Today is White Ribbon Day –
I’d like to dedicate this story to women who have experienced violence.
May you find solace and peace….
SKY FULL OF BUTTERFLIES
When Jen awakened in the hospital she didn’t know where she was. One of her eyelids was sticking together and the pain she experienced when she tried to open it fully was acute. Flesh ripping upon flesh. It was much worse than the time she and Maisie Underwood had worn those enormous false eyelashes to Billie Masters’ twenty first. Taking them off had been a nightmare, her eyelids had itched for weeks afterwards.
She had met Shaun at that twenty first. Her one true love. He had been so charming, so affable. Her mother had adored him. ‘You’ll have to travel far and wide to find a man better than him,’ she had said.
The parts of her that still could flinched. She saw the monitors, the bandages, the bags of plasma. She didn’t want to know what had happened to her. Didn’t want to see.
I love you, he had said, when he had punched her in the face for the third, fourth, fifth, time and she was lying on the ground panting with fear, vomiting up blood and saliva and one of her front teeth. It swirled in the blood, perfectly white as a shell and Jen felt an ache of despair, for she had always prided herself on her teeth.
Get up, he said as she lay there whimpering. Get up.
Jen tried, she couldn’t. So he proceeded to kick her again and again. At that moment she had prayed to all the angels to take her. She couldn’t stand it anymore. The beating. The pain. The humiliation. The knowledge that this was being done by the man she loved. She thanked God her mother was dead so she didn’t have to see this. Didn’t have to know.
For days, maybe weeks, Jen lay in the room facing the gardens. Birds landed on the windowsill. She didn’t care. Sunlight threw golden lines all over the bedspread, patterns she would normally trace. She closed her eyes. Storm clouds gathered and the rain flung itself on the windows forming crystal mosaics. She turned her face away.
Her physical wounds were healing but her heart was rubbed raw and beating too fast. She hated herself, for all she could think of was Shaun. How he was. If he missed her. If he was sorry. If he still loved her.
‘I am sick in the head,’ she thought. ‘I am a lunatic.’
Did people care about the person who shot them in the street or ran over their dog or set fire to their house? She should hate Shaun, really hate him, but instead all she felt was an undeniable sense of loss.
The doctor told Jen she would be discharged in two days.
‘Do you have someone to come and pick you up?’ he asked. ‘Do you have somewhere to go?’
The police had told her Shaun had been arrested. That he would serve prison time. It was safe for her to return home but she couldn’t bear it. Not that house where her blood had splattered the floor at his hands. Not ever.
‘I have no one and nowhere,’ she said.
Two days later Jen was dressed in clothes from the hospital charity store. She was wearing shoes that were a size too big. She was going to stay in a cheap motel until she decided what to do. She walked to the window. Down below children were playing, holding balloons that said Baby Girl, pink with tiny white hearts. They struggled to hold onto them in the wind.
‘Come home with me,’ a voice said from the doorway. It was Cora, Shaun’s mother. Jen gasped, tried to scream, but the sound turned to nothing in her throat.
‘Don’t be afraid,’ Cora said. ‘You will be safe with me, I promise. Please let me help you. I want to make up for what my son has done.’
Jen could see the tears in Cora’s eyes, the horror. She nodded.
The drive down the south coast was amazingly peaceful. They passed blue seas that looked like tablecloths edged with white ribbon and mammoth sandstone cliffs that must have held all the wisdom of the world.
Cora’s farm was at the end of a long gravel drive. Jen imagined herself walking it in the morning, wearing gumboots, enjoying the sideways crunch underfoot.
Cora showed Jen into a room with a brass bed and a handmade quilt. She braced herself for photos, reminders of Shaun, but all that lined the walls were scores of framed photos of butterflies. ‘Where did you get all these photos?’ she asked.
‘Tomorrow we’ll get to work in the garden,’ Cora replied. ‘Then you’ll see.’
In the morning the sky was so clear Jen imagined crowds of fairy folk had been up all night scrubbing the clouds away. There was a scent in the air – sweet and fine.
She found Cora in an enormous paddock full of flowers. There were daylilies, iris, lavender, petunias, phlox, asters, zinnia, wild lilac, wattle, grevillea, milkweed and Jen’s favourites – golden everlasting daisies. The garden was a rainbow that had dropped from the sky. There was too much colour to take in.
‘Why have you planted so many flowers?’ Jen asked.
‘You’ll see,’ Cora replied.
She sat Jen in vast cane chair, propped up with cushions. She carried metal buckets to piled up mounds of gravel and sand and covered them with water.
‘What are they for?’ Jen asked.
‘So my little friends can bask,’ Cora replied.
She disappeared and came back with a steaming pot of tea and an assortment of delicious looking cakes. She poured each of them a cup of tea. ‘Now we wait,’ she said.
The sun rose a little higher in the sky. Jen felt herself begin to doze off. She closed her eyes for a second and when she opened them again the sky was full of petals, moving petals.
‘They’re butterflies,’ Jen exclaimed.
Hundreds and hundreds of butterflies filled the sky. Fiery Jewels, Tailed Emperors, Common Grass Yellows. Monarchs, Blue Triangles, Black and White Orchard Swallowtails.
They supped on nectar and when they grew too warm from dancing through the flowers, they basked in the cool puddles surrounding the sand and gravel towers.
Jen was enchanted.
‘It’s my fault what Shaun did,’ Cora said. ‘His father, he saw what his father did.’ She pulled back the collar of her shirt, revealed her neck and upper arm, puckered and shiny. ‘It was the contents of the deep fat fryer. Shaun’s father meant to blind me but I turned my face away. I should have left right there and then, but I didn’t know what to do. If I had left this probably wouldn’t have happened to you.’ She began to weep, silently, the way someone who is truly in the clutches of sorrow does.
‘No,’ said Jen, taking her hand. ‘It wasn’t your fault. Not ever.’
Jen and Cora sat for hours, long after their tea had gone cold. The butterflies accepted the bounty of each flower with pleasure, sometimes flittering upwards to the sky, forming circles and loops as if giving thanks. The sky was a painter’s palette, daubed with every colour in the world. The butterfly wings sent out ripples of tenderness. Cora and Jen held onto each other, safe from harm, feeling hope surge.
* Also inspired by the Search Engine Stories prompt : sky full of butterflies.