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.
What a lovely way to find healing. Very nice story with fantastic detail. It makes me furious that as women we not only take the abuse from these men but then carry the guilt that is not ours.
Always go back to nature to find healing. It is the only way in the end.
That was so sad, yet beautiful. I hope that none of us ever have to suffer like that.
That was beautiful, bittersweet, and vivid. Your descriptions are breathtaking as always, from the painful to the beautiful.
Fantastic writing. You blow me away Selma.
I found this very difficult to read Selma but I know it is a message that needs to be heard, again and again.
Thank you for caring and for doing all that you do to make the world a better place. You do that, just by being the kind of person you are. Love can make miracles come true.
Big hug, G
“In the morning the sky was so clear Jen imagined crowds of fairy folk had been up all night scrubbing the clouds away.” I absolutely love that line.
Another wonderful story…Do I sound like a broken record, because I find myself saying that with every one of your stories?
I am SOBBING this was sooo beautiful.
I also think I might be so moved by this b/c I know YOUR personal history with your sister, and this made me think of her and how I wished she could heal….
I really LOVE this post. So. Very. Much.
Wow, you have ‘captured’ pathos, delicate beauty and a budding seedling of hope all in one ‘go’!
I think that you have been ‘gifted’ a wonderful talent for natural expression so I guess that makes you a ‘natural’.
Nature is the only natural healing element, everything else is synthetic.
I am a very lucky person to be able to read your ‘gifts’, thank you.
That is a perfect response to the prompt. Hope flies and is contagious.
amazingly written as always… and the essence of the butterflies in this story calls to mind “the butterfly effect” what happened today,, was indeed influenced by what happened long ago and far away…..
Thankyou for writing this Selma…thankyou.
I must agree with all the other commenter’s in praising your story. But I feel I wouldn’t be showing you respect as a writer of the caliber that you are if I didn’t mention that your fantastic story would be mega fantastic if it were revised in terms of vagueness, abstractions, and reportage. Nevertheless,as it stands it’s a powerfully sad and ultimately uplifting tale. Thanks.
“Domestic Violence affects up to one in three women in Australia. Approximately one in every five women will experience sexual violence during their lifetime”.
LAURI – I hope that one day women realise they don’t need to take the abuse. That is a dream of mine. Another dream is to have a butterfly garden of my own….
ANTHONY – I agree. Nature will save us all if we let it.
VIC – I hope so too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?
KAREN – thank you. I know it’s a bit of a heavy subject and it can be a little hard to read about some of these things, but I do hope that if we talk about this issue enough we can end up doing something about it!!!
ROSHAN – thank you so much. You are very kind!
GERALDINE – you know I believe that too. I do think love can make miracles come true. What an inspirational phrase.
LINDA – I am so glad you like my stories. It means so much to me. Thank you!
MELEAH – I was a bit influenced by my sister’s history, I must admit. But also by a few other women I know who have gone through some terrible things. How kind you are to think of her. That has really touched me. Thank you.
CHRIS – what a lovely thing to say. My gift is all my readers. I really mean that. That’s what it’s all about for me. Thank you for all your support.
PAUL – it definitely does. It flies and flies!
PAISLEY – I am fascinated by the butterfly effect. What an incredible phenomenon. The older I get, the more truth I see in it. An amazing thing….
ROMANY – it was my pleasure. XXX
DAVID – oh absolutely. There is always room for improvement in every piece I write. But alas, time gets away from me. I thank you for your constructive comments!
Personally, I think “vagueness, abstractions, and portage” are essential when creating a sense of otherworldly magic while conveying a message of compassion and empathy. But that’s just me.
Very moving story, Selma. Beautifully written.
“…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…”
I also found myself thinking of Millie and hoping that she reaches this sort of logical thought process one day and that it propels her to get out.
provoking story and your details makes it more realistic,
I was reading Cricket’s story and now yours and thought how sad these things still happen but it is a nice thought that there are people who are there to help each other through, the healing process is always a long struggle but if there’s someone around, it makes it less grueling
it’s sad but ends happy in a way, guess I wish these things don’t happen anymore
I finally brought myself to read your story, it stirred up some very painful memories and by the end of your story you had me crying. The part of the butterflies was so beautiful. The imagery was so intense as was this story.
EPIPHANY – never fear, David just likes me to expand my writing horizons, that’s all. Blogging is interesting from an editing point of view. When I worked for a local paper a few years back, everything was thoroughly edited and it was always looked at by several people before it went to press. Oftentimes when I press that Publish button now I am presenting a fairly roughly edited first draft. That’s what I like about blogging, though. The freedom. The real sense of who the blogger is that comes through. Not having the publisher breathing down your neck. I am so glad you liked this story, Epiphany!
DAOINE – oh, me too. Me too. I really wish it would happen!
LISSA – I wish they didn’t happen either. Having people to turn to really helps. So does knowing people care. Maybe one day our wishes will come true……
TBALL – I actually almost didn’t write this because of you. I know what you’ve been through and the last thing I would want would be to dredge up painful memories for you. I am really touched that you read this because I know how hard it would have been. I can’t tell you how much that means to me. XXXX
Hi Selma–I’m getting “caught up” with your blog–I just posted at a few previous posts of yours. I read this one FIRST, then the earlier one about your sis/ her pregnancy, and thought “Wow, Selma can channel pain into a glorious story.” You manage to ameliorate pain in the way a “cutter” does–emotional pain that you feel is manifested into a story–it’s made PHYSICAL, and that’s when the pain can bloom, be felt, and hopefully, healed.
Genius, woman, genius!
LISA – thank you so much. I do believe to truly heal from something painful you must try and channel the emotion of it elsewhere. Hard to do, but the effects are amazing!
Selma, I wish I had your gift for painting pictures with words. An old adage says a picture is worth a 1000 words, and in many cases that is true. However, any one of your stories paints a 1000 pictures in your reader’s minds. You are truly an amazing writer.
Gorgeous and rich, with a depth and painful reality that juxtapose well with the delicate images of butterflies and flowers. Paisely is spot on too I think – the ‘butterfly effect’ is certainly a part of the pulse here also. How well you have drawn healing and hope out of a situation that all too often ends with dark finality. Well done!
Selma, this is such a sad touching story. But there is hope for healing. Again, very good writing from you. Thanks, Autumn
Your work always amazes me. ALWAYS
CRICKET – sorry for the late response. I am all over the place at the moment. I really appreciate your constant support. It means so much!
KAYT – thank you. It is hard to write something like this without the whole thing being a real downer. I’m glad I could put a positive slant on it.
AUTUMN – there is always hop, I think. If we dare to believe in it. Thanks for your kind words.
NECTARFIZZ – that means a great deal to me. XXXX