December 9, 2001 ~ Wing of the Butterfly *fiction*
I've been working hard on my writing portfolio for my senior project, so I thought I would share a story with you readers, too.
The following has been revised a thousand times with my professors, so I have proof of copyright. Please don't steal.
Wing of the Butterfly
By Melissa Ray Davis
I hoped Mr. Jackson didn't hear the shouts coming from my house as he shuffled toward his strawberry patch where I was crouched. I wanted to give Mama the advice that she always screamed to Dad late at night, "It won't do for the neighbors to hear us discussing at this hour."
Mama never called it fighting, and she never hushed dad in the daytime. I figured she forgot that the neighbors still had ears when the sun was shining. As I looked up at Mr. Jackson, I wondered how anyone could forget his ears. They stuck straight out from his head as if they were trying to get away, as if he had toothpicks propping them out from behind.
The sun was directly behind him as he stood over me. All I could see was his outline, ears standing out and glowing with the sun. "Young Mister!" That's what he always called me. "Have you been eatin' my strawberries?"
"No, Sir," I said, shaking my head with honest vigor.
"Well why not?" he asked, putting his hands on his hips. "The fewer berries you eat, the more I have to pick. I swear, child, all you ever do is try to make more work for me. Now start eating before I chase you out of my yard." I caught the glint of his teeth and realized he was smiling at me. I smiled back. Mr. Jackson liked to pretend he was mean.
I began searching for berries as Mr. Jackson creaked, groaned, and cursed his way to his knees. "Young Mister," he gasped between wheezes, "I don't reckon I'll be getting up again after that ordeal. My knees weren't made for sittin'."
If his wife were there, we probably would have heard, "Harvey, the way you talk, there ain't a single part on your body that's made for anything, these days," as she always used to say, but she had passed on the year before. She wasn't around anymore to grin at his gripes. Mr. Jackson had been even grumpier ever since.
As I ate berries, Mr. Jackson picked the ones that I missed. He glanced toward my house a few times and gave me a long, hard look when he thought that I wasn't watching. My cheeks burned, and I turned away. Maybe he didn't hear their voices, though, because he just started to tell me about how the bees weren't doing their job very well this season. "The weeds, on the other hand," he grumbled, "are thriving."
"They sure are," I sympathized. I figured I would have a little talk with the robins the next morning and tell them they needed to be a little more careful when they were looking for worms, because I'd seen one of them knock some dandelion seeds into Mr. Jackson's berry patch, and that just wouldn't do.
"Young Mister," Mr. Jackson said slowly, as he frowned at a big, juicy berry with a huge wormhole in the side, "You know you can talk to me about anything you want, don't ya? You know I'm all ears."
You sure are, I thought, and I tried to hide my grin, wondering if Mr. Jackson had a mirror. "Yes, Sir," I said, to be polite. I knew I couldn't talk to him about everything. Mama would be angry.
He cleared his throat and went back to picking berries. As he told me about how his house was becoming as creaky as his knees, a butterfly landed on a nearby leaf.
Mr. Jackson didn't notice. He was too busy giving me a rundown of what was wrong with his old truck. I hoped he hadn't noticed the angry voices coming from my back door, either, so I was glad he was distracted.
The butterfly, though, didn't miss a thing. He winked his thin white wings at me in sympathy and seemed to be staring toward the house with a sort of sad understanding. I glanced at Mr. Jackson, but he was still picking the strawberries and going on about his truck.
I leaned toward the butterfly and thought real quiet-like, Mr. Butterfly, yelling is all they do anymore. Sometimes Dad will stomp out to the car after a while, slamming the door, even though he always tells me not to. The tires squeal on the street. Then Mama will drop down onto the couch, put her face in her hands, and cry one of those quiet cries that are so much scarier than normal crying. I looked over and saw that Mr. Jackson was still talking as if I were listening.
I leaned closer to the butterfly, and I could see my breath shiver across his wings. Or sometimes, as I was telling the sparrow yesterday, Mama will throw something like a pillow or a dishtowel at him, and she will run to the back bedroom and lock the door. He'll yell through the door for a while, but he always gives up when she's so quiet. He walks real slow-like back to the living room. I watch him from the corner. And you know what's funny, Mr. Butterfly? He sits down on the exact same couch cushion as Mama always does, and he leans over in the same way, with his face propped up in his hands as if it would fall all the way to the floor if he were to let it. And I'm not sure, but I think, by the way that his shoulders shake, that he's crying just like Momma always is.
