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The Cranium Filled with Butterflies

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I sat inside the cranium filled with butterflies. I always likened it to a cranium, anyway. A big, glass dome so foggy that it looked white, like a cranium, protecting the brain cells inside that were the butterflies, the visitors, and I. The butterflies were the brain itself; flying and processing, the colorful gray matter. The visitors were the dreams and memories, coming and going, some gentle with the butterflies, some rough. I was what organized all the colorful gray matter into something coherent and accessible. Like the connections between nerve cells.

Every day, I was inside the big glass cranium. I cupped the butterflies in my hands, the wings lighting up with the camera flashes. Tissue paper-wings. Nerve cell-thin. Then they flew away, their wings batting to the camera flashes and gasps.

And then, I came in when visitors weren’t allowed, on weekends. The cranium would be slightly gray, letting the special darkness of the outside peer in through the fog. I would sweep away the dead leaves and place fresh, shiny orange slices on elevated dishes. To keep the clock ticking. To keep the brain processing.
And I did this all because I loved it. More than anything. I love taking care of butterflies. I loved it. I loved it. Really, I did.
Now, I sat on a stone bench inside the cranium. The ancient legs were covered with moss, like little wool socks, but I made sure the moss wouldn't go any farther up. I breathed in the cranium's air and puffed it out. Ten years of being here. I'm 30 now. I didn't go to college.
A little girl sat next to me. On closer inspection, I saw that she was me.
"Um...hi," I said. What else was I supposed to say? I couldn't start freaking out! But in this situation, what could do? I sat there, trying not to stammer.
"Hi," the little girl said. Her hair was curly, just like mine. Tight, golden curls like wedding rings. "Is it fun, taking care of all the butterflies?"

"I love my job," I said. I flinched. Of course I felt bad lying to a child, but it was something else. I felt like I was cutting the wrong wire in a bomb like in those spy movies. Now I was just waiting for the explosion.
The little girl looked away. I couldn't see what she was looking at, or what she was thinking. I was waiting for an explosion, but it seemed I cut the right wire. I wasn't relieved, though. Maybe I wanted an explosion to blast me to kingdom come after all.
"I think I want to do this when I get older," the girl said. She wouldn’t look at me. For all I knew, her face could be gone. She got off the bench and her curls bounced. "My parents are calling me. I have to go." Her voice sounded rock hard and forced. She began to skip away, and I saw my parents hold her hand.
I stood up. I wanted to go to them, run to them, tell them the truth, but my feet were stuck to the cranium ground. I had a chance to take and I blew it.
You know, some people say the shape of a brain cell looks exactly like the shape of the universe. And as the door shut behind them, I knew a universe of possibilities was gone forever.

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Paradox said...
Sept. 22, 2013 at 11:38 am
This is a very elegant piece. The duality of the "cranium" acts to trap the narrator in her own mind, cleverly encompassing the very nature she loves. I am also intrigued by the apparition of the narrator's past self; though she gets a chance to fix her life, the narrator cannot bring herself to change who she is. Very well done.
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