I found her crying in my garden. Golden curls hung in a tangled mass about her face as she knelt among the peas.
“Are you hurt?” I touched her lightly, but her tiny shoulders heaved in sobs so great they stole her breath. I checked her knees for blood, scanned her palms and face. But I found no sign of injury. Who was she? And why was she in my garden?
“It’s okay, honey.” I pushed back her hair. “Can you tell me what’s wrong?”
She looked up. Her little face was oddly different, innocent and vulnerable, even for one of her age. “I heahd it die,” she finally managed, her young tongue unable to form an R.
For a moment I thought I’d heard wrong. My heart twinged. “What died? What did you hear?” Please, Lord, not something serious.
She pointed a slender finger downward, to something caught in the grassy weeds that insisted on sprouting beneath my peas. I looked closer. It was a butterfly. And sure enough, it was quite dead.
We looked at it for a moment, the pure white wings against the green of the grass, the brown of the soil below. The slender grey body so still. I looked back at the girl, and watched a round tear slide down her cheek, a breath shudder through her body.
“I heahd it. It was the fuhst one of spwing.” She looked up at me, her pale eyes so full of emotion.
I wanted to fix it for her, make everything be all right. I opened my mouth to say something. Something about it being just a bug, how other butterflies would come, how death was part of life. But the gravity of her face gave me pause. It was life. That tiny butterfly was part of God’s creation. And most of all, it mattered to the little girl.
“We can bury it,” I offered. “Would you like that?”
She nodded slowly.
We picked a place together, and dug a hole with the spade I kept in the corner of the garden, meant to coax me to do some occasional weeding. Once as I was digging she stopped me, a pale hand on my arm. “There’s a wohm.” Sure enough, the worm’s moist body wriggled, half of it dangling from the wall of our small hole, the other half struggling to tunnel back to safety. I tugged it out, gently, and let the little girl carry it to a new home.
When the butterfly had been given a proper burial, leaving a dark mound of dirt outlined by silver stones, the child looked up at me. A hint of a smile crossed her face.
“I’ll come again, okay? Today they aw’ sad, but they sing a lot here.” She waved a delicate hand in an arch that encompassed the whole garden, turned her body in an almost dance. “They like yah gahden.”
I looked, and I saw a grasshopper jump, swaying with the wind on the wispy strands of carrot leafs, a ladybug land on the bud of a tomato, a bright spot of red against the green, and the flash of a robin’s breast among the pale sprouts of lettuce.
Her smile was full this time, making her eyes glow and her teeth sparkle. “We love spwing!”
And then she was gone, running across the yard and disappearing into the neighborhood beyond, yet leaving a bit of something behind. A bit of something here, in my garden. Something that filled me, and nestled in my heart.
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