Red Leaves and Golden Butterflies
By Audris Rozelle
Marcia rested her chin on the windowsill and pressed her hand against the cold glass in an effort to feel the raindrops that splashed against the window. She had become bored of sitting in the room and was no longer interested in drawing in her notebook. She wanted to know if the rain felt as refreshing as the water-soaked washcloth that Mrs. Brenton used to rinse the soap from her back. “I wish that I could go outside and play,” she said to Kendra.
Kendra frowned at Marcia’s wish and continued to bounce her tennis ball against the wall next to her bed. “Why do you want to go outside, Marcie? It’s pouring down raining” Kendra said.
“Because it looks so pretty,” she answered as she twirled away from the window.
“What’s pretty about the rain? You go out there, your hair and clothes get soaked and your shoes begin to squish. That’s not pretty, Marcie.”
“Yes it is!” Marcia jumped on her bed and buried her head under her thick pillow.
“Stop being a cry-baby!”
Marcia’s response to Kendra got muffled by the fluffy pillow that covered her face. Kendra didn’t intend to hurt Marcia, but what she said was for her own good.
“You’re not gonna find red leaves and golden butterflies out there. They’re from two different seasons, anyway. Come back to reality, little girl.” she told Marcia. Kendra had no trouble with accepting reality. On a blistery cold night, Kendra was found swaddled in a fleece blanket on the steps of a community service building when she was six months old. Over the twelve years following her abandonment, she had lived in two foster homes and participated in several interviews with the hopes that a loving family would accept and adopt her. She lost faith in hoping to be a part of a family and claimed a reality that no one wanted her, especially since she is now thirteen years old.
“The rain is real, Kendy! Don’t you see it?” Marcia exclaimed when she lifted her head from under her pillow and pointed at the window.
“I’m not talking about that. I know that the rain is real. I’m saying that you should just…Oh just forget it! I don’t feel like talking anymore.” Kendra placed the ball on her dresser and left as Olivia, the Brentons 21 year-old daughter, walked in.
“Where ya, goin’, kiddo?” Olivia asked Kendra.
“I’m going to see if there are any more of those lemon cookies your mom made.”
“There are a few left, but you better be quick. You know how my momma feels about eating snacks close to dinner.” Olivia said as she plopped on Marcia’s bed and looked around the room that had once belonged to her before her parents became involved in foster care. Since taking a break from college, she had spent a lot of time interacting with Kendra and Marcia. She had taken a special liking to Marcia and wanted to find a way to connect to her. Olivia couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be six years old and not have her parents in her life.
“What’s got ya down, Marcie?” Olivia asked.
“Kendra is being mean to me again,” Marcia answered while her fingers traced the green embroidery on her pink plaid quilt.
“Baby girl, don’t pay Kendra any attention. She picks on you because she loves you.
“No, she doesn’t,” Marcia responded. “She teases me because she hates me.”
“Don’t be silly, Marc. She does love you. She just has a funny way of showing it.”
“Yeah,” Marcia whispered to herself. She returned to the window and watched the rain.
“Don’t let her get to you. She’s just different that you.”
“Her mommy and daddy didn’t die.” A teardrop slid down Marcia’s cheek and hung at the edge of her jaw.
“Sweetie, I know you want to cry. It’s okay.” Olivia held Marcia in her arms as their tears began to fall. This was the breakthrough that Olivia’s case worker sought.
“Red leaves and golden butterflies,” Marcia whispered. Olivia carried Marcia to her bed went downstairs to look for Kendra.
With a glass of cold milk and a napkin full of lemon cookies, Kendra rocked back and forth in Mrs. Brenton’s antique rocking chair on the rear patio. She listened to the rain fall on the roof above her. Clink. Clank. Clink. Clank. She liked the music that the rain made. Olivia entered the patio and sat on the white wicker sofa and studied Kendra as she dipped and swirled a cookie in her glass of milk. Olivia cracked her gum and looked through the week old newspaper that her dad had left behind.
“She told you that I was picking on her again, huh?” Kendra asked in between crunches.
“She just said that you were being mean to her.” Olivia said as she flipped through the pages.
“I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was just trying to help her.”
