A Chapter from “Butterflies”

Mother’s Day

Sam lay down after wrapping his arm in a towel and his belt around that. In 10 minutes, he was asleep. In 10 minutes more, I had bandaged the arm and walked back down to the patio, and was relieved that Tina was still there.

Are you okay?” she asked.

Yeah. Sorry about that. I get these spells and I black out. Did I say anything weird?”

I asked the question to prompt the discussion I knew she wanted to have.

Say anything?” she laughed nervously. “No, not much. You just shoved a fork into your arm.” She pointed at the spots of blood leaking through my shirt.

Oh, yeah. That happens. Thought I was past that point. Those points. Sharp points, as it were.” I smiled at my own bad joke, trying to turn the seriousness aside with humor. She wasn’t really buying it, but was too smart to pry.

Was it something I said?” she asked.

Just that part about leaving things behind. That probably was part of it. That’s hard. Really hard. I’m sorry you have to go through that.”

Sam doesn’t know why he dug the fork into his arm, and won’t when he wakes. He just reacts when the pain gets to where he can’t stand it anymore. He self destructs. He simply doesn’t want to be.

It wasn’t Tina’s word’s, certainly, and not what happened that is so painful. It’s that he can’t go back and fix it. That he is doomed forever to dance on knife blades of remorse. That’s why he can’t remember. That’s what he wants to leave behind with suicide.

Sam doesn’t know, but I remember the day so clearly. I don’t know how old Abby was, but my image of her is at age nine or ten. I was on my way to pick up Abby at grade school. It was uncharacteristically hot for Seattle, and had been a wet Spring and it was humid as the sun pulled moisture from the earth.

I was on time, though I’d had to break off work in the middle of a painting that was going pretty well. That’s frustrating, because the muse doesn’t always return. Sometimes good work is lost because of interruption. Bt the alarm went off and I left the studio because I didn’t like being late picking up Abby.

When I got to the round-about at school where parents were parked and waiting, kids were streaming out the front door. Young boys tore around, yelling, some mock fighting, others playing keep away, blowing off energy pent up by hours inside. Some girls were nearly as rowdy at that ambisexual age, while others were more reserved, beginning to take on roles of womanhood.

Abby finally appeared and I groaned, because I could tell by her posture and pace that she wasn’t happy. And when Abby wasn’t happy, she didn’t want anything in her world to be happy.

Hi, Butterfly,” I said when she got in the car.

Hi,” I got in the soft, drawn-out sad voice.

What’s the matter, Sweetheart?”


Something must be the matter, You seem quite sad.”

She had been working at the edges of a large paper bag, so I asked her what was inside.

A Mother’s Day present.”

Really? Let me see it,” I said.

She pulled out a clay bowl of some sort, typical child art.

That’s beautiful. What is it?” I asked. Mistake.

It’s a candle holder!” she said, irritated I didn’t know..

Oh, I see. The candle goes in there.” I hoped seeming stupid would cover for my gaffe. I also hoped that the SUV in front of me would pick up their child so I could get out of the tightly bunched line of cars.

It’s beautiful. So why so sad?”

I want a mother like the other kids have,” she said, which of course cut me deeply. She said it while looking out at the front of the school. I wasn’t the only dad picking up kids, but mostly it was women in their 30s, laughing and gossiping with each other as their children ran about.

You do have a mother like the other kids have. She just works, so I pick you up from school.”

It’s not the same thing,” she said.

I let my own hurt feelings mingle with Abby’s. They distiled into a toxic cloud inside the car, even with the windows open.

Well, then you can give me the mother’s day present.” I laughed, but my laugh was bitter. She didn’t think it was funny at all. I got a frown.

There’s nothing I can do about it,” I added, somewhat dismissively. Abby would just have to cope, just as I was coping, and Sarah was coping. Becky was a lawyer and had a heavy case load and was already making more money than I did, which added a bit of humiliation, a condiment for my meal of self-doubt.

You could get a real job so mom could stay home,” Abby said.

Double blow: You don’t have a real job. I would rather have mom. I walled up.

Sweetie, I have a job, and even if I had a different one, your mom is doing what she wants to do.”

I knew it was cruel as soon as I said it. We were free of the school traffic at last and slogging through the afternoon crush of a Friday. I bit my lip and tried to fix it.

Sweetheart, your mom loves you every bit as much as other moms love their kids. It’s no different.”

It’s not the same,” Abby said, looking out the window.

Let me see your candle holder again,” I said, hoping praise might bring her around.

I don’t want to.”


She reluctantly pulled her sculpture from the paper bag.

You did a very nice job with that. I think it will throw light out of those holes onto the wall and will be just beautiful. Your mom will love it,” I said.

I don’t like it anymore,” said Abby.

Why? It’s beautiful.”

It’s not the color I wanted. I wanted it to be the same color as the jewelry box on her dresser. It’s too dark.”

Abby, you don’t necessarily want things to match perfectly. Some variation in shade of the same color is what you want. They compliment rather than copy each other.”

I didn’t realize in the moment how tone-deaf I’d become. But Abby, as always, was about to show me.

I am sure your mother will love it. She has to, because she’s your mother and she loves you.”

No she won’t. It’s too dark. It’s ugly. I hate it,” Abby said, and threw the clay candle holder out the window of the car. In the rear view mirror, I saw it shatter against a concrete bridge abutment over the river than ran through town, down to the sea.

Abby!” I said, partly in shock at the permanence of her act, unsure whether to say something about pedestrian safety, littering, or give her words about finding something else for her mom. But I didn’t say anything else. What else could I say?

What could I possibly say to a little girl who was sobbing uncontrollably in the car next to me, sobbing because I was the one sitting there and not the mother she loved?

It was misting when the bus crossed over the central spine of Isla Mariposas. As soon as the bus got over the top, farms became jungle, lushly dense and dark; houses turned to shanties on stilts; smells went from floral to fecal; music grew louder and more rhythmic. Mist at the mountain top turned to a hard rain.

Along side the road, a young boy picked up a banana leaf, at least as long as he was tall, and held it over his head to keep dry. When the weather here changes, find a shelter if there is one, and if not, find a leaf.

Or maybe just get wet, while waiting for the rain to stop, waiting for the sun to come out once again.

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About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

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