Have you ever tasted Tiger Lilies? I have. I married a butterfly. I know it sounds improbable, perhaps delusional. But I’ll get on with the story and you can decide for yourself.
One day in March, many years ago, I stood in the middle of a cornfield, among both its relics and its promise. Short stubble, pale gold and dry, covered the fallow soil. Next to me was a young girl. Her hair was the color of the corn stubble and she was dressed in a corduroy suit. It was a purple color with yellow flecks, I think. Overhead the sky was pale blue and heavily textured, like silk. You could even see the slubs. Simply, the day was perfect and suited my intentions.
Please remember that it was a long time ago and it’s difficult to be very precise about what my intentions were at that exact moment in time. But it’s fair to say that I was set on making some sort of declaration or maybe kissing the girl. I know I set my plan in motion because it didn’t come off as I had hoped. I tried to kiss the girl first and she became quite annoyed and stalked away. I thought about going after her but rejected the idea. She had simply been too emphatic in her refusal.
I clenched my fists and stood mutely, until she had disappeared through the trees that ringed the field, then let loose a great string of obscenities directed at the perfect, blue sky. I had hoped to get some reaction but it remained placid and perfect, despite my best efforts. Looking around for a suitable place to reflect, I noticed a big, fat rock just a few yards away. It had soaked all afternoon in the sun, and when I sat down, the warmth spread across my buttocks. I lifted my head, closed my eyes and let the viscous sunlight pour over my forehead and down my cheeks. The effect became osmotic and sweet slowly replaced bitter.
After a long while I opened my eyes and saw, right next to my left hand, a very large butterfly. It was as big as a kite and, of course, I sprang off the rock, heart racing, breath held. The creature didn’t move but simply sat there, beating its wings slowly and clearly enjoying the hot spot on the rock as much as I had been. Her wings were an exotic shade of purple and spangled with gold. I knew it was a She because I could smell her sex. I had never seen a butterfly with that peculiar coloration before, but her wings looked like the girl’s skirt waving on a clothesline in the spring breeze. You don’t see clotheslines much anymore. They may be more rare than kite sized butterflies.
Her eyes were even more extraordinary than the palette splashed across her wings. They sat on each side of her head like two immense licorice drops. You would have thought there had been a dragonfly somewhere in her family’s past. But rather than unnerve me, they sucked me in and down, back onto the rock. We stared at each other for a very long time. I looked back up at the sky, which I had not done for a quite a while, and saw that the sun had smoothed out the wrinkles in the sky’s cheeks and burned it a deeper shade of blue. Foamy white clouds skimmed its surface.
We began to talk. Well, actually, I began to talk. But I had never had a conversation with myself like that before. We talked philosophy, mostly about how we come to know things. It was a subject that interested me greatly at the time, and still does, by the way. We talked about the rapture of nature expressed in its colors and we talked about the sheer impossibility of such a season as spring. At last a small breeze sprang up and sent a shiver through me. Not of pleasure, but a chill shock. I turned and saw that the sun had set the tops of the trees, that lined the field to the east, smoldering deep orange. Then I felt her crawling up my arm. It did not give me the creeps, but instead I felt slightly aroused. This scared me a little. I was almost afraid to look. But when I did, there she sat on my shoulder, caressing my mind with those big, black eyes. It was time for us to go.
Slowly, she lifted her proboscis, then laid its tip lightly on my lips. It felt like a drop of hot taffy. Then she beat her wings and flew off across the field and disappeared into the thickness of the onrushing dusk. I licked my lower lip and nearly passed out. The sweetest essence of primrose flooded through me. I got up and stumbled out of the field, in a bit of a haze, but somehow firmly resolved to come back the next day.
And I did. And the day after that and again and again. Day after day became week after week. We talked about Kant and Plato and I even made up a few dumb poems, which weren’t very good but which she seemed to enjoy immensely. I could sing a little, in those days, and I would serenade her with arias. She was mad for opera and would fly in brilliant aerobatic dances to the music. She seemed to like Wagner especially well, although I wasn’t exactly a Heldentenor. She did not like pop music, but for some reason she liked Cat Stevens. Perhaps she was as confused on the subject of religion as he was, but I would never know, since we didn’t discuss god.
One day I brought my brand new boombox, of which I was very proud, and played some tapes for her. She was, if anything, even more enraptured than when I sang. I must have seemed a little hurt, for she landed on my chest and folded her wings against my cheeks. I didn’t wash them again, until the last purple fleck fell from my face a few days later.
