for teens, by teens

Canvas Teen Literary Journal is published quarterly in print, ebook, web, video, and audio formats.

How Fireflies Were Invented

Emily Schussheim

I am unspeakably envious of fireflies. Darwin explains that their descent with modification led to the appearance of a trait with a differential reproductive advantage, but both he and I can agree that lightning bugs, anglerfish, and bioluminescent bacteria know something we do not. They dipped their abdomens, appendages, and pseudopods in some greasy grey oblivion, bubbling like oil in a fryer, only to come out glowing embers heated by a star’s exhale.

Thus, my superpower would be to glow. 

While a large section of my back or entire head would be ideal, I wouldn’t mind just my pinky, a few strands of hair, or my belly button. When a deity’s secondhand smoke streaks the skies in dusk, I’d wriggle my fingers and be able to make shadows dance like flames. If the bulbs in a closet or corner dozed off to tepid gloom, I could make the mirror shards lining strands of hair shimmer warm and yellow. Even alone, holding a blessed thumbnail to my cheek would bathe my face in velvet, honey light.

The class begins a math test feverishly, air a soupy scribbling menace of sweat and pencil lead. Two minutes into the trigonometry, a boy, leaden circles chaining his eyes to impalpable prison balls, and disheveled hair matted like squished spaghetti, notices a faint blinking glow from my stomach. It’s not a cellphone, those are collected at the front of the room, and its radiance's timbre is a hue cooler, anyway.  Beneath the pale pink sweater the muted luminosity is golden and organic, reminding him of the star-bugs he chased as a child.

The lady at checkout takes my ten dollar bill, beating open the register and in a fell swish, pinning a piece of strained silver hair behind her ear. She wrings her hands, veins withered and pronounced like sinuous tributaries, and returns the change to my cupped hand. The bronze of the coins fades to silhouette over a pinky finger shining as if coated in caramelized sun.  Shocked, and then at peace with the benign light, she lets the friendly fire kiss the backs of her eyes.

A child sits dejected on a park bench, a tear rolling down her face while half of a decapitated ice cream cone oozes into the pavement. I slip next to her and give her a glowing thumbs-up, and she can taste chocolate and feel the bugs’ clumsy flutter against her palms. A man dangles his feet off a bridge and over the highway, whose headlight red and white cells flow thin and artificial through clogged traffic capillaries. From behind, I tap his shoulder and a hissing wind blows giddily, warm fragments of burning hair into his now alive eyes. International leaders ferment frozen in shadowed debate, the rectangular table now thick and cold as a coffin. My glowing left eyebrow could save the world.

I used to chase fireflies religiously.  Summer nights drained the stew-smelling air that sucked and spat oxygen from my chest with a certain watery darkness.  I’d sneak up on them from behind as if they didn’t know I was coming, as if they hadn’t known for eons that I’d stretch to cup their fragile glow. 

If not made for our wonder, fireflies were invented by accident; we can’t understand them and won’t try.  It’s impossible to fathom a star produced from gooey larvae gel, or the memory of wonder’s tantalizing shiver produced from floating antennae-ed entities of light. In glass jars with holes poked in their tinfoil lids, the glowing, godly bodies tumbled and crawled. Their bottom halves every so often blinked with a measured, sage-like slothfulness, proof that time goes on forever.  

Emily Schussheim is a junior at Staples High School in Westport, Connecticut. She's loved writing for nearly a decade, and attended the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and New England Young Writers Conference at the Bread Loaf campus in Vermont this past summer. In addition to her literary pursuits Emily is an avid cellist, and as a student she enjoys math, physics, and naturally English. Her favorite food is macaroni and cheese.

© Canvas Literary Journal 2016
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