Butterfly

By Epiphany Ferrell

Ginnifer is wearing her butterfly costume for the fourth day in a row. My sister thinks it’s cute. That she wants to wear it so much, not the costume necessarily. It was cute, but now the wings are bent and bedraggled, and the glitter has rubbed off, leaving them looking like something that came through the hedge.

My sister calls her daughter Ginny, and she gets angry if someone pronounces it “Jenny.” A jenny, she says, is a female donkey. Ginny is her daughter’s name. I think Ginny sounds like a euphemism for an alcoholic, so I call her Ginnifer.

These days, she refers to herself as “Madama Butterfly.” She has not seen nor heard the opera, but somewhere she heard the name of it, and she has adopted it as her own. The butterfly costume was for another little girl’s party, for which she asked all the little girls she invited to come dressed as their favorite flying thing. I had suggested Ginnifer go as a pterodactyl. My suggestion was not adopted. My sister explained to me that little girls like to be pretty, not ironic. I declined to explain to her that I was only joking (wasn’t) and declined to remind her I’d once been a little girl, too (tomboy).

I also declined to explain that fundamental misunderstandings like this are why I’m staying at a Drury with a kitchenette rather than on my sister’s couch. You can’t choose your family, but you can control your thread count.

Our mother is slowly dying. A machine breathes for her. She has a nurse who visits daily, and a Hospice worker who comes about three times a week. When I visit my mother, which I do twice daily, I see a woman I no longer recognize. She doesn’t talk much any more. In the first 15 minutes of my first visit, she asked me when I was going to marry. I’d sighed with exasperation, told her I wasn’t even dating, and sank into my earphones as soon as she fell asleep.

I wish now I’d told her a fabulous story about a wonderful man I’d met, and how much we had in common, and about his good steady job and his Buick and dedication to private education. I didn’t though, and so now the last thing we will have said to each other is “why not” and “because,” and that is very unsatisfying. I want her to wake all the way up once more, even if it is to accuse or belittle. I see her eyes roll under fish skin lids, and I wish I’d told her something better to dream.

I was thinking about all this, all the things I might have said but I just couldn’t humble myself to humor her, sitting on my sister’s porch railing like I know she hates. I felt movement behind me, and felt a small, sticky hand on my back. Ginnifer was on tiptoe, holding her butterfly wings to my back. I moved my arms cooperatively, helping her loop the loops over my arms, onto my shoulders. The wings sag crookedly, and I looked a fool. Ginnifer climbed up next to me on the railing, and I turned my head enough to look at her. She sat straight up, great posture, not mimicking my hunched shoulder pose. In the shadow we cast, we were both winged.

Epiphany Ferrell is part of the writing communications team at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and has prior non-fiction writing experience both at newspapers and magazines. Her stories appear online at Fictonaut, Prairie Wolf Press Review, DarkFire, and the Chick Lit Review; and in print at Seven Hills Review, Helix Literary Magazine, Radio Free Boskydell, and the chapbook anthology Word Swell.  A country girl, she shares her home with her son, and with horses, dogs and cats. 

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