“Kendra, she’s younger than you so you have to be nicer to her.”
“You mean, baby her?”
“No, but understand that she’s still hurting.”
“She needs to get out of her fantasy world or that place your mom said to her friend. Um, an untopea..utop…U…”
“Utopia,” Olivia interrupted. “Listen, you can’t go by what Momma says and you definitely shouldn’t be repeating it.”
“Why not?” Kendra gulped down the last bit of milk and sat her glass on the table.
“Because you don’t understand.” Olivia snapped. She felt that she was the only person that understood Marcia’s pain. Her mother remained distant, her father spent too much time trying to make Marcia laugh, and Kendra’s only interest was to toughen Marcie’s heart.
“I wish I was somewhere else!” Kendra crossed her arms and sat back into her chair.
“You don’t like it here, Kendy?” Olivia placed the newspaper next to the glass and gave Kendra her full attention.
“It’s not that I don’t like it here.”
“Then what?” Olivia asked as Kendra began to pant and sob.
“It doesn’t matter,” she answered. “You’re probably gonna say what your mom says to me all of the time.”
“And what’s that?”
“That I got the best Daddy in the world and His name is God or for me to be happy with what I have”
“Sounds like my mom,” Olivia snickered, “I won’t say that. Just tell me.”
“I want to be able to call someone ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy’ like you do and like Marcia did.”
Mrs. Brenton appeared in the doorway, dangling her wet paisley umbrella in front of her. Neither of the girls realized that she had been standing there. “Olivia, I am going to need you to come in here and peel these potatoes for dinner,” Mrs. Brenton said while she gazed at Kendra.
“Yes, ma’am.” Olivia stashed the newspaper and grabbed the empty glass. “Just go easy on her, Kendy,” Olivia quickly uttered as she ran into the kitchen.
Mrs. Brenton had gone to the farmer’s market to replenish her supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. She instilled healthy eating habits for everyone in the house. She always purchased meat from the butcher and baked her own bread. She was a stern woman who lived strictly by the Bible and left no room for error. She was very different from her husband. He was light-hearted and always shared a smile with anyone. Mrs. Brenton preferred not to waste her time with menial jokes and buffoonery. She had many acquaintances at her church, but she did not have many personal friends.
“Olivia, slice the potatoes very thin. Not too thin like you did before. I have the baking dish on the counter ready for you. Use the cheese sauce in the cabinet and pour them over the sliced potatoes. I think that the au gratin potatoes will go well with the barbecued roast pork. What do you think?” Mrs. Brenton asked as she removed her trench coat and stepped out of her rubber boots.
“I guess so,” Olivia answered.
“I’m heading upstairs for prayer. Where’s Marcie?” Mrs. Brenton asked.
“She’s upstairs in her room.”
“That poor child. She’s so trapped in her own world. Just can’t breakthrough,” she sighed.
“Momma, have you ever tried talking to her? She’s young and doesn’t know how to articulate her feelings.” Olivia asked as she looked up to her mother.
“Liv, we talked about this many times. I leave that in the hands of her social worker and God. Just because you major in Psychology doesn’t mean for you to analyze everything.”
“Why are you so afraid to talk to her, Mom?”
“I am certainly not afraid. I’m just respecting my boundaries.” Mrs. Brenton said in her defense.
“But Mom, can you at least take the time to figure out why she keeps talking about red leaves and golden butterflies?”
“She has a social worker for that. Any more questions?” Mrs. Brenton asked while she walked away.
“What would Jesus do?”
Mrs. Brenton came to a halt and looked at Olivia. Her lips began to provide a response to her daughter’s question, but she stopped herself from talking. She took a deep breath and continued upstairs to her bedroom.
Olivia rotated the power knob on her parents’ antique radio while Kendra tiptoed through the kitchen and disappeared up the stairs. Olivia wanted to escape from thinking about her mother’s relationship with the girls and hide within the rhythm and cadence of the upbeat jazz tune that crawled through the dusty speakers. Her mind would not let it rest. She couldn’t recall a single moment in which her mother had been soft and warm towards anyone. She couldn’t resolve that this was an innate characteristic of her mother; there was an underlying reason for her mother’s behavior. Many times had Olivia tried to reach into her mother’s mind. Whatever it was, her mother gripped it and held it tightly.
