Zara lay, face skyward, on the damp grass. The buzz of bees and the distant hum of traffic were audible. Nearby dogs barked and windows whooshed open. It seemed all the world was on the move except her. She felt the gentlest touch upon her cheek, and another upon her arm. Her eyes swivelled in their sockets veiled by her eyelids: she was a little nervous of bees.
Are they bees? Bees!
She opened her eyes . There was a graceful orange and black Wanderer, a butterfly on her right arm — the white spots along the edge of its’ wings distinguishing it, as explained by her grandfather when she was younger. Another kiss near her lips made her look down past her nose, and she saw the blurry orange shape of another Wanderer. She pursed her lips and kissed it back. She thought of her boyfriend, Mitchell Grant. Mitch.
Where was he? Should she worry that he was late?
She jumped up from the moist warm grass, scaring butterflies and bees alike.
“I’m not even ready,” she declared.
She bounced up the brick front steps of the porch. By the time she reached the front door of the rendered brick veneer she shared with her middle-aged parents, she was fast enough to cause the front door to slam against the wall. She didn’t see one of the Wanderers fly off with what, she may have thought, was cocoon silk dangling from its’ feet, unaware it was a spun gold thread.
In the farthest part of Lilyborough from Zara’s front door, her boyfriend,Mitch, was mouthing off at his boss for the second time that month. The red-faced boss shook his greying head.
“ I hope you can make a living from being a know-it- all Mitch, because you are one more warning away from being fired.”
Mitch grunted and walked away towards his Ute parked by the western chain link fence of the truck depot where he worked.
Why did I take an apprenticeship with this Dick?
Right then Mitch couldn’t think of one thing he liked about auto electrics. He’d forgotten that the firm he worked with were solid employers, respected in half the state. His grandfather had coached him through the VET pre-apprenticeship course, and pulled a lot of strings as he often reminded Mitch. Mitch imagined he would be better off as a beach bum watching Zara sashay across the golden sand in a red bikini, all day long. He drove away from the depot in a cloud of dust.
When he arrived at home, he gave his parents, who were seated at the kitchen table, a cursory wave as he stalked past them.
“Where are you going in such a hurry?”
His mother called out to his disappearing back.
“Zara,” he yelled back before he locked the bathroom door, and turned the shower to pelting. He loved the sting of the water between his shoulder blades.
He stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a thick blue towel from the nearby rack. He sniffed the scent of lavender dryer sheets.
He shuddered. He could not remember when he had enjoyed floral smells. He glanced up to see a butterfly on the sill of the open window above his head. As it fluttered down toward him he was bemused by the sight of a glimmering golden thread between its’ feet.
I thought only spiders floated with threads.
Mitch felt weightless. A damp suffocating weight was between him and the light, his body and the patterns. He fluttered and crawled, fluttered and crawled until the light was all around him. He felt himself lift toward the illuminated air. Now he rested on the metal edge of the way out; he moved his wings with ease and their perfect motions caused the currents to lift him, up and out. He flew towards the north-east, his thorax rushing with longing. His soul trembled around what he now felt were the limits of himself.
Mitch had an instinctual recollection of Zara; the emphases of his memories were transformed. Her sandy ringlets were recalled as an attractive nimbus of light, her pink mouth as strangely unimportant. The smell of sandalwood, which before he had grown to just tolerate, now made his feet burn with desire. He wanted to feel his feelers brush against her soft, ivory palm so he could experience that richness.
The rhythm was delightful in the downward thrust and upward sweep of his almost human-heart-shaped wings. The motion surprised him with its’ engineering. When he least expected it the air rushed up, pushing him forward. He couldn’t understand it, but he was feeling it. He weighed only as much as the index finger of his former earthbound body. Now he surrounded this fluttering bundle of proteins. It was if he was a great formless shadow, observing this minute creature — a shape patterned with orange, black and white. There were many Wanderer bodies around him, strengthening the uplift, driving them all forward. His soul sighed and he began to plummet down towards the dry, harsh earth. The smell of milkweed drew him like a siren’s song.
