Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Butterflies

Write a story that includes: a tombstone, a first kiss, and a butterfly collection...


(Join in via the comment section if you'd like to finish this prompt yourself, or leave a link to your own site in the comments).  Happy national poetry month, by the way!

White and Black Butterfly on Red Flower

His cheek was beginning to sting from the constant caress of his handkerchief.  

He ran it over his vellum skin a final time and fumbled with the pocket of his stiff plaid shirt until it was secure within.  

He exhaled slowly and observed his brumous breath evaporate into the cold spring air, and vanish like the figments of a dream.

The bright flower of the sky lingered behind the barren trees; too respectful of the man to compel him to endure such a harsh glare.  The sun understood that the man needed the dimness of the dawn.

He listlessly wiggled his toes in his brown loafers, trying to confirm that they hadn't frozen off.  The hoarfrost on the grass was beginning to melt, and his feet quivered with discomfort.

He blinked slowly, and exhaled again.  Before him, an angel held her hands to the sky and spread her wings behind her shapely figure.  With eyes raised up and standing on her tip-toes, it seemed that she would alight from the Earth and soar toward Heaven at any moment.

The man traced the gray figure with his eyes all the way to her stony feet as he had done an infinite number of times, and settled his bright eyes on the writing etched there.  Beneath the statuette, were two dates, and the name of his wife.

close-up, clouds, country

He shook his head.  It couldn't have been more than a few months ago that he had first welcomed her into his home.  He had been much different then, in those late summer days of August that drifted on like molasses.  He had been a strong young man then, and his world was studying; his MIT scholarship had been in the balance then. 

The old man let out a puff of air.  How much time and energy he had expended on getting that scholarship!  And when the time had come to send in his application, he had held back.  There was a war in Europe to be fought, and his place was there; of that he had been convinced.

He could have gone back to school once things were won; he had a promising career as the top of his high school class in the sciences.  

But war changes a man, and all he wanted when he returned was a family.  He would spend the rest of his life working the nine-to-five at a small grocery store.  Sometimes the eight-to-six, as he sometimes called it.  He would always chuckle a little when he called it this, not because he enjoyed the extra work, but because there was nothing that could make him swell with pride more than providing for his wife and their five kids.  

People Sitting on Green Grass

No, at the time he wasn't aware this was coming, or that his life was going to turn that way.  He was, after all, only seventeen in that summer long ago.  

She had come over for some project or another.  He didn't really care at the time, and he certainly didn't remember in his old age.

He did remember with absolute clarity when she stopped him to look at his butterfly collection.  They were in the main room with golden sun pouring through the western windows in his family's small suburban ranch house.  

He had been leading her past the stacks of books and random papers that he had left out all around the room and that his professor father hadn't bothered him to put away when he lost track of her soft step behind him.

He turned around and saw her face tilted up, her long nose high in the air, and her brown hair in ringlets and ribbons spilling over her shoulder.  She held her books before her chest defensively, and her eyes were so wide her lashes kissed her brow.

black-and-white, butterflies, decor

He had wandered back over the stacks, and stood just behind her and followed her eyes to the wall.

There was nothing there.  Just a completed butterfly collection hanging on the wall, framed and labelled in neat upper-case script.  Nothing but twenty-four distinct species of Rhopalocera, all neatly pinned and aligned.

She looked back at him with shock and offense in her deep blue eyes.  He raised his eyebrows without a word.

She stepped away and put her hands on her hips, "Are they dead?" She had asked, but it was more of a statement.

"Of course."

"Why?"

He had scoffed a bit here.  How dearly he regretted scoffing at her in that moment!

"It's impossible to observe them alive as accurately as when they are pinned out like that," he explained rationally, "It's just a standard science procedure."

"To kill them?  That's the best you can do?"  She still had not looked at him.  He recoiled at her scorn, though he had no idea why he should care.  She clearly didn't understand.

"Of course, that's the only way to get to understand them closely--"

"You have to kill a thing in order to understand it?  To break something in order to understand it forgets the meaning of understanding."

They had not spoken of it again.

beautiful, bloom, blossom

It was spring of the next year when he invited her to the field his grandpa owned on the outer side of town.  The tulips were just beginning to peel open, and the scent of fresh cut grass hung in the air.  He hadn't told her what the reason for the excursion was, but over the year she had grown used to his strange escapades.  He suspected that she secretly enjoyed the spontaneity.

He instructed her to close her eyes as tightly as she could while he ran back to his cherry red truck and pulled out a cage.

When she opened her eyes again, the field was filled with streams of color, and the tall golden glass tickling her knees.  Butterflies were fleeing into the sky.  Through the mix of color, she had spotted his face, which was beaming beyond suppression.  

It was then that they had first shared a kiss, the first of many that were to come.

He thought of her, smiling amongst those butterflies, her eyes turned toward Heaven and her feet suspending her on her toes.  He looked carefully then at the angel statuette and ran a rheumatic hand along it's cold stone face.  He closed his eyes as tightly as he could.

Grayscale Photo of Left Human Hand

He had been right, long ago of course.  The only way that he could understand the butterflies' beauty was to end them and take their beauty from the world.  It was when they were truly gone that he could grasp their impression and comprehend their complexity.

But he was glad that those butterflies were allowed to fly free.  He was glad that he could see their true beauty all together, even if only for a short time before they flew away.  It was better that way, he decided.

He began to cough, and turned toward the edge of the field, where his son stood leaning against a red pick up truck, waiting for him.  

He waved a hand absently at his son who undoubtedly would make him go inside to get out of the cold in a moment.  He turned away and ambled through the tall grass toward him.

As he made his way back, a pure white butterfly lighted into the angel's hands.

Woman With Wings Statue Grayscale Photo

2 comments:

  1. Wow. Your descriptions are amazing and I love the symbolism. Thanks for sharing that.

    Here's my brief flash fiction-y attempt at this. I think it's interesting that it kind of mirrors your story even though I read your story after I wrote mine.

    ***

    This time my boyfriend stands with me at the tombstone.

    It feels weird because after Mom died when I was sixteen, I always went alone to the cemetery. I couldn’t let Dad know how much it affected me—he had enough to worry about as it was, with how weird I was acting.

    See, butterflies were Mom’s favorite thing ever. She had pictures of them hanging up all over the house, and whenever she saw a live one she would just stop and stare at it.

    After she died I started collecting butterflies. Obsessively, after school, every day. I could tell it put Dad on edge, and he wondered why I was doing it and what I did with them.

    I’m glad he never asked, because I put them in my closet inside this little decorative filigree lantern and waited for them to die, then buried them in the bottom of the mini trash can next to my bed.

    There was probably some kind of deep writing-class symbolism there. But all I knew was that they were reminders, and if I killed enough of them I might forget.

    Henry brings me to the present. “You ready?” he says, tightening his arm around mine.

    He knows I’m not, so I simply hand him the lantern so I can wipe away my tears. I take it back and before I can rethink this I open the latch, releasing the monarchs to soar up and cast flickering shadows on the fresh grave.

    When Henry moves in for our first kiss I’m almost expecting it, because now Dad’s free from worry.

    And he wants me to be, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why, thank you!

      I love your story--so poignant in so few words <3

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