Mechanical Butterfly This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

September 22, 2012
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Crisp wings pressed tightly against each other, the papery texture rubbing across, beating so fervently like a heart. That’s all I saw when I first saw the butterflies. The wings, paper wings that fluttered in the air like airplanes, tissue wings that crumbled as easily as dust, somehow were waiting. Waiting for an escape, waiting for release from its bleak solitude, release from their ivory cages. The wings, they were waiting for me. But, I did nothing. Like the butterflies, no words could escape my lips, the words only fleeting, only fluttering as it caught inside my throat. They pressed inside me, yearning to fly away, yearning to beat its wings, but not a word was spoken. I couldn’t; I wasn’t supposed to be here, watching Father. It was already past four o’clock, my curfew. All I did was watch silently as Father tore apart their wings. Painting over the brilliant hues with white, sticky glue, Father plastered the wings onto the paper, scribbling species and classes, and continued to destroy the remaining butterflies. One-by-one, he plucked the wings from their frail bodies and their beady eyes stared at me, flailing its antennas for what meager life it had left, and they screamed. Screamed at me with their immense silence, their quivering wings. And I did nothing, but watch hands pluck their wings, scattering them onto the cold table like flower petals.

The children came today. The noisy, bustling creatures came into my home. I don’t know why. Father tells me that it’s one of their field-trips. Something from school, he says. Something from somewhere I don’t go to. But, why must they come here? Why not anywhere else, but here? What is the need for that entire nuisance? With them here, I can’t think. I can’t practice piano. I can’t study. I can’t tend the garden. I can’t even quietly read Charles Dickens to myself. I can’t. I can’t do anything with their endless chatter and touching. Those rats (or rascals Father liked to call them) have invaded my privacy and my home. All they did was touch things; they touched Father’s specimens, laying their grubby fingers on his taxonomy collection and spreading their prints onto the test tubes. No matter what I did to shoo them away, a bigger crowd came, eyes bulging out of their minuscule sockets as they gazed at the concoctions within the test tubes. This one group especially was a bother. Led by this spindly boy with ruffled hair and cap, the group came right up to me and rapped their knuckles on my fingers.
“What’s wrong with you?” he asked, “Are you special or something? Why do you walk so funny?” The other children laughed. What’s so funny? I didn’t know what to say. Didn’t I walk just the same like the rest of them? Father says I’m just a little different from everybody else. I just had a more difficulty than others when I was born. A mere malfunction with my body’s internal programming, Father would joke. One of the kids nudged the boy and chuckling, whispered something into his ear. The boy grinned, a wide smile spreading across his face. “Talk to me,” the boy demanded, “Are you slow or something? Say something back for all that you’ve done. Speak to me, you freak.”
What was the meaning of freak? A friendly word, perhaps? I didn’t know what he was talking about. Father only taught me words that he considered “useful”. Like idiosyncrasy, plebeian, and other words that he acknowledged as just balderdash. Words he considered not a waste of human language. Perhaps maybe I should include the word freak as a pressing matter Father and I would discuss at the next Evaluation. That is definite. The boy soon sauntered over to me with a pompous and arrogant stride and whispered into my ear something that I don’t understand. Later, I asked Father what exactly the boy meant and for a moment, fear crossed Father’s eyes. His hands shook, blue veins bursting against his yellowed skin, and he pulled me closer to him. He told me that they meant nothing, that they were only trying to scare me, and said that I must stay away from the children when they come again.
Father still hasn’t told me what the boy meant.
Accident. It was an accident. A horrible, terrifying accident, Father told me. I could’ve died. I almost did. But, I can’t tell anyone. It’s a secret between him and me. I can’t break my promise. I can’t. If I keep it, he told me I could have anything I wanted. So, I told him I wanted the butterflies. Father cast me a worried gaze, a bead of sweat dotting across his furrowed brow, and asked me why, as if he was puzzled over my request. He looked at me like I did something wrong. Like I was someone he didn’t know, like I was a stranger. I didn’t know why. What was so strange about the butterflies? Was it too much to ask for? I only wanted one. One of the butterflies to keep safe. One of the butterflies to be mine. He asked me, “Why? You could have anything you wanted, anything you dreamed of, and all you ask is for a single butterfly?” He looked at me with such disappointment, such regret, that I felt ashamed. I was sorry to displease him. I hate to displease Father. But, after a moment, he shook his head. He straightened out his white coat he always wore and told me that I could have my butterfly if I wished. I just only had to keep my promise. And I will keep it. I’ll keep the promise under lock and key, sealed between my lips. I won’t tell a single soul. Just as long I could have one of those butterflies.
The teenagers come again, but I’m not there to welcome them. (Father taught me the correct term. Apparently, they are no longer “children”, but not yet quite adults. He also said that by definition, I am also a teenager. I don’t agree with him. How can I be homogeneous to those rambunctious creatures and their antsy shenanigans?) Part of me is glad. Those kids did nothing but wreck havoc across the laboratory, rendering myself into this dysfunctional mess. With their noise and distractions, I have seemed to neglect my work and my studies. I am far behind on writing my paper on the analysis of Tale of Two Cities. But, another part of me wishes I could be there. I want to speak to the boy again; I want to be seen; I want to be acknowledged. It gets quite lonely here in the garden. All I have here are the birds and insects to talk to and they respond back in unfathomable sounds I can’t interpret.
In addition, the garden is too dreary and lackluster for me to be entertained. There are no butterflies here; only black, tiny ants that squish beneath my boots and seem to run everywhere through the leafy green plants. Plus, the weather is just sunny every single day. Yesterday, I asked Father if I could change the setting in the garden to snow (approximately 35 degrees Fahrenheit), but he said no. It was illogical, he stated, since all the essential plants that were necessary to his research will die. So, then I proposed that perhaps my longings will be quelled if he released the butterflies into the garden. He shot down my request, claiming that it wasn’t natural for them to be there. As much as I wanted to throw a tantrum, I had to comply with his reasoning. Father was always right. Was he?
Please forgive me, Father. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t mean to talk to him. The boy came to me. (Please note: I am not trying to scapegoat someone for my grievances. It truly was his doing.) The boy with the frayed black hair and olive skin and wide coal eyes that slid into little slits when he smiled. The boy with angular arms and bony knuckles that rapped on my fingers. The boy who whispered phrases to me that I did not understand. That boy. He came to me again, without his friends, and apologized.
“Sorry,” he repeated over and over, “I’m sorry for what I did.” I didn’t understand what he was apologizing for, so I just nodded and smiled. For some infallible reason, he seemed to know that I was unaware of what he was speaking of. He promptly sat next to me, crossing his legs against the dirt, and started to pull out weeds. The boy asked softly, “What’s your name?”
I didn’t know what to say. My name? What was my name? Father always liked to call me Daughter or Darling, but I didn’t think that was suitable. I never kept contact with anyone else… I shouldn’t even be talking to him. Father had direct orders for me to stay away. Contact with them was prohibited. I mustn’t commit an infraction. Not again. Perhaps this was a test Father planted. A test to see if I will crack under pressure. I said nothing in reply.
“Are you still mad?” he prodded, “I guess, it’s what I deserve for treating you that way. I don’t know what came over me. You just looked like someone I used to know. I don’t like what I did, but it just came out of me. Especially since my sister…” The boy paused for a moment, sadness washing over his face, and then changed the subject. “Anyways, I’m Alex and it’s nice to meet you.”
I wanted to talk to him so desperately, but something inside me forced me not to. I wanted to, but Father said no. I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I wanted to and I can. If he’s not here, then how will he know?
Apple. The fruit Father had forbidden. The fruit I had never tasted before. Its sticky juice trickled down Alex’s chin as he bit into it. He handed one towards me. It’s so red, so red that I already want to eat it, that I want to taste it. From his palms, it looked so sweet, so delicious. Warily, I take it from Alex’s cupped palms and bring it closer to my mouth. I inhaled the sugary aroma and bit into it. With my teeth, I carved the shape of a butterfly.
I feel guilty, I really do. But, what Alex told me was so interesting, so irresistible. He told me things I never knew. Things Father never told me. Things like how animals communicated in a different language than we did, how rain and snow and sweltering heat felt like, how delicious and scrumptious ice cream tasted like when it melted onto your tongue, what things called friends were. Alex told me everything and I ate them up like chocolate (whatever that thing is), savoring every bite and yearning for more.

