Soft summer wind swept across the yellowing grass, brushing the weary old man’s face. He suppressed a cough as he turned from the setting sun to pack up his booth for the day. He was a magician, performing tricks for children in his booth next to the local park year after year. At least, he called it his booth—really it was just a picnic blanket, a suitcase full of props, and next to him his rusty bike propped against an old, withered tree.
The magician clicked his suitcase shut and strapped it onto his bike, along with the tin can full of clinking nickels. Then he paused. Looking up, he saw a little girl pedaling on a tricycle approaching, and heard the squeak, squeak of the wheels. He looked away and pretended not to notice.
“Hello.” Came her voice a few moments later. It was much more solemn than the magician expected.
Unable to feign any longer, the magician looked up and mustered a smile of some sort. “Well, hullo there!” He examined her a little more closely. She was a child of about five or six, and a pretty little thing, too. Yet she had a grave look about her that distinguished her from all the other children that he was used to performing tricks for.
“Can you perform magic for me?” She asked rather quietly.
“I’m sorry, but I’m done for the day. Come back tomorrow, and I’ll prepare some special tricks just for you.”
But the little girl shook her head. “I don’t want any tricks. I want to see my mom. Daddy says that she’s a star now. You can do magic. Can you take me to the stars?”
The magician blinked. It seemed to him as if the two of them stayed there, her on her tricycle, him holding up his bike, for at least half an hour. At last he cleared his throat and fished out two quarters. “I’m sorry. Here. Treat yourself to a lollipop.”
Again she shook her head. She didn’t pout, she didn’t speak, just stared at the magician.
She kept staring at him. Those unblinking eyes… they reminded him… they reminded him of summers faraway, a fleeting memory of sparkling lights. And the magician had an idea.
With a sigh the magician trudged through the overgrown grass to the old trail half hidden in the bushes. He was almost surprised that it was still there.
For nearly twenty minutes the magician and the girl plodded along the rough forest trail. The girl didn’t speak, and the magician didn’t dare look at her. If she stumbled and fell occasionally, she picked herself back up without a word. The magician thought of the other bawling, shrieking children who visited the park and couldn’t help but wonder at this little girl. What made her so brave? And so solemn? He looked at the girl out of the corner of his eye, as she stumbled again with not so much as a grunt but ran a few steps to catch up with the magician. And what was it in her eyes and her voice and her face that gave me goosebumps? Oh, for heaven’s sake, what am I even doing?
The trail seemed smaller than it had years and years ago. I really don’t remember it being so gloomy, or the trees so towering. Ah—I seem to remember feeling like the trees were closing in on me, about to swallow me up. I would be uneasy even with all the older boys laughing so mirthfully, each of us holding a jar in our hands. Try as he might, he couldn’t shake off the lingering sense of uneasiness, perhaps only the residue of fear from his childhood. The magician looked up. He could see the sky through little gaps between the leaves. There were no stars in the sky yet.
Doubts crept unbidden into the magician’s mind. In the settling dark he could barely see the trail, and he wondered if they were indeed on the right path.
That was when he saw it: a tiny speck of light, hardly noticeable, almost like a misplaced star, almost like a spark from a fading fire, so faint it could’ve been an echo from a distant dream. But as they approached, other specks appeared, and they danced around to the silent music of the night, blinking in harmony.
They stepped into the clearing, and the girl gasped, the first sound she’s made for quite some time, and the magician knew she saw them. There were many more of them now, glowing delicately in the inky forest, flittering all around the magician and the girl like magic.
The fireflies filled the clearing, and they waltzed, the velvety song of night ringing out soundlessly in the magician’s head. But it wasn’t soundless, it was alive in the whistle of the wind, in the soft buzzing of the fireflies. It was in the rustling of tender leaves, it was in the tinkling of a remote stream, it was in the swishing of damp grass around the girl’s ankles as she danced around along with the fireflies, it was in her bubbly laugh, and the magician’s rumbling one. And the magician remembered what he’d always known, but had forgotten—real magic wasn’t in tricks, but in the joy it brings. The girl’s giggles swirled into the sky. That was magic.
Suddenly, the girl grew quiet. The magician turned and saw her staring at her hands, cupped over a gentle glimmer. She looked at the magician, and smiled. “It’s beautiful.”
The magician walked over. The girl raised her hands, with the firefly in them, up to her eyes. Then she looked up at the sky. “Mom, I miss you.” She whispered. She looked back down. “Goodbye, little star.” She raised her hands, then uncovered the blinking insect.
The magician stood beside the girl, and they watched the firefly as it soared up into the sky, blending in with the twinkling stars.