I would often bring lunch, but she didn’t care much for the food. However, one day I finished my meal with a Popsicle. Cautiously, she laid her proboscis on the ice. At first it made her flinch. She tried again and before I knew it she had devoured an entire half!
One afternoon I made up my mind. It was a pure monster of a day in May, more sublime than any of the countless days we had known one another. The sky was an elastic blue. It was stretched tightly above the field and fitted snugly at the edges of the treetops that had sprouted sticky green leaflets. We sat on our rock; I looked into those big black licorice drops and asked her to marry me. Her reaction was so sudden it startled me off of the stone, much as she had the first time we’d met. She performed the most astonishing series of pirouettes, arabesques and dives then settled back, at last, on my shoulder. She kissed me. The tiger lilies had just begun to bloom along the roadsides. I had never tasted the color orange before. I decided that she had accepted.
I contemplated my next move and scoured the field, rather nonplused, for a clue. A few, dry cornstalks, their leaves still attached, were making a papery rattle in one corner of the field when the wind would come up. Inspiration dragged me at a sprint to the spot. Quickly, I gathered up a half dozen stalks and stacked them on end in a rather neat cone then pulled out an elastic band I just happened to have in my pocket and whipped it around the ends of the stack. Then I took off my cap and set it on top and stood back to admire our preacher.
My butterfly settled on top of the hat and stared at me somewhat expectantly. I explained the protocols and then held out my left arm. She had the idea and settled on my wrist, while I made up a few appropriate lines. We kissed and once again I was flooded in orange. Slowly, we walked back to our rock while I hummed the bridal march from ‘Lohengrin’. Gently, I deposited her there, then I raced back to my car and retrieved an orange Popsicle, which we ate for our wedding supper.
The next couple of weeks were even more blissful, if that can be imagined. But I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. This lady had a life of her own. Around noon, every day, she would fly off, to eat I imagined. For when she would return, she would cover me with kisses of the most exotic scents. Rose, of course, but also poppy and clematis and clover. Best of all was old-fashioned Hollyhock, which my grandmother had grown with such great success.
Then, one afternoon, she returned and simply sat on our rock at my side. The day was especially warm and bright, but she did not move, other than to beat her wings in an exaggeratedly slow rhythm. I dropped onto the ground, digging my knees into the soft, hot earth and looked into her eyes. She tried to raise her sweet tongue but failed. Then, in an instant, her wings simply stopped moving. I knew.
I began to weep and soon my knees were sloshing in a pool of mud. Then another extraordinary thing happened. She shrank to the size of a normal butterfly. But I did not love her any less. Inspiration seized me once again, as it always had when I was with her. I rose, took a deep breath to clear my mind, and walked back to the car. I picked up two Popsicle sticks off the floor, got my boombox out of the trunk, along with a couple of tapes, and returned to her.
I tied the two Popsicle sticks together with the elastic that had helped our preacher keep his head about him, lifted her gently into the palm of my hand and walked to a small stream that ran alongside the cornfield. Just below a tiny damn of rocks, the stream pooled for a few yards before continuing on. I had forgotten something, so I returned once again to the car and returned with its dipstick and a pack of matches. Carefully, I swabbed some motor oil onto the little raft of Popsicle sticks, then laid her gently on top.
I dropped a tape in the box and played ‘Hard Headed Woman’. Then I replaced that tape with Siegfried’s Funeral Music from ‘Gotterdammerung’. At this point my entire mouth had filled with tears and I had to keep swallowing just to breathe. For I needed breath to blow her funeral barge out into the middle of the little lake. Just before she was out of reach, I struck a match and dropped it onto the raft. To my surprise, it actually exploded in flames, consuming her body slowly. A plume of lavender smoke drifted skyward speckled with brilliant golden sparks. At last the barge itself was consumed and a pile of black ash slowly sank out of sight.
I returned for several days in the hope that her death had been an hallucination nested in the hallucination of her life. Then one day a farmer, who apparently owned the property, appeared and chased me out of his nascent cornfield with a shotgun. I returned the next March and the March after that in hopes that she might return. Finally, I took a job in the city and stopped going altogether. Then a few years later, on the exact date in March when we’d first met, with the weather exactly as it had been that brilliant day, I called in sick and headed north.
