My childhood friend Jess had this crazy fascination with butterflies. She said it was because they came from caterpillars. She was terrified of caterpillars.
“You take a gross little thing,” she said, making the appropriate facial expression to go along with her description, “and then it becomes a magical something, of great significance.”
We used to go butterfly catching, Jess and I. Jess spent all her after-school hours weaving traps together with those stretchy bracelet bands. We lived close to a park where all the butterflies liked to go, which was perfect. Around the wild daisy patch it went one day, and on another day alfalfas to catch Swallowtails, and on another it would be goldenrod for Painted Ladies. We’d sit on the swings, legs dangling, simultaneously chatting excitedly and waiting anxiously for an unsuspecting butterfly to tangle itself up in the net.
And then, sometimes, we’d go over to her place and she’d show me her large collection of butterfly wings. In an antique-looking wooden box, she had a very large collection of wings, little ones and large ones, blues ones and yellow ones, all paper-thin.
The first time I saw it, I asked her what happened to the body of the insects.
“I don’t know,” Jess said. “I bury them. I don’t really like the body so much. Just the wings.”
I told her that what she was doing was mean.
“Aw, come on Sophia” Jess shrugged. “Just enjoy them and don’t think twice.”
And so I did. We continued our little sport until high school came. That was when Jess went off to an arts school, and we lost contact. She moved houses too, which didn’t help. I supposed she was very busy with her new circle of friends and her colourful life.
That’s the reason why I was surprised to discover her at my doorstep that one summer evening. I opened the door. There Jess was. She had been crying. I could tell, because her eyes were the same shade as grapefruit flesh. In her hand was a little wooden box.
I asked her how she had been.
“Not that good,” Jess admitted. A pause. “I feel like I’m in an ocean, you know? I’m swimming, and I’m treading, but I want to go down deeper. But I can’t because I’m scared. It’s so dark down there. No light. No colour.”
I waited her to elaborate, but she didn’t. She was right about the no light part, but I wanted to disagree with her about the colour. I asked her if she was here to show me her collection. I gestured towards the box.
“Yes, I suppose.” Jess wiped away a tear. She opened the hinge lid and I peered inside. Butterfly wings. But they didn’t have the same delicate grace they had years ago. There was no beauty anymore in the pigment-less wings. Just fragility. They were faded, broken, and if I held one of them, I thought it would probably disintegrate in my fingers.
I told her not to be upset. This happened to anything after a long time has passed. I told her she just needed to catch new butterflies.
Jess started sobbing again. “I hate butterflies,” she said. She ran away to the park, and by the time I caught up to her, I saw her pawing at the ground. “I think this is where I buried the bodies,” she said.
I didn’t think the bodies were still there. I mean, wouldn’t they have decomposed or something? I didn’t say anything, just watched Jess bury her faded butterfly wings.