They walk along spiraling paths under the domed ceiling of the garden pavilion. She is four. She isn’t supposed to, but it’s hard not to. And so, she does. Touch them. A broad leaf. A wandering branch. A soft flower. So much spilling out and over. Gentle. One small finger accepting the invitation. So gentle. She is sure to be gentle. Careful. So gentle and careful it’s like she never touched them at all.
Butterflies are everywhere. Look how busy. Their activity is urgent. Committed. So busy. Yet also, indirect. All over the place, her mom says. All over. Small and wild. Insistent wing beats. So many. So small. All over. In this quantity, she can hear them. Percussing the air in the yawning room. She feels the wings flutter in her ears. Loud. So much.
It is too much. She doesn’t understand it then—abundance. Later, much later, she’ll realize. Abundance has an underside. At the time, what she feels are cracks—lots of little cracks. Cracks all over. Little explosions in her body. Little collapses. Little cave-ins. Little break-ins. Life. So much life. Everywhere, all around. Shifting, surging, subsiding. There. Gone. Fast.
Her brothers are there, too. There and there. Their sneakered feet play a crunching polyphony on the pavement below. Heard all together, it is a song of varied curiosity: she goes this way, one brother that way, the other to the bench just beyond. There and there. And there. A bend. The path narrows. A bridge. Up and over.
Up she goes, glancing down at her feet. Checking. Careful. The bridge peaks and she sees it. There. A butterfly on her chest. There. Just under her collarbone. There.
She stops. Right there. Careful. So careful. The butterfly is a whisper. So gentle. So quiet. Now that she’s seen it, she can’t not sense it. So gentle and quiet, there, on her chest. Right there. Thin legs. Wings. Pulse. Slow. She breathes. Stands. Still. So still. Right there.
Her brothers continue. One brown head. One blond head. Bob away. Are gone. Stay still. So still. There. There.
She stays. Quiet. And so still. Look. Right there. The butterfly’s wings. Yellow and orange and black. So much. So small. Yellow and orange and black and. Better, even better, than what she thought was there. She stays. She breathes. Still. So quiet. So slow. The wings move so slow, up and down.
Up! Fly! Swift. Decisive. Up! Then gone. Where. She cannot find it. So much. So loud. So many. Wings beat around her. In her ears. In her chest. In the fine tunnels of her veins. She is empty, but for wings. A vessel for wings. They beat. They fly. Are there. Are gone.
Her brothers are somewhere. The flowers are blooming. The path is before her. Fly. She is there. Over the bridge. Along the path. Fly, fly. She’s gone.
Sarah Lass is a writer, dancer, and teacher whose work has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, The Good Life Review, Beyond Words, and Griffle. She was recently a finalist for prizes with New Ohio Review, Disquiet Literary Contest, and Fjords Review. Lass is currently a Lecturer in Dance at the University of Wyoming.