He felt a fearful shadow nearby , the mouse brown shape of a thrush. He knew its’ laser-like yellow eyes were fixed on him. His soul shrieked. Thrusting his wings, he raced forward between two other butterflies in the crowd, and escaped. The fluttering tribe forged on. Underneath him he felt a rush, he knew the thrush had struck hard; tortured wings were crushed in its’ beak, then dropped. The bitter, milkweed-fed fragility was nasty. With a cry the young thrush wheeled away.
The tribe of butterflies flew steadily, with the setting sun lowering behind them, and the evening breeze pushing them on.
Zara found the butterfly ornament of fine gold wire on her dressing table the day after Mitch disappeared. It distracted her for only a moment. She placed it in a square floral patterned cardboard box that had sat on her dressing table for as long as she could remember.
I wonder if Mum made that. I must ask her, she thought.
It took Zara a week to go from being angry with Mitch to being seriously worried about him. How dare he? was where she started out, and she ended up at Is he OK?
At tea time a week later, when she had the chance to ask about the butterfly, she was sidetracked by a phone call from her friend Celia, who was visiting that evening to commiserate with her about Mitch. They loved that word; they always said it with as much earnestness as they could find within themselves. She never did ask anyone about the fine gold wire sculpture of a butterfly, though she kept it for years and years.
That night after Celia had gone, and the moon had drifted high amongst the trees, on the eighth night since Mitch had disappeared, Zara dreamed of butterflies.
A swarm of Wanderers, with their orange and black wings edged with white, were covered by a great shadow in the shape of eagles wings. She saw the swarm settle in a shaded grove of flowering trees. Despite the shadow she danced between sunlit almond trees, removing nuts from cracked shells, and eating them. A relaxed smile grew on her face. The butterflies hung like giant teardrops from the branches of the almonds, and from the branches of nearby flowering plants that looked like Rhododendrons. The strange dream where sunny orchards coexisted with moist shaded hillsides, ended with a golden veil of mist falling over the scene, hours before Zara woke.
Mitch was heady,flitting from flower to flower in pursuit of the pheromone-laced females. The soft milkweed flowers smelt marvellous, but the females made his wings sing. An instinct whispered to him to settle and wait.
Wait until a female pauses and wants to mate.
He alighted and spread his wings to scare away predators. He waited until the sun was halfway to the zenith of his sky. A female flew over him, and he lifted his wings to fly beside her. It was an amazing feeling fluttering his wings in perfect synchronicity with another. A male rival appeared, brushing wings with the female, and flying straight at Mitch. Mitch shifted to above the female, and then stalled to drop below her. He turned himself in a westerly direction towards the thickest patch of milkweed, and the female followed him. They descended between the thick green stalks with their abdomens locked. They twitched and settled, surrounded by a mist of pheromones amongst the humid chlorophyll enriched pores until the sun began to descend.
Everyone rose from amongst the grass. They were indistinguishable from one another like a huge orange and black cloud. Mitch tried to keep the female in sight, but a pair of pied shrikes began to strike at the edge of the moving mass. Their cruel beaks scored here and there, crushing the thoraxes of just-fertilised potential.Mitch and the female found each other again. They dipped and weaved, escaping they knew not how. At last they settled on the easterly side of a rhododendron that bore orange flowers. The shadows grew long over Mount Lily.
The female mind-whispered to Mitch, At first light I will lay my eggs.
His body grew still with the rightness of it all. At dawn he flew with her down among the milkweed to guzzle the dew. When he lifted his feet and antennae from his feast, the female was nowhere to be found. He felt his strength leaving him. His feelers tasted nothing now.
Though Zara was in a dream, it seemed as if the light was blinding her.
How could that be?
Her eyes swivelled in her head, the nerves shivering, but she could not waken then.
