“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“It’s a ripped wing.”
“No, not the damn butterfly, Gracie. You. What’s wrong with you.”
A faint rustle in the shoe box moves Gracie’s attention from the computer screen. She peers in. One burnt orange wing beats frantically against the side.
“No, no, pretty girl. Shhhh,” she whispers into the box. Then to her husband, “You’ve startled her. She needs a calm environment.” She hums until its wings settle down into a slow, rhythmic pulse. It crawls onto the mushy pear she’s given it to eat. Satisfied, she goes back to the screen.
Hal throws up his hands and leaves her.
Dusk arrives behind the closed bedroom blinds. Gracie has amassed the needed supplies and begins the operation. Leaving the lights dim and Clair de Lune playing in the background, she pinches the wings together, lifts the creature from the box and pins her down on a towel with a looped wire hanger around her head, thorax and abdomen.
“Comfy dear?” She carefully fans out the ripped forewing. “Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit. Scary, though. I know. You don’t know what’s happening, what I’m doing to your body. Sometimes I wonder if that’s better…ignorance.” Clipping a tiny rectangle from cardstock, she measures it against the tear, trims it a bit smaller. “There, that should do it.” With a toothpick, she carefully spreads adhesive on the makeshift bandage. While she waits for it to dry, she watches the tiny legs twitch, the antennae swim in the air.
“Fascinating creature, you are. Filled with poison and yet fragile, fragile as the ones who come to eat you and die.” Gracie squeezes her eyes closed so as not to flood her patient. “Okay,” she wipes at her cheeks and straightens her back. “Ready for phase two.”
Making sure the black veins line up, she pinches the tiny rectangle with tweezers and positions it over the tear. This takes a few attempts and she has to hold her breath to keep her hand from shaking.
“I believe you will survive,” she whispers. Her attention wanders to her own hand; skin as thin as the butterfly’s wing, puffy blue veins like ropes running its length. “Such a short journey. We must…,” she takes in a breath. “Yes! That’s it. You must finish your journey! No reason for you to sit around this house. Oh, but it’s probably too cold for you now.” She lifts the wire hanger and encourages the monarch to turn over. “Well, go on. They should work now.” The wings shutter once, sweep up and down. Once. Then twice. Then she is airborne.
“Yes!” Gracie claps, gray eyes glistening. She watches the creature flutter around the room for a few minutes, landing on her pink rose bed spread. “Haldon!”
Hal rushes into the room, one hand on his chest, wide eyes darting about.
“What’s wrong?” Gracie asks, when she sees his face.
“What’s wrong?” he drops his hand to his hip. “What do you mean what’s wrong? You’re the one who yelled for me.”
“Oh,” She ignores his tone. Behind the anger is fear, she knows. She also knows it is better he doesn’t know exactly what he has to fear. Like the butterfly. Ignorance is a gift.
“Will you drive me to that truck stop on Central Avenue?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
His shoulders slump. He looks for a moment like he is going to ask her why, but then he just shakes his head. “Yes, Grace. If it will make you happy, I’ll drive you to the truck stop.”
Three days later, she gets the call.
“Hi, is this Miss Grace Adams?”
“Hey, this is Mac Barnes…the truckdriver?” He pauses. He can’t see the hope welling up in her swollen eyes, the Kleenex clutched to her mouth. “Well, I ah, just called to give you the good news.”
Gracie exhales. Her lungs ache like she’s been holding her breath for three days.
“She made it to Florida?”
“Yep. Dropped her off in a place with lots of wild flowers near Ocala. I watched her fly off. She’s good. Should be able to migrate with the rest of ‘em. That’s something, huh?”
“Oh, thank you, Mac. Thank you for giving her a ride.”
“No problem. You take care now.”
Gracie hangs up and looks over at her husband of thirty years. It’s time. She can face it now. Now that she remembers how to hope for the impossible.
“Hal,” she slips her hand into his and braces herself for the flood of his grief. She holds onto the image of the broken butterfly now hundreds of miles away, continuing on her journey. “Dr. Brennan has given me three months. It’s cancer.”
(based on a true tale of butterfly heroes)