The butterfly slowly opened his wings and closed them in understanding. I could tell that he knew just how these things were, and it brought a lump to my throat.
You can hear them yelling in there, can't you, Mr. Butterfly? He slowly flapped his wings again.
It'll be okay, won't it? His wing suddenly jerked about frantically, and I realized that I had let a tear fall on him. I gasped. "Oh no! Hold still Mr. Butterfly. I'll make it better, I promise!"
I must've forgotten to talk in thoughts, for Mr. Jackson heard me and was turning toward us. "What'sa matter, Young Mister, you eat a bad berry or somethin'?"
I frantically grabbed the dry wing and tried to brush the tear off the other, but it only smeared into the white powder even more. The wing that I was holding started to tear as the butterfly jerked about.
I turned away from Mr. Jackson, for I didn't want him to see the tear on my cheek as I cupped Mr. Butterfly in my hands.
He had already seen the butterfly, though, and probably saw me crying, too. "Aw, Son, don't you know that a butterfly's as good as dead once you touch its wings? It rubs the powder off. They can't fly without powder."
There was something ugly rising up inside my chest as I forced myself to open my hands and look at the mess they held. The wings were limp, tattered, and torn. The butterfly wasn't moving much anymore; he only twitched a leg now and again. The little body blurred before my eyes.
"Son, you okay?" Mr. Jackson came closer.
"I… killed 'em," I blurted.
"Now Mister, he's just a little butterfly. That's the way it goes with butterflies, they're fragile little buggers. You've gotta be real careful or they just fall apart."
I whirled around to face him. "No! No, I'll fix him, you'll see!" I screamed these words at him, my face burning, my hot hands outstretched and cradling the butterfly.
He looked at me as if I were a crazy person. "Now calm down, Son, we don't…" His words faded as I ran blindly toward the house.
I heard them yelling across the living room when I let the screen door slam. Seconds later I was standing between them. They looked from my angry, red face to my cupped hands and then back to my face with questions in their eyes.
"This is all your fault!" I shouted, holding the remains of the butterfly out for them to see. "If you hadn't made me cry, he wouldn't have died."
They stared at me.
"It's your fault. It's your fault!" I screamed.
Mama's eyes were wide, and Dad's eyebrows wrinkled toward each other.
"All you guys do is yell and hurt each other. I'm sick. I'm sick of it." I held the butterfly up to them. "Fix him," I commanded, looking Mama in the eye.
She covered her mouth and shook her head.
Dad cleared his throat. "Casey, he's dead. I'm sorry, but he's dead."
I turned away from him, feeling slapped. Mama knelt down beside me and petted my shirtsleeve. "Honey, we can't save this one…" Her eyes looked as if she was trying to find something inside me.
I looked down at the butterfly in remorse. "Are you sure you can't fix him?"
"I'm sorry," she said.
"What should I do, then?"
She was quiet. I looked at Dad. He turned away and stared out the window. Mama just kept rubbing my shirt sleeve.
I looked at the butterfly. Holding him wasn't going to help. "I'll let him go, then."
I went out the screen door. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Momma looking on at Dad. I turned to watch them. They just stood there, quiet-like, and then they turned away from each other. I sighed and went around to the side of the house and opened my hands. What was left of the butterfly's wings shivered in the breeze. "Good bye, Mr. Butterfly. I'm sorry. They won't fix you. I don't think they can."
A strong breeze came up and whisked the butterfly from my hand. I turned back toward the house and was surprised that Mama and Dad hadn't started yelling again. I waved to Mr. Jackson. "Are you okay, Young Mister?" He asked walking over. He rested his big hand on my shoulder.
I didn't answer.
"You know," he said, wiping his forehead with a handkerchief, "sometimes it's better to just let 'em go. Once something's broken, ya can't always fix it. 'Specially those fragile little buggers. Can't fix 'em, ya know? Gotta let 'em go."
"I know," I said, as I heard Dad's car pull out from the driveway.