By Aimee Hyndman
I see butterflies.
I know you must be thinking: “Butterflies? That isn’t particularly unusual. I see butterflies as well.”
Yes, you do. You see the butterflies of the garden, the ones that exist in our same plane of sight, the insects that spread nectar from flower to flower. Those are not the ones I am referring to. I see a different kind of butterfly. One that is always there even though most cannot see them. They are attached to human emotion and thought rather than nature, and their habits cannot be predicted by a biologist. These butterflies are as unpredictable as humans themselves. Every person has their own butterflies.
I do not know where they come from but I would imagine they come from the same place as dreams and fantasies, some strange other realm that our simplistic, conscious minds cannot quite grasp.
I did not start out seeing the butterflies. I was always a rather odd child, slow to speak, but always thinking. I didn’t see the use of speaking when I was young. I was the quiet girl who sat in the corner, watching the world go by with wide, curious blue eyes.
It was when I was nine that I first saw the butterflies. I was driving with my mom. I remember that it was late at night. There were no stars and the moon must have been in hiding behind a wispy, dark cloud. My mom was distressed by something, probably something to do with dad. She said my father was useless, that’s why I never got to see him, and whenever she was angry it was often because of him. I was in the front seat beside her, my head rested on the window, staring out into the darkness. I think the darkness was the reason the car didn’t see us crossing the intersection.
My mom tried to swerve away from the car but it still broadsided us. The impact sent us spinning across traffic and off the road. The car rolled twice until it came to a stop, flipped over. My mother was thrown from the car.
My legs were a mess of cuts and blood from shattered mirror shards and there was a stream of red running down the left side of my face, forcing me to keep one eye shut. Somehow I managed to crawl from the wreckage and to where my mother was, eyes shut, blood flowing fast from her forehead. Perched on her head was a butterfly, the color of ash. I had never seen a grey butterfly before. I saw other butterflies of the same color perched all over her body, their wings hanging limp. Above my mother’s body, in the air was a bright red butterfly. I watched as it slowly descended towards her head and its wings faded to the same grey color.
There was a bright flash as several golden butterflies appeared suddenly against the black sky. I watched in wonder as they spiraled down and took the grey butterflies in their legs before taking back to the sky. I reached out, wanting desperately for them to bring my mother’s butterflies back. As I did I saw a green butterfly perch on my finger, fluttering its wings frantically, as if trying to help me call them back. In another flash the gold and grey butterflies faded back into the night.
Somehow I knew my mother was dead then, and I did not try to wake her up. My mind was fuzzy with pain and I could not bring myself to move. I lay limply on the ground until darkness claimed me as well, like it did the butterflies.
I thought that the butterflies had been a dream or hallucination at first, but when I looked into the mirror in the hospital bathroom I saw them again. About a dozen green butterflies fluttered around my head and body. I could not feel them when they perched on my shoulder or my head but I could see them. They moved in an unorganized fashion, mirroring the dazed feeling that engulfed my mind. I asked the nurse in the room why there were so many butterflies. She just looked at me oddly, smiled a confused smile and strode from the room. The butterflies that surrounded her were light blue.
The psychiatrist, a man accompanied by a flock of yellow butterflies, said that this hallucination didn’t appear to be harmful. He said there were other people who claimed to see auras and this was likely a thing I would out grow. I grew, but the butterflies did not disappear. My world had become nothing but butterflies. I saw them around every person, all different shades of reds, yellows, blues, greens, purples, every single color in the rainbow and countless others in between. I didn’t see another golden butterfly though for a long time, even though I looked. I never saw the ash colored butterflies either. I suppose that’s because I never saw another person die until later in my life.
I eventually discovered what the colors and flight patterns of the butterflies meant. The colors reflected the general personality of a person, the flight patterns changed according to emotions and moods. If a mood swing was strong enough, the whole color of the butterfly would change. It was fascinating to watch just one person for a short time and watch how they reacted. People didn’t know that when I talked to them I knew what they were feeling.
I remember well the day I first saw a person surrounded by black butterflies. I was fifteen at the time, and I was taking a shortcut through an alleyway to my house. The man was crouched in a corner, adorned in the ripped clothes of the homeless. He reached out a hand and asked for food or money.
I took a step back, my green butterflies, fluttering uncertainly. There was something foreboding about the black butterflies and something sly about his grin.
He told me to come closer and I shook my head.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
I didn’t answer him.
“Don’t you speak?”
I stayed silent.
The man got to his feet, looking angry “I asked you a question girl.”
I took two steps back but still did not answer. My eyes were narrowed in reproach.
The man reached down and brushed his coat aside. I caught sight of the shiny, silver barrel of a gun. Without pausing I spun around and ran back the way I came, my heart pounding against my rib cage.
The man shouted obscenities and curses at me. He yelled for me to come back. There was a sharp crack as he fired his gun, but the bullet hit the ground instead of me.
My butterflies flapped frantically beside me, flying so fast that they left green trails behind them. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a black butterfly almost light on my shoulder and propelled myself forward. The man cursed again.
I skidded around a corner and onto the street, almost slipping on the pavement as I did. As I made it to the sidewalk, the man skidded out from behind the corner as well. My foot caught on a grate in the ground and I tripped, skinning my knee on the rough cement.
The man saw me fall and he grinned and started towards me. Then something amazing happened. I heard a car horn blare and the squeal of wheels trying to stop quickly. A car plowed into the man, sending him flying several yards, back into the alleyway.
Trembling I got to my feet and walked slowly back towards the alleyway where the owner of the car was climbing out looking shell shocked and petrified. I peeked around the corner and saw the man with the black butterflies lying on the ground. They were slowly lightening in color, going from dark obsidian to ash grey. One by one they sank onto the body.
A familiar gold flash lit up the sky and I watched in wonder as the golden butterflies appeared. I was so transfixed by how beautiful they were, glowing as bright as stars. They took away the grey butterflies, the same way they had done the night my mom died.
The owner of the car frantically pulled his phone out of his pocket and moved to dial 911.
“It’s no good” I murmured.
The owner looked at me in surprise “Wh-what do you mean?”
“It’s no good” I repeated as a flash lit up the sky and the golden butterflies disappeared. “The butterflies are gone.”
Then I turned and walked away. A green butterfly lit on my shoulder, its wings folded and a smile touched my lips.
I will see them when I die, the golden butterflies. It is an inevitable but hopeful truth. Somehow that is a comfort to me.
When it is time I will gladly go with them.