Benny's Butterflies

February 22, 2008
“I never meant to hurt it! I just thought it was pretty, for a beetle,” he mumbled looking at his unlaced shoes. Benny’s shoes are never laced. I should know; I’m the one who always has to do them up for him. Benny’s my little brother. He’s six and loves bugs. I’m ten and hate bugs, except for the butterfly of course. I still remember the first summer it flew into our old lavender bush because I’d never seen a butterfly so bright before. It had shimmering violet-colored wings with emerald edges and matching emerald antennae. Benny thought it was pretty too; he told me so. But I guess that’s when I should have realized I couldn’t leave him alone in the garden.

When Benny was really little, like three or four, just barely talking, he was happy to sit in the mud and poke a couple of worms before letting them continue with their grubby little affairs. For his fifth birthday, though, Benny got one of those bug-trapping kits, the kind with the green plastic cage included. He started trapping beetles and loosing them around the house or poking them into insanity with his drawing pencil. That was annoying. But, being Benny, he got his shoelace caught in a little buggy air-hole on the side of the cage after about two weeks and cracked the plastic down the middle.

Anyway, the butterfly was on some sort of schedule. It came by everyday between thirty-two and thirty-seven minutes past twelve in the afternoon and stayed for six and a half minutes, drinking lavender nectar. That’s what butterflies drink—nectar, just like the Greek gods. That’s why I said to Benny, “Butterflies are Greek gods, you know. They have magical powers and can send lightning bolts after you.” Benny was impressed.

August second was the first day I found Benny trying to catch the butterfly. He was sitting outside at twelve thirty-one with a large drinking glass and a seven-of-spades card when I found him.
Even though I knew exactly what he was up to, I asked him, “Watcha up to, Benny?”
“Oh, nothing. I was just going to watch the butterfly,” he said and tried to shove the glass behind his back.
That time, I acted really mature and sat him down and explained why he can’t trap butterflies like beetles. “They need to fly,” I said, “and that’s the end of it.”
Benny didn’t think that was the end of it. He was out the next day with the same cup and card. That time I yelled at him and said I’d hit him if he did it again. The third time I didn’t hit him, but I did make him sit in time-out for ten whole minutes. That only made him more secretive and cautious about it. One time, he went in my room and hid my glasses so I was looking for them while he went out to the old lavender bush.
On August fifteenth, the butterfly didn’t come between thirty-two and thirty-seven minutes past noon. In fact, it never came at all. I even waited outside until one o’clock, but it just didn’t show up. The next day, I searched through Benny’s room and didn’t find the butterfly, so I gave up and figured it must have decided it didn’t like our lavender bush anymore. It was pretty old, after all.
Later that night, though, I found out where the butterfly was. I like to read until late, so I use a flashlight and sometimes even stay up until ten o’clock. This was the first time I could remember Benny coming into my room after his bedtime, which is eight o’clock, but he did come in and he grabbed my shoulder with his little hand. I just remember him looking so small that night, in his Batman pajamas with the feet attached. That’s the only time Benny doesn’t have his laces undone, but that’s only because his pajamas don’t have laces. Anyway, he had his hand on my shoulder and looked really ashamed, like he had done something awful.
“I’m really sorry, Maxi,” he whispered, quiet for once.
“What for?”
“I broke the Greek butterfly.”
I sat up and he handed me the large drinking glass, which he had set the floor. I could see the wilted butterfly at the bottom, its iridescent wings glistening in the glow from my flashlight. I felt like crying. Benny did cry until I set the butterfly back on the floor and pulled him up next to me. I hugged him until he fell asleep; then, I fell asleep.
We never really talked about the butterfly after that. I buried it under the lavender bush and Benny drew a picture of it, which I hung on a window.
For his next birthday, his sixth one, I gave Benny one of those grow-your-own-butterfly kits. He was really careful about keeping the new butterfly healthy, and it eventually grew up into a yellow and black striped monos archei, which is Greek for “monarch butterfly”. Later on, Benny peeled off its clear plastic lid under the lavender bush, grinning broadly the whole while.

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