“So, what exactly did you mean that day?” I asked him as we lay underneath the canopy of trees.
“What day?” Quizzically, he turned towards me.
“You know the day we first met?”
“Oh, that day? Forget about it. I was being a jerk.” His coal eyes stared at me, pleading for me not to press further. But, I want to know. I want to know what he meant.
“No, I really want to know what you said.” In turn, I gazed back at him, but Alex doesn’t say anything. He rolled over, his back facing me. “Alex?”
“You know, that day I thought you were my sister’s best friend. I thought you were the girl who made snarky quips at my sister, stabbing her in the back when she wasn’t looking. The girl who called my sister a freak and a moron just because she was slow. Just because she was special, just because she was different. I thought you were the girl who bullied my sister into suicide,” he muttered darkly, “but, when I look at you, I don’t see you in her. I don’t see that girl in you at all.”
“How? How do you know I’m not her?” I cried out. Alex faced me now, resting his palms on top of mine. His breath was warm and his eyes are glazed over and for a moment, I’m afraid at what he’s going to say.
“Ever wonder why your fingers are so perfect?” he asked me, tracing over the lines of my palms with his finger. “Ever wonder why they don’t look like mine?” Alex’s fingers are bruised and angular, bones sticking out in some places while others are just a thin meaty line; my fingers are perfectly symmetrical, not one flaw in place.
“Alex, just tell me. Just tell me please.” My voice quivered.
“The reason I know you’re not her,” he said to me, “is because she’s dead.”

What part of me is not a lie? I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m not even human. I’m only a machine set out to be only Daughter. Who is Daughter? Not me. Nothing’s real here. Nothing, nothing, nothing. Not me, not the garden, not even the butterflies. Father doesn’t know that I know the truth. That I know he’s hiding behind a façade of lies and only living in the delusion that his daughter was alive. I guess Father blames himself for her death. Blames himself for everything he’s done. I’m just her replacement. Just an android to become the daughter he once had. A daughter who dutifully obeyed him on any whim. Like his butterflies, Father had kept me caged, isolating myself from the world, but never dared to rip out my wings. I was too fragile; he was too deluded. I am only Father's mechanical butterfly, a butterfly that Alex has finally set free.

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