I was delighted to receive submissions over this past week from Mona Anderson and David D. Horowitz, and I very much hope for more Writing It Real member writing to post next week as we close out May. It has been moving and whimsical to read your work this month!
One May I Killed Butterflies
by Mona Anderson
One May I killed butterflies because I loved my mother.
I could say that I didn’t mean to. Pretend it was an accident. Claim ignorance. But what would be the point? I was responsible.
I killed butterflies on her 85th birthday. In five and a half more years, she would be dead. Dead like those butterflies.
She was surprised she was 85. After her 75th birthday, she fell and struggled with pain the rest of her life. After her 80th birthday, she had heart valve replacement surgery and never fully recovered her vigor. Here she was, though, still on her feet.
I shared her surprise. I thought each birthday might be her last because when she was 63, she wrote instructions for her funeral, stuffed copies into manilla envelopes, and gave them to her children. She listed the hymns to sing and Bible verses to read. “I’m not feeling morbid about it,” she said, “just proactive.” But you can’t read funeral plans without remembering your mom could die at any time.
We decided a big bash was in order. I scheduled a photoshoot for us—her, me, my brother, and my sister. A professional photographer would capture this last birthday in pictures framed forever. If it was her last.
“And,” she said, “I want to release butterflies.” She loved butterflies. I sighed. I was working 50 to 60 hours a week plus rehearsing a play with a community theater group. I didn’t have time for this. Where does she get these ideas, I wondered? And not for the first time. She had a childlike enthusiasm for special events. On her 75th birthday, I surprised her with her wish to ride in a limousine. On Valentine’s Day, a barbershop quartet knocked on her door to sing and give her a rose.
But…butterflies? She shared her vision while I listened with skepticism. Each person would have their own to release. Wouldn’t it be splendid? Wouldn’t everyone love to see their butterfly spring alive from their boxes and nestle into the trees and flowers? Not that there were many flowers the first week of May in New Hampshire, I thought.
“It might be too cold on your birthday,” I said.
The sad, disappointed look she gave me cut to my heart. Such a simple request to make her happy—on this, her last birthday. If it was her last. Besides, I seldom could say no to these desires that suddenly sprang from her fully formed. Payback maybe. When I was in high school, hadn’t she given me that framed picture of Jesus looking like a hippie that I wanted for my room? More likely, I knew that life was exhausting for her— depression, divorce, worry about finances, and then, more recently all the health issues. If I could give her what she wanted, I would. At least she didn’t want to release doves.
“No, never mind, I’m sure it will be warm enough,” I lied. I was still torn though. New Hampshire in early May is cold. I doubted that once released these tender creatures would live even twenty-four hours.
My research led me to a place in California that would ship them, each asleep as they flew without their own wings across the country to my little house in the country. No problem. Just another $100 spent on this special birthday.
Trading their lives for hers was easier than I thought it would be. The day was sunny and clear, and as cool as I predicted. After lunch, I gathered the fifty or so friends and family on the fresh spring grass and directed the event as though it was a play. Everyone stood silently as I solemnly handed each a box and explained what we would all do together. Following my instructions, they ever so slowly and carefully opened their boxes to release their sleeping butterflies.
Quiet murmurs quickly changed to laughter, ooh’s, and ahh’s. The butterflies sluggishly rested in palms before fluttering in the air, sometimes landing on someone’s shoulder or head. A few drunkenly collapsed on the ground before getting their bearings and flying off. Smaller children ran after them as they lighted on bushes. My mother clapped her hands and laughed.
She had been right. It was indeed splendid. And my mom was the most splendid of all, radiant with glee. In her bright fuchsia-colored blouse she looked like the kind of flower a butterfly would love.
In the next few days, I noticed the butterflies were gone. I wasn’t surprised, just sad. I lied, though. Each day I told my mom that I’d seen another one in the bushes in front of my house. Each time, she told me it was the best birthday she’d ever had, sweeping away my guilt.
Whenever I see a butterfly, I think of her. “Ah, there you are,” I pretend. In summer they come in packs of four or five and float gently from coneflower to sunflower and back. I think they have forgiven me for killing off their ancestors. I think they know it was for love.
by David D. Horowitz
The beauty of a springtime Seattle sunset occurs as someone is being shot in the city over a drug-dealing turf battle. The hospitality of people everywhere to friends and strangers occurs as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sees thousands of corpses stacked up, dumped, burned, or simply rotting.
And yet delight is valid despite life’s disease and destruction and death. We revive through celebration; we can grow kinder through enjoyment and laughter; and we learn to love more deeply when we learn to appreciate the everyday rather than simply look for ever greater and more costly sensational experience.
So, with that in mind, I offer some of my poems to help us celebrate the arrival of May:
The sunlight drifted with the clouds
Above the midday shopping crowds.
Day fluffed its brightness through the blue,
Then shadowed, shone, and shifted hue,
Erasing gray above the bay
Once more. And now, sky’s golden-gray.
This noon, gray dandelion seeds are blowing
So much, I start to wonder: is it snowing?!
Beyond the evening party chatter
And wine and crackers, brie and cheddar:
The twilight’s golden opalescence,
Not data, arguments, and lessons.
Storms wring out clouds, scrub atmosphere, break gray
Horizon into turquoise, golden ray,
Jay’s morning chirp. There’s mud on trail, damp leaves
In gutter, students strolling, whispers’ loves,
Game’s cheer in park. Sky purged, and now we play.