The glare encapsulated a shadowy butterfly shape. The shape transformed from two dimensions to three, it flashed Technicolor. The colours muted into lighter shades, and as if Zara peered through a camera lense, her vision zoomed in to capture the minutest detail. The butterfly’s body was in mid-flight as it sought to settle on a branch. It’s trunk curved as if it were a boomerang. Its’ wings had separated enough to slow their downward motion. The light outlined the space between its’ moving wings, and she saw the funnel shape appear, then change to some space resembling the shape of an aeroplane wing. To her, the air did an unexpected thing, it curved over the broad top edge of the wing. And she could see the air flow like golden meridians, long strands that lifted the butterfly rather than holding it down like she had anticipated.
When the thought pictures faded, she felt sleepier than she had in the dream. It was if the dream was sure reality, and her ordinary room an extraordinary place.
Zara left her room, and headed to the kitchen. She was driven to seek food, by a hunger she had seldom experienced before. It was Saturday morning, and she missed Mitch.
Twelve of the two hundred eggs that Mitch had fertilised survived to become yellow and black caterpillars bloated with the sap of milkweed on which they fed. Fat and prosperous , they shed their wrinkly tobacco brown skin to hang in Chrysalis. Trapped inside, their bodies dissolved to a hopeful jelly. Metamorphosis allowed their wings of watchful warning, antennae of smell, and feelers of taste to emerge — all the wherewithal for migration on the milkweed express.
Despite this preparation, odds of survival were low for Mitch’s offspring. Three of the twelve made it through a pack of marauding Magpies, 160 kilometres east of the mountain on which they were born. Mitch’s instinctual mating had produced one surviving male and two females, one of which would never mate.
Six months later Zara sat on the front porch of her parents’ brick veneer, nursing a bouquet of flowers she had bought for her mother’s birthday. After storms of tears, and nights of denial, she had accepted that Mitch had run off. Even his own mother thought it was a possibility that on the night he said he was meeting Zara, he had, in fact, met someone else.
“ He always kept me in a flutter, with his impulsive ways,” she had said to Zara only the previous week. “I always wanted something special for him but you can’t control people like that.”
Zara’s own mother had stated, “ He wasn’t getting on well at work you know. Just a restless young man.” She said it with a shake of her head.
Zara knew what wasn’t said. It’s just as well you found out now, before you got really serious about him.
The familiar orange, black and white patterned Wanderer settled on the yellow roses in the bouquet. Zara watched it bend and twitch its’ antennae, and then flutter to her right hand. She felt the kiss as its’ tiny feeler feet moved over her hand — more kisses. She knew they drank that way, and her hands were moist with drips from the rose stems. The butterfly flew upwards, and got caught in her sandy ringlets, in the spot where her skull met her spine. At that moment, her parents arrived to pick her up for dinner after their afternoon out.Distracted by her father tooting the horn as he pulled up in the drive with her mother in the car, she missed the last kisses.
Later, around midnight, as Zara was combing her hair before bed, she was shocked to see fragments of butterfly, fall onto the polished surface of her dressing table. She turned her head to grab a tissue in which to collect the fragments and bury them in the bin. When she looked back to the dressing table, the mess was gone. She shook her head, and decided she’d be vacuuming the fragments off the carpet tomorrow. There was a breeze stirring the curtains on her window and she went to pull the sash down and lock it. In the open box on her dressing table the gold wire butterfly glowed.
You might like to catch up on Butterfly news…
Disclaimer: Any links I post were live at the time of posting. If the links don’t work , I have tried to give enough information so that you can search them if the creators are still making them available online.
1.Time lapse – The life cycle of the Painted Lady Butterfly
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63B1lnqPa8k (5 Mins, 23 seconds)
2. Ethan Spencer – Caterpillar to Butterfly
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQOFh1exp3A (6 Mins , 55 seconds)
3.Disney Nature documentary about the secret life of flowers. (I found the voice over annoying – you might like to watch in silence) The visuals are amazing, and it does have an important message
4. The Story of the Butterfly, posted by Janson Media
[This link is to a British educational documentary. Its script is very formal]
5. Flutter, the Butterfly movie… produced, edited, and directed by Braddon Mendelsohn (noisivision studios)