Once there was a woman with skin that drank so deeply from the touch of her beloved that it turned his kisses into light. They would sit together on the grass or the leaves or the snow and she could feel it happening, and it was warm, and she was cold, and it spread through her so thoroughly that the light seemed to fade soon after it formed, and so she didn’t think much about it and she didn’t tell him.
It went this way for some time – on the grass, or the leaves, or the snow – and eventually there was nowhere left for the new light to spread because she was already too full, and she started to burn up from the inside. And still she couldn’t bear to tell him, for fear that he would stop, and so she didn’t, and kiss by kiss she began to glow.
People began to notice when she went out at night, walking past her and then turning to confirm the soft pink radiance clouding up from her skin. And so she stopped going out at night.
And then people began to notice when she went outside in the daytime, squinting their eyes at the bright white bleeding liquidly from between her lips and dripping down her chin when she smiled, clotting in her lashes when she blinked her eyes, and beading up from the pores on her nose and cheeks, tattooing her face with a radiance at once gorgeous and painful to look at. And so she stopped going out during the day.
Instead she stayed close to home, and she lit candles and arranged them in little pathways for him – through the grass, or the leaves, or the snow – and draped herself in shimmery silk and lace, and made him close his eyes when he came to the end of the candles and feel his way toward and over and into her. Though he could sense the warmth of her skin through his own, he kept his eyes closed and so he didn’t notice that she glowed beneath his touch. And he kept kissing her, and she kept letting him. And after many nights in the snow and the leaves, they fell asleep together on a blanket in the grass, and in the middle of the night he turned to her, asleep in the grip of a dream, and he kissed the tip of her nose, and then the apple of one cheek, and then the other, and then he held her face and brushed kisses across her forehead, and then he kissed her chin, and then one earlobe, and then the other, and finally he lay his head down on her chest and fell more deeply into a dream that exploded into a skyful of diamonds. (He couldn’t know that at that same moment in a ripple of warmth she had broken apart beneath him into a million points of light.)
When he woke from his dream and opened his eyes, he found her gone from the blanket. He sat up, and looked out across the grass, and saw that the trees were full of tiny stars, winking kisses at him, forming constellations in which, as he looked, he could trace the curves of her face and her legs and her belly. Some of the stars flew out to him, landing on his lips and his hands, and he saw that they had wings, and the stars softly brushed them against his skin.
And that’s how fireflies were born.
[You can return to The Elizabeths this way.]