Back in college I worked at a men’s clothing store at the Hampshire Mall and, for exactly one summer, we employed a kid named Du.
He’d been a city kid all his life — Seoul, Manhattan, Boston. Moving to the Pioneer Valley to attend UMass was a big change of pace for him.
Du was a good worker, but at the store he was mostly known for his epic on-again-off-again relationship with his girlfriend and, more than that, for telling tall tales. I’ll never know whether Du actually got into a nunchuk fight with a motorcycle gang in a Boston Chinatown restaurant; but, it was that type of story that made me especially curious when Du came in for work one day and said, “I saw the most amazing thing last night. I don’t know what it was, Greg, but you have to see it.”
Du had just purchased a four-wheel drive Jeep Grand Cherokee, and apparently he’d been out exploring. We were scheduled to close together that night and Du told me to come along with him after our shift; that he’d drive, that we could only get to this place in his Jeep.
My girlfriend was away for the summer and I didn’t have anything better to do that night than hang out at my regular South Hadley coffee shop and dream that someday I’d be a world-class writer. Or, at least, someone who got paid to write.
I said I’d go.
At 9:00 we closed the shop and headed out to the parking lot. It was near the end of June, that fleeting week when I could leave the mall just in time to catch the last spectacular moments of daylight. Du’s Jeep was green. He cranked up some Asian techno music and steered us toward the stretch of Route 47 that runs from North Hadley to Sunderland.
Somewhere a mile or two south of Sunderland’s center — I’ve never been able to find it again — Du veered off the road and onto a dirt trail that ran toward the river. We splashed through car-eating mud puddles and bounced over ruts and came to a place where a tree had fallen across the road.
Du cut the engine and out went the headlights and the thumping music. For a second, while my eyes adjusted to the sudden, utter blackness, I couldn’t really see anything; I was only aware of the swampy sounds of a summer night and the smell of a new car.
“What’s out here, Du?”
There was a big meadow ahead, full of tall grass and cattails. And fireflies. What must have been literally tens or hundreds of thousands of fireflies. They lit up the meadow like the gleaming lights of some lost city.
Like some lost city, I thought to myself. But Du said: “I feel like I’m looking at a million angels.”