By the time that Olivia turned off the slow cooker, her father had walked in the front door. She heard him place his keys on the buffet and walk towards the kitchen.
“Mmm, dinner sure smells good!” Mr. Brenton exclaimed.
“Thanks, Daddy. How was business today?” Olivia asked as she hugged her father.
“It was…pretty busy today. I could’ve used your help, but, I managed.”
“Dad, I told you that any time you need me to come down, I would be there.” She released herself from his embrace and turned off the stove.
“I know, Angel Pie. You know that your mother needs here to help with the girls.”
“Yeah, I know,” Olivia said as she sat down at the kitchen table.
“Where is your mother?”
“Now, Daddy. You know where Momma is right about now.”
“Hey, she could’ve switched up the old game.” Mr. Brenton felt troubled by the frown that rested on his daughter’s face. “Your mother is not as hard as you think she is. You just need to understand her.” Olivia remained silent.
Mr. Brenton went upstairs to shower off the rusty smell and dress in his usual flannel lounge pants and faded sweatshirt that he had purchased from Olivia’s college bookstore. When he walked in the bedroom, he saw his wife knelt on her purple velvet-covered prayer bench. Determined not to interrupt her personal time with God, he gently closed the door behind him. Something compelled him to place his hand on her shoulder. Maybe it was to quietly acknowledge his presence or that he wanted to comfort his wife. Just as he was about to walk away, she grabbed his pant leg for him to stay by her. He looked at her face and noticed that she had been crying. He had known his wife to be austere and rigid on the other side of the bedroom door; but, within the confines of their bedroom is where she allowed her true emotions to show.
“What’s wrong, Sweetheart?” he asked.
“I-I-I just don’t know what to say. I have been trying to pray for the past forty-five minutes and I just can’t get the words to come out. I think that I am just tired,” she replied.
“That isn’t why you have been crying,” he said.
“Oh, John! You know me too well.” She wiped her face and sat on top of their bed.“I think that I am crying for Marcie.”
“I think that you are crying for yourself, Karen.” He sat next to her, wrapped his long arms around her and allowed her tears to drench his t-shirt. She fell limp against his warm body as he stroked her wavy auburn hair. He knew that his wife long needed to open up and release her thoughts, but he gave up trying to get her to talk. Moments like this, he would just hold her until she pushed away from his body and went about as if she had never cried. He got up and walked to the master bathroom to clean up for dinner. She straightened out her dress and went back to the kitchen.
Mr. Brenton removed his wallet from the back pocket of his work pants and sat on the edge of the tub. He wiggled out an old picture that had been stashed behind his credit cards. He stared at it and rubbed his thumb across the picture. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before putting the picture back into his wallet. She has to face her problem one day, he thought. He removed his clothes and turned on the shower.
When Kendra returned to the bedroom, she found Marcia balled up on her bed next to a picture of a golden butterfly sitting on a red leaf. Kendra picked up the picture and studied it for a brief moment before she tried to wake Marcia. Kendra climbed in the bed next to her and gently nudged Marcia.
“Marcie, wake up. It’s almost time for dinner.” Kendra whispered.
“I’m not hungry, Kendy. I just wanna sleep.” Marcia rolled back over.
“Is it because of what I said to you earlier?”
“No, my belly hurts.”
“Marcie, I’m sorry for what I said. Do you forgive me?” Kendra pleaded.
“Yes, can I go back to sleep now?”
“No, you have to come to dinner. You know what Mrs. Brenton says about dinner.”
“Okay, okay. I’m getting up.”
Marcia wiped the loose strands away from her eyes and walked towards the bathroom. She reached for her Strawberry Shortcake washcloth and placed the pink footstool in front of the sink. She turned on the cold water and began to clean her face. She looked in the mirror and stared at her reflection. Her hands began to rattle when she recognized familiar features about her eyes and hair. The eyes she saw were her father’s eyes that used to look at her every night after she was tucked in for bed. Those curls were the same curls that dangled on her mother’s shoulders. She began to sob. “Red leaves and golden butterflies,” she murmured again.
