Butterfly Girl| A. Elizabeth Herting

The butterfly floated lighter than air, skimming just above the easy flow and current of the water. The lake was calm with just the slightest hint of a breeze, lifting the delicate little creature high, then bringing it low in a delightful summer’s dance. It weaved and bobbed, its bright orange wings catching the noonday sun as a single plaintive loon cried off in the distance.

The lake was teeming with life, seen and unseen. Countless numbers of fish traversed its waters, a symphony of life and death in a million permutations, nature’s battles constantly raging. Still, the water remained outwardly calm; a sheet of glass on a torrid July day, an aquatic universe as vast and primordial as the heavens above. The butterfly was unconcerned with any of this, its only function at that moment was simply to be.

The girl sat, still as a statue at the lake’s edge, her pole dangling lazily in the water. With all of the urgency of a hot summer day, she laid back onto the dock, lacing her hands underneath her head and gazed up into the clear blue sky. She allowed her mind to drift, all of the matters troubling her thirteen-year-old mind fading away as she felt the sun’s glow through her closed eyelids. The girl could have been from any era, her cutoff jeans and castoff sneakers leaving the only trace of time in her otherwise carefree existence. A slight tug at her pole made her pause before drifting back into her pleasant daydream. She had been fishing long enough to know the difference between an honest bite and the gentle pull of the lake.

The butterfly was carried high up into the sky on a burst of air before dropping back to the earth in a gusty spin and landing gracefully onto the dreaming girl’s chest. She opened one eye and held her breath, not daring to move and risk dislodging the tiny creature. It extended its wings in supplication, allowing the girl to slowly reach out and cup its resting form in her eager hand.

She lifted her hand to her face with wonder, both the butterfly and the girl regarding each other in silent awe. She could see shades of liquid gold streaming through its paper-thin wings in the afternoon sun, nature’s version of stained glass lighting up the cathedral that both girl and butterfly called home. It was a sort of religious experience for the girl who had grown up with skinned knees and sunshine, skimming rocks along the lake’s surface just a little bit further with every passing year.

She was on the very brink of womanhood, attempting to hold it back as long as she possibly could, just as she now held the errant butterfly in the palm of her hand. The girl was very aware that these sensations were fleeting. The butterfly and her childhood would carelessly flit away whenever the whim took them, gone forever in an instant. For now, at least, a truce had been called as the girl and butterfly were simply content to bask in the sun together. Beauty was drawn to beauty, as the lake swelled with abundance and the world continued to turn on its axis in complete indifference.

The heat of the day could have caused a mirage for any passing bystander to observe if they truly wanted to see. A gangly, freckled-faced girl holding a butterfly transformed instantly into a stunning lady, hair piled high with dark smoky eyes and red lipstick tracing her pillowy lips. The butterfly twitched its wings and she became a young mother, basking in the joy of her first child as she showed him the proper way to bait a hook. As the sun traveled further across the sky, a handsome woman of middle years dangled her feet in the water as her growing children splashed and frolicked all around her. Sunset found a grandmother with salt and pepper hair holding a small girl on her knee, pulling a fish from the water as the child squealed in pure, unadulterated delight. The moon had barely begun to rise before the scene of a white-haired lady in a wheelchair appeared in the shimmering dusk. A long-legged girl of thirteen helped her to cast her line far out into the water, the girl’s hand gently resting on the old woman’s back as the butterfly floated and danced euphorically all around them.

The girl opened her eyes, the vision disintegrating around her as the butterfly raised it legs and prepared to fly. She felt a twinge of melancholy, an emotion she did not yet know how to put into words, as the butterfly lifted off of her hand and took flight. Reluctantly, she gathered up her pole, watching the butterfly once more as it ascended into the clear evening sky before turning back for home.

The girl walked away as the sun finally melted into the lake, another day at an end. The butterfly was unconcerned with any of this. Its only function was simply to be as the lake brimmed with life and the earth continued to turn on its axis in complete indifference.


@A. Elizabeth Herting


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