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This work is from the collection of short stories called “The Secret Heart”, ©1995, published by HMS Press.
LIKE THE SOUND OF A BUTTERFLY FALLING
It was a weekend of rain. If I had known about the weather, I probably would have brought something warmer, but I dressed for the reunion with a nakedness reflecting my hope. I was preparing for a night of dreams. Agonizingly, over my yearnings, I laced my skirt as tightly as I dared, hoping the years of frustration wouldn’t show beneath the fabric. I disliked bulges of any kind, and I kept trying to smooth my temper to suit my clothes. After all, ten years can rearrange the landscape, and I was hoping to bury my roots once more.
Soft, soft, spread below the rain. Diffuse beneath the leaves, let me soak into the ground. Mother, wash away the ache. I’m crying in the river. Look, my knees, the current will take them away. Oh mother, wash away the black, wash away my eyes. The water hurts so much, I cannot bear to look…
Ten years ago, I decided that if I had a leather jacket, I could withstand absolutely anything. A thick leather skin was the answer, a cowl to cover what I had lost a birth, and felt lost without ever since. I would cover it in jewels and silver, a steel-studded dignity, a golden dagger beneath my pillow. It was ten years before I could save the money to buy one, and I remember it clearly. I decided upon the heavy-duty model, a little large, but roomy in the shoulders, zippered and epauletted, black as a licorice gumball. It was the epitome of protection, a portable bomb shelter, and I swore I would never take it off. It only took me half an hour to realize it was the heaviest thing I had ever worn.
Look mother. There – out on the water – see them? Birds. White birds. They look like dandelions. Mother, why aren’t I a bird? I want to be a bird I want to float in the sky like a bird can I go swimming now? Can I swim in the lake I promise I won’t go out too far please I promise I’ll do anything but let me fly let me go swimming oh mother mother why aren’t I a bird?
I didn’t have a chance to prepare myself, as we were running late, and I would have to hurry to make it to the dinner on time. So I replaced five minutes of deep thought with a large tumbler of red wine, hoping prayer would be a worthy substitute for nicotine.
As we pulled up to the front doors I felt the first trickles of sweat running down in between my knees. I told myself it was the humidity, or eagerness to see an auditorium of people whose faces were blurry or memorially absent with time. I gathered my skirts and bravado around me and sashayed through the doors like I’d never left. As I stood on the tiles of the foyer, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe this was the wrong place, as I could have sworn I’d never been there before. For a twenty-dollar dinner, I left my heart outside the door and delivered myself to the mercy of strangers.
Dad, when are you coming home? I mean really coming home. Yeah, I know it’s just a little while. But dad, don’t you realize- I graduated while you were gone.I grew up; I’m a big girl now. I wish you had been there dad. I wish you were proud of me dad I wish I wish I wish oh daddy when are you coming home?
Of course, I probably should have known they’d be there. After all, I wasn’t the only one who had gone to that school in 1982. But the lack of reaction puzzled me. Hadn’t I been rather notorious in my short time on the stage? I had felt the role of pariah quite keenly back then, now my transparency made me wonder if they thought me a hallucination. But I was far past the age when standing on the table and shouting at them was a possibility. Instead, I took refuge in the Crayolas placed on every table and began drawing my confusion on the white paper tablecloth, covering my space within minutes and moving over to occupy the places where no one else sat. Since my husband and I were two at an empty table for eight, I figured I would draw for the other ghosts who sat like me, pale and weak before hundreds of staring eyes and buzzing, smiling faces. The ghosts sat and cried as the colour flowed across the table; they reached for the crayons, but could not hold them in their thin fingers, so I drew a cup for their tears at each place. I would have drawn one for my own, but I felt ashamed at caring, and I would have set fire to this table covered with my wax veneer of confidence, but the gesture would have been too huge to be understood. So I just drew, and drew, and waited for them to breathe the words of forgiveness I knew I would never hear.
I’m sorry dad, I didn’t mean to freak you out, but I had to, don’t you see? I had to go. I mean it’s not like you really care about what I do anyway. You’re never here, so it’s obvious you don’t give a shit. All you care about is your goddamn job and your goddamn car and nothing else ever matters to you. So why the hell should I stay here and sit in this house and watch my life disappear when there are people out there who are actually happy to see me? I have a life too you know, and I’m tired of spending it waiting for you. So go ahead and hit me – lock me up and throw away the key if you like. But one day I’ll get out, and my dust will settle around your sorry ears before you even know I’m gone.
I left as if I’d never ever been there, and in some ways, I felt as if I hadn’t. The only proof they had was a tablecloth and a dirty plate, and anything can be faked these days, even a signature. Best to leave the ghosts their own; I could never have helped them anyway. But the way home was dark, the moon having hidden rather than watch me make a fool of myself. I felt blessed by her mercy and wished myself worthy of her eyes. But the pull that brought me back to this place was like the tide, and, fool that I was, I had never been able to resist the sight of light upon the water. Sometimes, I thought, it’s better to leave a trail of blood than to sink without a sound beneath the waves.
It’s so quiet here. I wonder if they’ll find me. If they don’t find me I can’t play anymore. Please find me. Please please please please please I want to play too. I can’t hear them anymore, I wonder if they went away. The game can’t be over yet, they haven’t found me. Maybe if I just stand up a little bit and put my head over the fence maybe they’ll see me or I’ll see them. But then I’d be it and I can never find anybody if I’m it, so maybe I’ll keep hiding and just hope they’ll find me. It’s really quiet though, but if I knock this can over they’ll hear me and somebody will find me and then I can play too. I just want to play too. Please let me play please find me please find me please find please I just want to play too…
So I left, and the rain poured down in a way my words never could, and I grabbed handfuls of thunder and threw it at the school I could never go back to, at the reunion I could never have. I wrapped my pain in the bandage of cynicism, and it hurt like hell. And the sound – the sound of my wails reverberated though my body, and it had no sound like any I had ever heard before. Like a tiny sigh of God, like a grey day, like a cloud passing over a winter sun.
Like the sound of a butterfly falling.