The neighborhood kids called her “Maggie Maggot” because she hid inside her house like it was a concrete cocoon. Her real name was Margaret, like mine—although I was called Peg for short.
She was twenty-five. I was fifteen, and my mom was...older. We were three unlikely friends I suppose, but we shared a bond.
Margaret's Dad was in prison for killing her mother. My Dad was in prison for trying to murder my mother—when she was pregnant with me.
Those are hard, sticky words...nevertheless, they are true.
What’s worse, Margaret saw her father do it.
My mom and I were just new to the neighborhood the night it happened. We woke to sirens blaring past our house and pulsing red lights firing up the sky. The street was filled with folks clutching at their bathrobes, too afraid to speak.
The ambulance took the mother's body away and the dad was arrested. Margaret was taken to a trauma hospital in the city, where she stayed for the next six months.
Several families moved away from the neighborhood after that, but mostly the little community just tried to forget. And when Margaret came back, they pretended it hadn’t happened.
But mother and I befriended her.
I started doing small outside jobs for Margaret and delivering groceries plus two packs of writing paper weekly.
Every Thursday at the same time, I'd knock on the front door—four sharp raps—and Margaret would answer immediately. She'd take the groceries and packages of paper, thank me, and close the door.
On Sundays, mom would make a hot chicken casserole and we'd eat supper with Margaret on her back porch overlooking the pasture. We didn't talk much but there was an easy silence. The predictability of routine was comforting for all of us.
But Margaret never let us past the front door of her house, or past the hurts of her heart.
Until that day.
I knocked on her door ready with my regular delivery, but there was no reply. This alarmed me, especially after I turned the knob and found it unlocked. I phoned my mom to come, and together we went inside and up the long staircase, calling for Margaret. I couldn't help noticing the stark interior of the house. Bare floors, walls and rooms. No adornment or decoration whatsoever—anywhere. I was caught up in these observations when I heard my mother gasp. She had reached Margaret's room.
Margaret lay in bed…her face pale and blotchy, her eyes dark. She was clearly emotionally exhausted.
My mom propped her up to give her some water but she shook her head and pointed to the old oak desk in the corner. I walked over. On the desk lay several binders filled with page after page of handwritten notes. I opened the top binder.
The title page read... My Mother: The Story of One Woman's Life and Death
by Margaret Baker
“Please. Read it out loud to me.” Margaret whispered.
The next few days were spent together reading aloud the manuscript. I read slowly. Margaret listened...she looked soothed and contented. The love between Margaret and her mother was so lovingly penned it was almost startling.
We came to the last chapter.
My throat ached as I read the remaining words and Margaret's final goodbyes to her mother. I had never cried in front of anyone before but I sure did then. The sorrow came from deep within me, clawing its way up into my throat until I was screaming with rage and grief—for all of us.
Margaret was calm—serene, even—as she came to me and placed her hands on my shoulders. My mom was crying softly as she rested her head on mine. It quieted me and after some time the room fell silent again. Silent...except for a faint scratching sound in the corner. We listened. I turned towards the noise. It was a butterfly thrumming its wings against the windowpane.
Margaret walked over and held out her hand to it. The butterfly grabbed hold of her finger. My mother opened the window and we all stood...watching as the butterfly made its way to freedom.
Margaret’s book was published by the local Domestic Violence Center and later by a larger publisher. It took ten years but with collaboration and profits from book sales, we turned “Maggie Maggot’s” property into a shelter for women and children in crisis.
We call it “The Butterfly House”.
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