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The Butterfly Girl and Mr. Grayton
When the carriage shivered to a halt in front of Mr. Grayton, it already contained one passenger. As he clambered stiffly into the mud-spattered vehicle, with the help of his trusty walking stick and a particularly stupid young urchin who went without a coin for his pains, Mr. Grayton noticed a young woman sitting on the opposite padded bench. Her blue and pink dress seemed a silly confection to him, all insubstantial lace and impractical taffeta. A ridiculously frilly bonnet perched precariously atop her curly head like a strange tropical bird about to take flight. In her soft pale hands she clutched a weather-beaten black suitcase tightly, its general plainness and age at odds with the rest of her ethereal getup. And upon her vapid young face she wore the most inappropriate and boundlessly joyful smile Mr. Grayton had ever been unfortunate enough to witness.
“How do you do?” he asked the girl politely, as the carriage bucked and grumbled off to a start.
“Lovely, lovely, lovely,” she trilled. Mr. Grayton was quite taken aback. “And how does a fine old gentleman such as yourself, on as wonderful a night as this?” It was raining.
“Well, thanks.” Mr. Grayton replied shortly, and peered dimly out the window. He thought of the neat stacks of papers at home waiting to be filled out, and wondered if his wife had made the pot roast he had requested previously.
“So, how was your Monday, Mr. Grayton?” asked the young woman sweetly. She started undoing the catches on her beat-up old suitcase, wide smile still fixed on her face.
“Oh, well, just like any other,” answered Mr. Grayton, and then stopped. Had he told the girl his name? He couldn’t remember, so he said nothing, and returned to his view of gray rain on a gray London.
“Mr. Grayton, I am sensing… that you are not happy.”
“What?” Startled, he looked up. Bands of light passed across the girl, or to be more accurate, the woman’s, face. She was still smiling. “I am happy,” he asserted coldly, “I am very fortunate.”
“Happy and fortunate are two very different things. Frederick, you are a married man, are you not?” The black suitcase creaked open.
“Yes, I have a wife… How did you know my name, girl? Answer me!”
“Your wife… is she happy, I wonder?” said the girl. “She should be, with a kind man like you for a husband. I bet she loves you very much.” The young woman smiled, her eyes shining. Inside the suitcase were jars and jars of butterflies. They fluttered their fragile wings delicately- cobalt, magenta, violet, scarlet, snow-white. The woman unscrewed the lids one by one, until the carriage was filled with their scintillating colors. They carried a strange, sweet, smell on their wings, a smell Mr. Grayton remembered, though from where he didn’t know. Then he knew- it was the smell of the freshly baked rolls his mother had made every morning in the farmhouse by the wheat fields. He closed his eyes and could almost feel the caress of the whispery grains on his freckled child’s cheeks, and hear his mother calling him to stop dawdling, to come in and eat. A cloud-splashed sky swung past overhead.
The vehicle jerked to a stop, and Mr. Grayton jumped spryly out, leaving it empty. He walked off into the rain, umbrella forgotten, a sunshine-colored butterfly darting after.
On his way home, he bought his wife some flowers.