Story of A Self-Hating Butterfly
A butterfly got trapped under a doormat, its wing, just the tip, snagged on a thread, and so its purplish dust settled into the grit under the mat, and its antennae, finely tuned, slender and long, reached out for what, it knew not. If it were to tuck its antennae down, it would die and its body of soft pulsing blood would dry into a bone and hence, we could say, the butterfly was no more. But the butterfly remembered other days when its wings flew higher, light as the sky, connected to all through the wiry fibers of these wings.
And so it gave a big tug and flew out—through the window, congratulating itself on its strange unexpected strength.
A girl was sitting under a tree, and the butterfly noted the nape of her neck, the softness of the hair that came down, and the big lips so calmly set together. Would this girl notice if he flew about the nape of her hair and reted, just a moment, in this fairy peace of grace? The girl was perfumed with health, her eyes as blue as a woken bird. The rustling of the girl’s hands as she read her book kept the attention of the butterfly.
“Would you let me be your friend?” the butterfly said.
The butterfly did not imagine that a girl so full of giggles, so charmed with her own being, would need or want a dark fluttering anxious antennae holder, such as he described himself.
Indeed the girl did not respond, but continued to read her book.
“Would you let me be your friend?” the butterfly repeated, emboldened, struck with the power of asserting what he wanted, in words no less.
The girl turned her head and her blue eyes seemed to hold the butterfly like an ether.
“Your friend? My friend, you are my friend. Would you mind fluttering a bit more as it is very very hot.”
The butterfly fluttered and fluttered.
“Oh thank you. You may stop now if you like. You are such an excellent flutterer.”
The butterfly, suspicious of the compliment, nevertheless took it as a hint that the girl would not mind more of his presence.
The girl smiled, pleased with tremulous sound of the beating of the butterfly’s heart, suggesting as it did that she, her plump bored being, which in truth she knew not what to do with, compelled physical reactions. Those who knew her—this princess of the country—tended to have a deferential air towards her. This was different. This was a butterfly, a pretty thing, reacting just to her flesh, to the breath that came from her body.
The girl, normally tranquil, was enjoying as well the grass between her toes and the idea that in two hours time, her maid would call her in for lunch and she would feast on pheasant that her brother had killed, and have the solicitous eyes of all the servants on her every bite. She liked this aura of dignity, although she would not have known how to put it into words, had anyone asked. She was plump, but not excessively so, and she delighted in the sensation her hands had when warm spring water poured over them. She enjoyed fitting her feet into satin cushioned pumps, and she enjoyed the way the bed felt at night, and the first beam of sunlight on her eyelids, when the morning came up outside her window.
If someone were to ask the princess: “what is the meaning of your life? ” she would laugh.
In truth, the butterfly began to disturb her. She noted that its antennae, a wand swooshing back and forth in an attempt to make the air cool for her and to fight off dust particles that might come her way, was grey and dark, and slithered with gluey stickiness. The bright purple wings, the yellow circular design, all seemed to vanish as she noted that the antenna circled back and forth, searching, stabbing the air, aggressively and fearfully.
“Oh butterfly,” said the girl.
“Tell me your story.”
“Well,” began the butterfly, delighted that someone has asked him his story. Nobody ever did that. He seemed to hover over others, businessmen on yachts, fat women selling parakeets in the market, street children hustling chickets, housewives bustling with their errand lists in their heads, students peering at the world above their books. Yes the butterfly normally fluttered and hovered.
Never had anyone asked him his life story.
“Well, to begin,” said the butterfly, clearing his tiny throat. How much could he say! He would begin with the sensations he had in the larvae when he smelled his mother through the walls.
“Enough of that!” said the girl. “Do you have brothers and sisters? How many? What do they do?”
The larvae was not to be indulged. And neither, concluded the butterfly, would the anecdotes of the marmalade he had lit on as as child, which tasted like sun, or the story of the time he saw his father die behind the wheel of a truck.
“Seven brothers and one sister. None of them are married. All are flying free.”
“Did they go to good schools? Are they impressive? Are you to be invited at court?” The girl did not personally care, but this was the only way she had ever heard people make conversation; hence she thought she was making a tolerably good effort.
“We butterflies do not enroll in schools, per se,” the butterfly responded, seeing the opportunity to make a long speech, to share the facts he knew. “We take many courses as auditors, and have many perspectives even within the same classroom, alighting on one student, and sitting on his shoulder,then on another, and taking the floor with the professor, and lecturing right alongside her. Why we have an objective stance by..”
“Oh.” The girl was bored. She had never been to school and could not bother to imagine what one was like. “But why is it that you have such an ugly antennae?”
The butterfly felt hit to the quick. She had noticed. Few noticed his grayish wand, no matter how prominently it stuck out before him; most were distracted by the purplish dazzle of his wings.
“Is it so very ugly?”
“Quite!” said the girl, enjoying her own wit, and the fact that she could now be an expert, after having given the floor for such a long time to this ridiculous little insect. “Yes, let me look closely.” The butterfly flew to her nose so his antennae could flash and stick in her eyes, a sensation that sent chills up and down the girl’s body.
“Yes, QUITE ugly,” she said. “I would say it is as ugly a thing as I ever did see, perhaps even as ugly as those atomic ruins in Japan.”
She had heard of Japan, although her island was so removed from the rest of the word, that whether this war, in which those bombs dropped, was at the time of the Greeks, or even before, was a matter of myth to her.
War did not matter either. The girl and her family lived in a castle, with their servants, and the local people was just five families of naked women and children, living contentedly on a beach. Since the adults died young (there was always a funeral or two), the island was very pleasant and childlike, full of children.
How nice her life was, she thought. How fortunate she knew no ugliness, nor had any inside her.
In the meantime, the butterfly had gone completely still.
It was in shock. To think of oneself as ugly, malformed, twisted and unpleasant, full of gnarly foul lipids, was to think of one’s existence as monstrous.
But perhaps life was monstrous. Indeed, he gathered insects and killed them, and daily filled his belly with carcasses, and flew about alone, to peer at flowers that were not his. He was always fluttering over other flowers, while he himself had none. Nothing grew from his back: no stems, no buds, no petals.
How sad, he thought. He had never thought how sad it was to be a butterfly until this girl so easily pointed it out to him. She was generous to do so; nobody ever cared to speak to the butterfly. No one cared enough to comment on his antennae.
“Cut it off!’ he said.
“Please, cut it!”
She was delighted to play an active role. Her brother hunted, while she was given to lazy bouts of reading and walking and studying languages, but it all had such a boring feel, that only now did she notice that something came alive in her: a brilliant sensation of pleasure and joy, as she contemplated how best to snap off the butterfly’s atrocious little wand.
With her teeth. She asked the butterfly to fly into her mouth. He saw the dark opening, smelled something not so unpleasant, saltily sweet, and bumped into a soft mass of warm tongue.
“Not so deep,” the girl said. “Turn around now, and stick your antennae out..>”
The butterfly felt a rod of lightening shudder in his body and all his thoughts, memories and desires came to one pitch, in screaming agony, a torch of light. And he sensed that something had been gathered and taken, something released.