The sky was the color and texture of blue silk and the farmer, his field fallow, was nowhere to be seen. So I sat on the rock and waited. And waited. Quite a long while later, and contrary to history, a front moved in from the northwest. Storm clouds gathered. The signs were not auspicious. I had resolved to quit the place, when a girl stepped out of the woods and into the field. (She was actually a young lady.) In fact, she stepped out at the exact spot where the stream had formed the little pool where I’d buried my butterfly. Her hair was the color of the pale yellow cornstalks. She was wearing a dress of corduroy, but it was black. I didn’t care.
I jumped off of the rock and began to run toward her. I called her by the name of the first girl from that day long ago. This one seemed to become quite annoyed. I didn’t know what else to call her. I had neither named nor learned the name of my butterfly bride. In truth, she hadn’t needed one. The girl scowled fiercely and ran along the edge of the field and away from me. I chased her, but stumbled and fell as she disappeared again into the woods. I landed on a cornstalk and it tore through both my shirt and my flesh. It may have even cracked a rib. I would never know, since I never visited a doctor.
In a great deal of pain, I struggled to my feet and hurried, as best I could, to the spot where she had vanished. There was no trace of her. I returned to my car and drove back to the city. It began to rain very hard as I crossed the Tribe and saw, through the rain, the streetlights smear red and green and mercury orange across my field of vision. Or maybe it was the tears that made the colors bleed. I was crying pretty badly and must have been in a lot of pain, since it took some effort to pry my fingers off the steering wheel, when I dropped my car at the garage.
As I turned the keys in the lock of my apartment door, the sounds of the tumblers falling and the click of the door catch seemed surprisingly soothing. They sliced through the silence with keening clarity and focused me, I thought, on the finality of it all. I stepped into my apartment, left the lights off and was drawn to the windows where the rain was driving against the glass in sheets. The apartments across the avenue glowed like so many fat stars.
A sound in a corner of the living room caught my attention. It was soft and rather like the beating of my butterfly’s wings. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw, standing there, the young lady in the black dress. Surprising myself, I was neither startled nor frightened and walked over to her side. She was both exquisite and expressionless. On a hunch, I leaned to look behind her. She scowled fiercely but made no move to stop me.
I could feel my cheeks sliced open by a smile of ecstasy. I reached out and withdrew two Popsicle sticks from the belt of her dress and held them up. She smiled back. I set the sticks on an end table and replaced them with her hands. I kissed her and she kissed me back. Her lips tasted of pure water and the sweetness of life. We fell to the floor and kissed some more.
We talked. Actually talked to one another. We spoke of Kant and Aristotle. This lady seemed to prefer ethics to epistemology, but I didn’t care. We talked about the power of rain and delicate touch of color. The storm stopped. The stars rolled across the blueblack sky. We dozed and woke and dozed again. She touched my side with fingers of warm wax and I soaked up the heat. It rained again and stopped again.
At last, after what seemed to have been an endless evening, the sun came streaming into the apartment. I told her that I had to write my story. She kissed me lightly on the mouth, took my hand and helped me up. She walked into the kitchen to brew some tea and I began to write. When I had finished, we went to the window, sipped tea and observed that it was another lovely day in March. We decided to drive north.
I grabbed the keys to the car and took her hand. A shock greeted me when I opened the door and saw newspapers stacked the width and height of the hallway and spilling all the way to the elevator some twenty feet away! Was the Smith’s son doing a paper drive for Boy scouts? Was Professor Bluch doing research?
As we squeezed past the papers I saw March… on a front page in the pile nearest the elevator. I was a little grouchy after the slog around the tabloids and snatched it up, since I wouldn’t have been able to find my own beneath the mess.
On the drive north, we stopped at a small country store and I purchased an orange Popsicle, which we broke in two and shared. She did not say a word, but ate the entire half with her eyes closed, making the most delicate and exquisite sipping sounds. I tasted nothing but Tiger Lilies.
When we arrived at the field, I decided that we should sit on our rock, or my rock at least, which was just as warm and round and smooth as that first day so many years ago. I had brought the paper with us on the chance that she might fancy sports. She said she did. I picked it up and, for some reason, the date caught my attention. I did a double take.
I began to speak but she placed a finger on my lips and shook her head, her hair waving like corn silk. “Imagine,” she said, “what the next year will be like, now that we’re out in the world. “
© Paul Sinsar 2015