the second sentence. It is written a little awkwardly. That awkward comes from, I think, the ordering of the words. The way it is currently written, it sounds more like a fragment than a full and complete thought. I know what you are trying to say. You are trying to tell the reader that there are tiny holes in the top of the jar that are there for the purposes of allowing the small creatures to breathe, and they are located on the bottom of the lid. The issue is this part: "with sharp pieces of metal jutted upwards and sliding against my skin." I honestly am a bit confused what this is supposed to mean. What metal pieces? What purpose do they serve? You also change tense here in a way that I feel isn't grammatically satisfying. I would place verbs jutt and slide in the same tense. "Sharp pieces of metal jutting upwards and sliding against my skin" or "Sharp metal pieces jutted upwards and slided against my skin." Either way is fine, but I like the second option more because it fits your use of poked earlier in the same sentence.


“What do they eat, Mom?”

I like this piece of dialogue. It's short, concise and immediately sets the tone. This story is about a teaching moment between a parent and child. Good.

I wasn’t sure. Other bugs? Leaves? I had left my phone in the house and couldn’t check.

“Won’t they die if we don’t feed them?” she asked.

Interesting use of negatives here. Feels naturalistic, but not too much so. Good.

Admittedly the sound of the word “die” coming from the mouth of my six-year-old shocked me. Did she truly understand what “to die” meant? Did she fear death like I fear my own? Did she fear that I will leave her life like my mother had left ours?

You ask a lot of interesting questions here, but unfortunately I don't think that the story explores all of them as fully as it could. This is supposed to be a philosophical discussion about death between an adult and a child. There is a gap in maturity and experience. This is also a delicate situation. As the adult, you have to be aware of your wording, but you don't have to dance around the question. If you want your narrator to dance around the question, then acknowledge that decision in the narrative. You do this a little bit later on when the narrator says that she regrets deflecting her question, but I think you can go further. Have the mother ask her daughter what she thinks death is, what her preconceived notions of it are, or perhaps have the daughter ask her mother questions about death and its significance. Again, you do this a little bit, but I think it can be done more.


“I’m not sure,” was all I could say, biting my lip.

I thought about my mother leaving peacefully in her sleep the year before. Simply breathing her last holding my father’s tired worn hands on the hospital bed, the peaceful look on her face. The sun was baking on my face as I heard children laughing outside, and I closed my eyes away as the monitors confirmed what had happened. I feared leaving Erika much too soon. I feared what she would feel without her mother. Would she cry when I could not?

This is an interesting moment, as it provides the story with a multitude of possibilities. This is great because the narrator's loss of her mother mirrors the eventual loss her daughter will face. It's a great moment, but I don't think it really amounts to much as of right now. It is just sort of in the narrative, not really contributing much. I'm not trying to say that it's completely pointless, as it does serve to give the reader a better idea into how the narrator is feeling, but I think it would be prudent for the narrator to, perhaps, have a chat with her daughter about this, or it might be prudent to have the mother ultimately come to terms with the fact that her child will one day lose her mother, and that it is her job as a parent to provide as much for her daughter as possible before the end. I think you can use this moment for a lot more.

With closed eyes and a deep breath I eventually said, “Let’s find more friends, Erika.” I regretted deflecting her question.
We continued on adding our friends to the jar. Some of the friends in the jar began to glow slower, dimmer, and held to the walls of the jar without movement. I worried Erika would notice.

“Erika,” I called to her, but she didn’t respond. “Erika, we should go inside.”

She ran to me smiling, her hair bouncing. “Can I keep them on my dresser tonight?”

I knew she feared the dark. I could only react at first by pulling my lips inward and biting them.

“No, honey,” I finally responded. I could see her expression drop, despite it getting darker by the minute.
She began to object, “But Mom…”

“Won’t they die?” I could only ask.

This could be the best moment to start bleeding into the death of human beings. You can use the death of fireflies as a metaphor or allegory for human death. You are already doing this--at least I think you are--but I think it could be more explicit.

Erika responded in imitation to my own reaction, pulling her lips inward. I noticed two friends glow as they escaped her small hands. “I don’t wanna sleep in the dark,” the words slipped out from her. She looked away from me.

You mention this fear of the dark, but you don't do much with it. I think you can connect a fear of the dark to a fear of dying, as both have to do with the unknown, and death can be considered an infinite darkness.

“I know, honey. I know you don’t, but it isn’t right to use them like that. Do you love them?”

“Yes!” she immediately reacted, eyes wide with conviction.

“Sometimes… it’s better to let them go. We sometimes have to let friends go, to let them breathe. You had fun playing with them tonight, and look how many friends you made!”

Erika brushed the bangs out of her eyes and put her finger to her chin to think about what I said. She responded slowly,

“But why can’t we be friends forever?”

“Forever is a long time, but even longer to them, I think. And you won’t stop being friends, this will make your friendship even stronger. You’ll see them tomorrow night.”

Forever, infinity, eternity: all of these words can be used as symbols for death. You could try to make a connection here.

“How long do they live?”

“I’m not sure… I’m thinking much less time than us, though. That’s why it’s important, to enjoy the time you have together.”

It doesn't matter how long you live. Connecting this to a good human life would be quite meaningful.


Erika grinned at the thought of helping her new friends find happiness.

Happiness is not living forever or avoiding death: it's about living in the moment and enjoying that moment.


“They need to be free, and we need to sleep, Erika. It’s late. Would you like to open the jar? We’ll watch them off.”

She took the jar from my hands with a determined look on her face and wrestled with the lid to eventually spin it off. We placed the jar in front of the sliding door to the house. Together, we watched our friends fly off into the night from the comfort of a blanket and a warm embrace as she drifted into sleep.

Good story. I just feel like you can do more with it.
 

Annoyance

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Thank you for your critique! I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to you! These notes are *very* helpful so thank you, thank you. The piece is by no means 100% done but it's done enough to be put on my medium but I'm going to take it down in January for construction purposes to fix it before it maybe gets published.
 
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