“Do you need any help, Liv?” Kendra asked Olivia while she stood in the kitchen doorway.
“If you want, you can put the ice in the glasses and refill the napkin holder.” Olivia answered.
“Sure!” Kendra released the ice from the ice trays and placed the napkins on the center of the table.
“Hello, Ms. Kendra” Mrs. Brenton said as she checked to see if the girls had properly set the table.
“Hi, Mrs. Brenton.” Kendra responded with a smile.
“Mm-hm. Has anyone called Marcie to dinner?” Mrs. Brenton asked.
“She was washing her face and hands,” Kendra answered.
“Well, someone needs to go get her and tell her that it’s time for dinner,” Mrs. Brenton ordered.
“I’ll go get her, Momma.” Olivia said as she ran from the dining room. Kendra took her seat across from Mrs. Brenton.
“Baby girl, what’s the race?” Mr. Brenton asked Olivia as she ran past him.
“Very funny, daddy.” She yelled back.
“Boy, dinner sure looks delicious! Kendra, you didn’t tell you me that you had this in ya,” he teased.
“I didn’t cook this time, Mr. Brenton,” Kendra laughed.
“No? Well, I guess I have to take a rain check for dinner.” He said jokingly.
“John, please stop fooling around at the dinner table.” Mrs. Brenton pleaded.
“Aw, Kay. Everyone seems so tense right now. I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”
Marcia and Olivia took their places at the table. Mrs. Brenton asked for everyone to join hands as she recited the dinner grace. While they ate, Mr. Brenton shared some funny events that happened down at his hardware store. Mrs. Brenton scolded him with her looks and wished that he would take dinner time more seriously. Olivia and Kendra ignored Mrs. Brenton and joined Mr. Brenton in laughter. However, Marcia, who was unusually quiet, swirled her food on her dinner plate with her fork.
“Marcie honey, did the cook get your order wrong?” Mr. Brenton asked while he rested his fork on his plate.
“I’m not hungry,” she answered.
“Well, sweetheart, you don’t have to sit here. You can eat when you’re ready.”
“No, John. Dinner is now and she needs to sit up and eat her food.” Mrs. Brenton interrupted. She turned to Marcia, “Stop all of that pouting, young lady.”
“Kay, she doesn’t feel well.” Mr. Brenton interjected.
“If Jesus went by feelings, then He would have never died.”
“Now what does that have to do with Marcie not being hungry?” he asked.
“Why are you trying to treat her so special?” Mrs. Brenton snapped.
“Karen, for God’s sake!” It was the first time that Mr. Brenton raised his voice.
“Red leaves and golden butterflies. Red leaves and golden butterflies,” Marcia repeated as she cupped her ears with her hands and rocked back and forth in her chair.
“See, what I mean John? She doesn’t need special attention. She needs medical attention!”
“Mom!” Olivia yelled. Marcia continued to chat as Kendra pulled her out of the chair and wrapped her arms around Marcia’s little body.
“I’m sick of this, Karen! You avoid this girl because she reminds you of…”
“John, don’t you dare!” Mrs. Brenton stood up and pointed her finger in Mr. Brenton’s face. Olivia stood up and looked at her parents in confusion.
“Dare what, Daddy?” Olivia asked.
Mrs. Brenton ran out the back door and sat on the porch. She couldn’t believe that her husband talked to her in that manner and challenged her emotions in front of the children. Mr. Brenton went to his bedroom and slammed the door shut. Olivia hugged the girls and told them to not be afraid by what just happened.
“Marcia, can I ask you a question?” Olivia asked moments later. Marcia nodded her approval. “Why do you keep saying ‘red leaves and golden butterflies’?”
“You’re gonna laugh at me like Kendra does.”
“I promise we won’t laugh. Tell us.” Olivia vowed.
“One night, I ran to my mommy and daddy’s room because I was scared and didn’t want to be alone. They told me that any time I felt sad or lonely, that I should think of something pretty and keep thinking about it so I wouldn’t think about being alone. So I thought about the red leaves that fell in our back yard because I think red leaves are pretty. Then I thought that the red leaves looked sad and lonely, so I imagined golden butterflies because they’re pretty too. Then, I wasn’t sad and lonely anymore because the red leaves and golden butterflies kept me company.”
