Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Joy (05/18/06)
TITLE: The Butterfly
By Maxx .
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I stopped filling a tumbler with too much Jack Daniel’s, my eyes transfixed by the beating wings. They spread and pumped in an irregular, uneven cadence, thrusting the tiny body against the pane.
It seemed to be working hard to get through.
My hand lowered, settling the bottle onto a table piled high with old newspapers. Since Maggie died, nobody remembered to toss them into the bin. “Well, I’ll be…” I stood, my knees stiff from arthritis. That and lack of use.
Maggie had been my bride forty-three years until one morning she didn’t wake up. A broken heart. I’d killed her, sure as if I pulled a trigger.
The sole of my slipper crushed a dropped potato chip as I stepped across the littered floor. Faint knocking whispered as the minute creature scratched and pressed.
“Foolishness.” My voice broke clipped and sour. I waved my hand. “Get out of here, stupid bug.”
Maggie had raised butterflies on the porch, each fall bringing in dozens of cocoons making ready for their spring hatching. They became her passion. She placed an easy chair near the window so she could watch them circle about the garden blossoms. Watch and pray.
Pray for me.
I’d drifted away from Maggie at the end. And God. I’d found more comfort in my bottles, letting alcohol sooth my aches and soften a lifetime of guilty scars.
I retreated from the pest at the glass, looking instead at the amber liquid calling to me.
A shudder ran along my spine and I felt my knees begin to buckle. A voice echoed, grazing the border of consciousness. It called me, spoke my name. Thunder filled my chest and breath abandoned me.
“Maggie?” I turned, my movement crippled and haggard.
The chamber was still, a tomb with me inside. I was alone ...
… save for the butterfly at the window, skittering, flapping, scratching at the glass.
I looked. It wasn’t trying to get in. I moved closer, inched near the feeble efforts of the yellow and red wings. It was trapped like me. I reached. “How’d you get in?”
It launched into the room, fluttering for an instant before my wide eyes, then crossing toward the porch.
“No, wait!” I swore, tracking its path. “I’ll let you out. Get back here.”
It vanished around the corner.
“Dimwit!” I shouted, my fingers trembling as I clutched for the bottle.
“Matson.” The voice again, pricking the borders of my sanity. “Come to me.” It called from her easy chair.
A knot pulled at my stomach as my feet stumbled. “Maggie.” I started for the porch. “Maggie! I’m here!”
Improbability tumbled through my rattled brain. Impossible, but I heard her. I lived with that voice forty-three years. It was as familiar as my own breath. And it was real, calling for me.
I rushed around the corner of the room with the easy chair facing the porch, the garden, the butterflies. “I’m here! … I’m …” Maggie’s room. I hadn’t set foot in there since …
Maggie had come every day to watch and pray. She wept for me, lifting my name up to the God I’d once served alongside her. Begging I be shown the will to finish the course. Addiction and fatigue had ripped me away, but her faith stayed firm.
Even when I’d thrown an empty bottle, cursing her stubbornness, vowing to never speak to God again.
She was called home that night.
A broken heart. Sure as if I pulled a trigger.
Movement graced the casement. Red and yellow wings stretched and preened against the glass.
One faltering step and I passed the threshold. “I’ll let you out.” Another. “You’re trapped.” I placed my hand on Maggie’s chair. It was warm in the afternoon sun, pulsing and alive. “Maggie …”
On the table, her open Bible.
“Make your hope sure.” The voice was inside me. “Release the joy you’ve buried.”
The bottle in my arm slipped to the floor, shattering.
My legs buckled and I fell to my knees, clutching the cushions as tears spilled freely. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. Forgive me, Father. Tell Maggie I’ll finish strong.”
A crumbling began inside me, an almost audible crackling as heat radiated through my body. A constricting weight lifted from my chest and I stood, hoisting my open palms toward heaven.
Somewhere within, a smile blossomed.
I strode to the widow and opened it.
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