The history of lightning is the story of a woman.
She had made a little garden back behind her house, in a place only she could find. She planted the ground with mementos – a bit of cloth stolen from a napkin he had once used at dinner, the torn corner of a page of a book she had once seen him read, a few drops of ink that matched the color of his eyes, the scribbled outline of a bird that reminded her of him – and each night she went out to water it with stories and feed it with sighs. One morning when she got to the patch she found a tiny shoot. It wasn’t much – a thin stem covered in horsehair – but it hadn’t been there the night before. And so each day when she came to tend it in the early or late hours, she brought a new little memory to plant, or just sat and whispered stories to the ground, and very gradually more grew from it. A leather mushroom striped in black and blue. A bed of groundcover made of mirrors and buttons. A long flat stalk that wrote its history on itself as it grew. The patch was soaked deep with her heartbeats and she lay down upon it and cared for it like another, better skin.
One afternoon, in the midst of a violent storm, she left her home to check on the garden. When she arrived she found nothing but a scar of soil, the garden destroyed by a hot knife of fire. She felt her chest crushing in on itself, simultaneously crumpling and hollowing her out, and she fell to the scar, unable to weep, and emptied of stories, and closed her eyes in the rain, and slept in the burned puddle.
When the sun rose the next morning, she lay there empty and sodden and mudcovered and refused to move until she felt a wet lick on her cheek. And then another. And then another. Eyes still closed, she reached her hand to her face and felt a long, shortlegged slickness creeping along one side. She sat up, cupped the creature in her hand and brought it to where she could see it. A good-sized salamander looked up at her. Its body was covered in mirrors and horsehair and it had blue-black buttons for eyes and a tongue covered in little scribbled stories that transformed and translated themselves as it flicked in and out of the creature’s mouth. She took it home and fed it with whispers and eyelashes and it followed her every day as she went back to the burned place. While her memory was re-growing itself the salamander licked stories into the ground and into her hands and into her forehead and they lived together this way for a long while. One night after she had fallen asleep in the little patch, the creature crawled up her back and its tongue traced a single sentence along her neck – “Beautiful things are born of fire” – and with that a tiny bolt of orange and purple lightning began to sprout from the ground between her feet.
[You can return to The Elizabeths this way.]