Olivia and Kendra sat in silence while their minds absorbed the story that Marcia shared. What seemed to not make sense to them was apparently clear to young mind of this little girl. Two objects from different seasons became things of harmony and comfort. Golden butterflies and red leaves were naturally disconnected by spring and fall, but still created a beautiful, colorful image. Kendra and Marcia retreated to their bedroom while Olivia quickly cleaned the kitchen.
Olivia stood in the doorway that led to the back porch and found her mother holding a picture in her hands and rocking back and forth in the rocking chair. The rain had stopped and the evening air had grown crisp and cool. “Momma, please tell me what’s going on?” Olivia pleaded as she sat beside her mom.
“Oh, Olivia. It was so long ago. Just let it go.” Her mother answered.
“But Momma, it still affects you today so you need to talk about it.”
“Where’s your father?” Mrs. Brenton asked as she stared at the marbled full moon.
“He’s upstairs in the room.”
Mrs. Brenton stood up and walked towards the edge of the porch. She took a deep breath and confessed, “Olivia, you had a brother.”
“Momma, what?” Olivia rose to her feet.
“I got pregnant right after you were born. Your dad and I were not ready for another baby, but it happened. Nine months later, we gave birth to a son. His name was Jeremiah. He was such a beautiful little boy. He had the brightest eyes and the most amazing smile. One morning just beyond his first birthday, I went to get him dressed for church. And…” Mrs. Brenton sat back down and kissed the picture.
Olivia watched thick tears stream down her mother’s face. “And what, Momma?”
“He was just lying there so peaceful. Just the way that I had left him the night before. I went to touch him and he was so cold and lifeless. I screamed for your father. He ran into the room and stumbled to the floor when he realized that our baby boy was dead.”
“Momma, you kept this all inside you all of these years? Why didn’t you tell me? Didn’t you think that I had a right to know?” Olivia exclaimed at her mother.
“Olivia, I wanted to tell you at the right time. You were just so young and I knew that you didn’t remember him.”
“No, mom! You didn’t want to remember him!”
“Now, you watch how you talk to me!”
“Is this the reason why you remained so distant to Marcia?” Olivia asked. “You knew that she was hurting from losing her mother and father! It was easier for you to create space than to face your own pain.”
“You’re wrong, Olivia! I love and really care about Marcie.” She stood up and looked at her daughter. “Oh, Lord! What did I do? How could I forgive myself?”
“By going up there to talk to her. Let me to tell you why she keeps repeating ‘red leaves and golden butterflies.’ It’s because,” Olivia paused. “It gives her comfort when she is sad and lonely. She shouldn’t be sad and lonely. And Momma, neither do you.” Olivia shook her head and walked away.
Mrs. Brenton held the picture to her heart. “Oh Lord, help me fix this,” she uttered to starless midnight sky. Her twenty years of apathy had now become as apparent as blotch of black ink on a white dress. She couldn’t bear the thought that she could be responsible for Marcia doing the same thing.
Mrs. Brenton went into the girls’ bedroom. She gently placed her index finger on her lips and gestured Kendra to be quiet. She sat on the edge of the bed and held Marcia, who was bewildered by Mrs. Brenton’s sudden closeness.
“It’s okay, Sweetheart,” Mrs. Brenton whispered. “I know what it feels like to lose someone you love. You just hang on to the hurt and allow it to shelter you from joy” She continued, “But you know what?” Marcia carefully shook her head.
“God wants us to be happy. We don’t have to hurt and we are never, ever alone.” Mrs. Brenton placed a kiss on Marcia’s sweat-drenched bangs. “Marcie and Kendra, I want a fresh start and hope that we can be friends. Would you like that?”
“Yes, please,” Marcia’s cracked voice spoke. Her thin arms gripped Mrs. Brenton’s neck tightly. Kendra nodded her answer with her head pressed against her pillow. Mrs. Brenton hummed a gentle lullaby until the girls fell asleep. She stood in the doorway and watched the girls nestle into their comfortable sleeping positions. A faint smile eased across Mrs. Brenton’s face as peace finally entered into her heart. She quietly closed the door and walked to her bedroom.
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