Butterfly

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Negative One

 

In the beginning, I got born. The doctor handed me to my mother and said good luck. I was crying. My father came in the room with a handlebar mustache, and my mother said good luck to him. Out the windows, specks of dead stars were falling out of the sky, landing in the ocean, hissing. Grandma and grandpa came by and said hello, good luck. The other grandma and grandpa came by and said there was no such thing as luck, don’t be superstitious. Shortly thereafter, they died.

 

I eased off  my crying. I was in an orange and brown apartment belonging to my mom and dad. There was a songbird singing in a cage, and a big German Shepherd named Cybil, sniffing me. I was just a baby and already I saw that my mom and dad locked up things that sang, and kept a hungry beast to keep the peace and protect the house. I really stopped my crying then, they didn’t have to feed me to their beast. I was a big hit.

 

I was quiet. I had my first revery. My first daydream. I crawled across a field of wildflowers, and then through the dark forest, on the other side of which I saw a white farmhouse. I crawled up the stairs and through the door and inside I found a white room with nothing in it yet, because I had no memories to put there. I went home.

 

I opened my eyes and could see color. I noticed a butterfly in the yard. I said, Hey butterfly. The butterfly said, Hey baby, good luck. My mother sang to me, bounced me on her knee, was kind; my father told me jokes, impersonated Mickey Mouse, acted like an airplane, flew me around the orange room. They were both so gentle.

 

But it was already boring. I decided to leave the suburbs. I daydreamed to the white farmhouse of memory. There were two rooms now: the room you entered from the porch, and another room beyond that. When I opened that new door, I saw my first memory. That butterfly. The butterfly was just bouncing around that room like the flame of a candle that had gotten loose. I said to the winged flame, Good luck. And it laughed and replied, Hey baby, good luck. I wasn’t saying it in English yet. It was okay, the butterfly spoke baby too.

 

My brother William was born, it was his turn to begin. He was named after grandpa who had just died. We spoke to each other in baby, after he was done crying, after he was home and used to being alive long enough that he was quiet.

 

I said to him, Googoogaga, explaining joy. I said, Googoogaga, explaining pain. And then I said, Googoogaga explaining love, and he didn’t believe me. Of course, this was nothing new, people had been not believing each other for hundreds of thousands of years. And not that I knew what hate was yet. Life was still sweet, was still cotton candy. Not that I knew woe, or sorrow, or disappointment, or misery, or suffering, just yet. There was nothing to not understand yet. It was all so clear. I was just a baby. I’d been born some five hundred days earlier, and I had most things figured out. My brother was just two days old, and he had some things figured out too.

 

I went back to the house of memory. Real life was a snooze, I’d seen it all already, I was in kid corduroys and had left diapers behind. I stumbled inside. Willie was there in the second room with the butterfly. Some dandelions on the floor. He sat on his butt and drooled. When the butterfly landed on his head, he didn’t even notice. I fell over, down to his level, crawled the rest of the way. I wasn’t sure-footed yet. The butterfly said, Later gator, and flew out the window. I sat with my brother saying, Googoogaga, and he said, Googoogaga, but what we were saying to each other was, This place is really nice. It’s bright and white, and there’s nothing to worry about. We kept saying that, Nothing to worry about. He discovered his hand, or the memory of him discovered his hand, I mean. He looked down at his palm, and then all his fingers. What are these? he asked in baby. What are these miracles? It was always something nice to do on a Saturday night, go and watch Willie discover the miracle of his hands, and I still go there now if there’s nothing else to do on a Saturday night.

 

My mother was singing. Our mother was singing, outside the memory. I left those white rooms, and the white house of memory, opened my eyes in my racecar bed, and she was holding Willie in her arms, but he was almost too heavy for her to carry now. He chewed his fingers. I said, Hello. He spoke baby to me. Do you know what he said? He said, Googoogaga. But I didn’t speak baby anymore and I couldn’t understand.

 

My mother filled up the house of life with things she did for me, with me, games we played, and laughter. I put the memory of those happy things in my house of memory. I put Cybil in there too. When she died, I went and opened a door and she was still alive, woofing at a TV, at another dog, barking in an Alpo commercial. Imprisoned in an Alpo commercial. Help, let me out, the dog was woofing, in dog.

 

Now I could talk. And I walked into the house of memory, and found it had grown and changed. There was a hallway now, there were three doors. When I pushed them open, I saw scenes from each year of my life. I saw what it had looked like from my baby eyes to see the legs under the table. I saw Cybil, she was monstrous, filled up almost the whole room; but then behind another door, she was smaller; behind the third door I could look down at her. Cybil was shrinking, or I was growing. Either way, it worried me. I had discovered time. But didn’t know what death was yet, and couldn’t truly know time until I knew death. Good luck. Good luck. Good luck.

 

One day I’d find death, sitting cross legged on the floor, picking through a pile of Cybil’s bones. But I had not discovered pain, or sorrow, or what the hands of the clock meant.

 

So, my dog was gone. Yes, I knew that. Dad said, She’s gone to the farm. He said it in a voice like Mickey Mouse. Handlebar mustache erased.

 

The next time I noticed the house of memory was different I could speak English. My brother could walk. My father was troubled by something. Was bald. My mother was troubled by something too. Wore glasses. Then I noticed, Oh wait, everyone is troubled, it’s not just them. It’s being alive. And I was troubled too. By what? I didn’t know. Time, or heat, or sleep, or falling off a bicycle and then off the edge of the world. So that’s what trouble is. It’s whatever you can make of it. I closed my eyes.

 

I ran from room to room, opening doors, telling the memories they should come out and play, and when they smiled and tried to walk through the threshold, I slammed the doors in the face of the memories. Behind the doors I heard them crying. And that felt nice. I went outside and sat in the sun. Through the windows I saw the memories looking out and I said, Bad luck. I picked up a rock and threw it at the window. The windows couldn’t break. I noticed a younger me, in there. Just a baby. Crying. How strange it was to make myself cry.

 

Everyone was troubled, and sour, except the man on the sun, who kept the fires burning and kept us lit up so I could play. The clouds drifted overhead on a conveyor belt. I watched the clouds change into the shapes of my future. I read them all day long. I couldn’t read English yet, but I could read the clouds. An alarm was ringing. I opened my eyes in my bedroom, and it was time for my first day of school. I put my overalls on. I went in search of the ABCs.

 

When I knew letters and numbers and the spelling of some important words, I went back to the house of memory. I’d kept my distance from it. But I went back with blue chalk stolen from the teacher. I opened each door and wrote how old I was behind each door. It was easy. Later, when I came back, the chalk was there on the doors, but when I looked behind the door, I saw things had changed at random while I was away,  as if some part of a game.  Just another visit or so, and I would settle on what it was. Chaos.

 

I drew a smiley face on each door, and went back to school.

 

 


Photo by Kristen Felicetti

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

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