They’d witness him rise with spring. When all around life was growing and loving life, Butterboy was bringing them down. He’d emerge with the sun from a wooden house built on the brink of a wooden town. Wire-stringed door innards flapping in the wind.
He walked the smooth paving of Centre Street, eyes pointed inwards. But for a blue-clothed bow lazily tied around his forehead, and of course an outstretched and overly used butterfly net, he could have been anyone’s boy.
The town was taken with the boy who only showed himself eight days a year. They watched him from the piercing windows and the nosey porches leaning over the street. He quickened stride when they spoke.
“Why is their a hole in your butterfly net?” they’d ask him.
“How else would I catch them?” he’d reply.
“Then why is there a net at all?”
“How else would I let them go?”
Maureen Meltzam saw him through the library window. Blue-tinted morning rays infiltrated as she opened her words to the world. She saw him but she didn’t interrupt his pilgrimage to the lake. She saw him but she let him go.
She had long since forgotten that first time she saw him. Eight years had past since then. Maureen was with her parents, enjoying the popular shores of the waterway. But she had escaped quite accidentally, and soon her young feet were fighting their way through the muddy undergrowth, her imprints squelching as they gently pressed down the overflowing edges of the lake. Although her curiosity had shielded any thought of tears, she was relieved to come across a small clearing in the greenery. A shock of cold, fresh water suddenly but seamlessly flowed through the flimsy pink fabric of her sneakers. Maureen clumsily reached down to dislodge her waterlogged shoes, but heard a familiar squelch approaching. Still crouching, she parted the branches that blocked her view.
A fluttering spectrum spiral warmed her eyes. A living rainbow surrounded a deep blue bow tied around the head of an otherwise colourless boy, who was recklessly waving a tattered butterfly net. A closer look might have focussed the sparkling blur, but as Maureen moved an upturned root snagged her ankle and sent her stumbling with a splash. She was bent, soaking in brown, searching briefly for the shoes that had fallen from her grasp. Returning upright, she was exposed to the scene. The butterflies had departed, returning monotone to the boy’s cheeks. He spied her with a fear in his eyes that reflected off Maureen’s retinas, and sent both scurrying into retreat.
If not for time, the boy wouldn’t have changed. He carried the same butterfly net, only now the small holes in the worn string had merged into one large emptiness.
Where Centre Street shied away from a thick pod of scrub, a pebbly path escorted Butterboy beyond the multi-leafed shadows that shaded the expanse of mangroves enclosing the lake. The welcoming landscape was defiled by fellow hunters who actively shunned him. Perched on the grassy banks of the lake, insults flew by him faster than the bullets chasing their waterfowl prey, and just as loud. Butterboy didn’t address them. He was too busy waving his partly-netted wand through the unpopulated air.
“Big catch today Butterboy?”
“Mm.” He grinned at his empty net. “Looks like it.”
He shuffled home and opened the wire door. As it creaked closed he turned to be greeted by a swirling kaleidoscope of butterflies. They flapped their colours, permeating Butterboy, himself spinning through the joy of their presence. His catch. His reward. For eight years now his home provided the only release free from enemy eyes.
By sundown the remaining butterflies had exited through the hole in the front door. It was only then that he noticed he was slowly leaking red out of a hole in his skin. A bullet must have grazed him. He felt weakly. It was time.
Butterboy wrapped himself within his cocoon, and regressed, as the dull, lonely moth. Maybe next year he’d emerge in the heart of spring as a butterfly. Maybe then someone would capture him in her oh so gentle butterfly net.
Day two and a stunning sunrise revealed itself without Butterboy. The town gossiped, but Maureen contained her perplexity. Six days later he still hadn’t shown himself. The town believed it was the end for Butterboy, finally succumbing to his uniqueness, and Maureen too was worried for the worst.
The library never opened on that eighth morning. Maureen slid behind Centre Street, and drove past the seeded fields to the quiet side, where the crumbs of a house housed a crumbling boy. Other than a ripped wire curtain rippling in the breeze, the doorway was unprotected. She entered nervously before tripping over a worn cardboard box that littered the hallway. As she picked up the package to relocate it to a safer place, she noticed a return to sender stamp. ‘To the girl by the lake’ it was addressed. The writing was childish, but legible. Maureen couldn’t help herself. She attempted to open one end but it tore in her hands and out fell two child size pink sneakers. They were clean, but clearly aged.
For a shocking instant her being faltered and the shoes dropped to the floor.
“...Hello?” She had to find him now.
Silence beckoned her further within. Only one door was visible off the large room. She walked in uncomfortably. “Anyone home?”
A large brown cylinder curled where normally a bed might lie. It was padded with dried mud, ripped newspaper and foam, and lined with leaves, bark and hessian blankets.
The butterfly net was resting against the wall. Maureen picked up the net and waved it through the heavy air. Silently a single butterfly flapped from the homemade cocoon, a rich azure ribbon lighting its wings as it spun a circumference encircling Maureen before flying through her butterfly net.