The woman slides aside the curtain. Her face peeks out in silhouette to take in all the perfect little hands holding nets. Bodies bounce as those hands swoop toward wings struck with black, brown, orange, white. She hears laughter from the children who chase monarchs across the milkweed pasture beyond the tumble-down fence. Their mothers have warned them not to risk nearing the shuttered house.

Day and night reflect in her black eyes. She remains secluded in shadow, her chest barely moving in, out. Arms flutter like broken birds at her sides. Spiders weave webs in the chiaroscuro of her hair as light slivers stab the air and dust motes slant, frozen in mid-flight. She tugs the curtain closed and makes her dragging way downstairs to key open the basement locks and recede from the morning that beckons beyond the drapes.

She smiles at what waits below.

Down here there is rope work and wood, hanging lights fashioned for warmth. A fire in the grate exhales the scent of apple smoke mixed with chloroform. Pulling a chair close behind her, she sets aside her cane and reaches up to weigh a giant pupa in her palms as it hangs clustered with its mates like fantastic table grapes depended from a trellis on the ceiling. Beyond the trellis, scattered on work tables, are test tubes and yellowing papers, aquariums filled with eggs and zebra-yellow caterpillars clinging to thin veined leaf stalks; dusty books offering chimeras and schemes.

With a practiced tug, a cocoon falls like a jade vase into her arms. She slides it between her knees, balances the tip against the floor. The silver blade clamped between her hands, she knives a slit to vent the carapace, then handles the chrysalis like a lover, running her palms down its delicate chartreuse shoulders. Carefully, she lays the pupa on its side near the warm fire.

Squatting, she studies her creation, stares into the slit she has fashioned. Forehead damp, her hands squirm, itching to wrench it open. She leans back onto the chair, every muscle tense, and waits for a sign, a movement. Perhaps a magnificent wing will unfurl to flutter and dry in the smoke-scented air. Perhaps she will climb aboard and take to the sky at last. But as every time before, only her breathing breaks the stillness.

Each day, her house peels in flakes that waft over far green hills. Bit by bit, spongy wood and mortar decay to expose the starter fabric of earth and sky. Family grave markers fall onto the gravel track outside. She cannot fly away from the image of children with fine hands and faces, the laughter she has never shared.

She lifts her eyes toward the failing fire. A space on the trellis is free. She tethers herself with a necklace of rope, imagines a woman with butterfly’s wings.

©JP Reese 2011
First appeared in Eclectic Flash, Volume II, April 2011


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