“You’re looking a little thin, Alfred.”
Alfred tried not to roll his eyes. All his mother was doing lately was shoving more food in his face. If he dared express his satiation, she’d just waggle her antennae at him and scoff.
“Caterpillars must eat as much as they can before the time of the chrysalis,” Alfred’s mother turned to get another leaf, her orange and black dappled wings opening and closing in a nervous rhythm. He wished she wouldn’t worry so much. At the rate she was feeding him, he’d be too fat to fly after his metamorphosis.
For weeks his life was: eat, grow new skin, molt. Repeat. He was so bored. He wasn’t even allowed to walk to his friend’s plant anymore. Too much energy wasted. He had to concentrate on eating.
Jealousy squeezed him as he watched the butterflies fluttering above the purple coneflowers. I bet they don’t have to eat all day. I bet they get to do whatever they want.
“Alfred!” His mother sung out. “Time for a snack.”
It had been ten minutes since his last snack. Alfred walked as slowly as he could and sat down.
“Open wide,” his mother said mimicking with her own mouth agape.
That night, Alfred could hardly sleep. He rolled and wiggled and tried to get comfortable but something was wrong.
His mother came to check on him. “Is everything okay, son?” Her antennae fluttered over his body feeling for the source of what ailed him.
“I don’t know, Mom. I just can’t get comfortable.”
“I know,” she winked. “Let me get you something to eat.”
Alfred groaned and put his first four legs up over his head.
The next morning, things had gone from bad to worse.
“Mom!” Alfred hollered. He couldn’t move any of his legs.
Alfred’s mother settled on a nearby branch.
“Oh, Alfred!” She cried. “It’s time. I’m so proud of you. This is your great chrysalis moment. It’ll be hard work, but you’re well-prepared. You can do it, Alfred, I know you can.”
Alfred’s mother flew away blubbering, “my baby, all grown-up…”
Alfred discovered he’d been seriously misinformed about this metamorphic process. He assumed that his wings would just grow and what he didn’t need would just sort of disappear. But this was work! He couldn’t understand how all of this awkward, painful bumping out would ever make him into the graceful creature he was meant to be.
He was nervous about life as a butterfly. He was starting to think the life of one who fluttered wouldn’t be as carefree as he’d imagined. He worried that he’d goof up his migration to Mexico. He couldn’t remember any of the Spanish his mother had taught him. And when no one in his family had lived past eight weeks, he wasn’t sure how he’d survive six months.
Exhaustion took over, and Alfred fell into a deep sleep.
A bird’s chirping nearby startled him awake. He knew he was fairly safe in the chrysalis, but his brother had been eaten by a robin a few weeks ago, and the sound frightened him terribly.
After things grew quiet again, he decided it was safe to do his morning stretches. But this morning, his body felt different. In the middle of his biggest stretch he heard a big FLAP!
Alfred was nervous it was a bird’s wing. He turned to look behind him, and saw enormous black and orange wings with tiny little speckles of white on the edges. He was so startled that he forgot to hold onto the branch.
He felt the air swirling around him.
So this is how it ends. He thought. After all this hard work, I’m going to die because I forgot to hold onto the branch.
He heard someone shouting, it was getting louder and louder.
It was his mother, fluttering frantically nearby.
“Bat your wings, Alfred! Bat your wings! Fly, honey, fly!”
Sometimes we can’t see what we’re capable of until someone points it out, and that’s how it was for Alfred. It never dawned on him that he’d already turned into a butterfly. He still thought of himself as a caterpillar.
He realized the beautiful wings he’d seen earlier, were his, and he began to beat his wings rapidly. Within seconds, he was soaring above the tallest flowers in the garden.
Alfred’s mother clutched her legs to her chest, pride exploding through her antennae. “I knew you could do it, Alfred! I knew you could do it!”
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