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The Boy and the Butterfly
Author's note: Inspired by two works: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and The Shack by W.M Paul Young. I want people to see that people find love in different things, and even a wall can't stop the strongest of bonds.
It’s strange how lost a typical week gets when stacked up against an entire year. Years get lost among decades, and decades among a life. Lives become mere placeholders, most of them are remembered by a few people, but a few of them are remembered by many. It’s not about who remembers you, but what they remember you for... I haven’t yet decided what I’ll remember him for.
This is the story of a boy and a man, and everything in between.
The carnival was on a Sunday. Our first day in the new town, I felt the need to be excited, but a lack of pure excitement. With each year, I find my amounts of purity in fewer and fewer doses. I used to jump at the sight of a butterfly, what with it’s fragile figure and it’s delicate wings. We as humans are built sturdily and strongly, but all the bones and limbs will never make us fly. A butterfly, it gets a mere inch or two of body, yet can travel faster and farther than the biggest and tallest human. Now, I guess I don’t think about those things too much. As a child, I had enough time and enough innocence to wander, but as the naivete that once filled my body slowly dissolved, I found myself turning into less of a child and more of a human. See the difference in my mind between children and humans is that children get to live, while humans are just alive. The day I changed from a child to a human was on the day of the carnival, on that Sunday.
The clown didn’t scare me, the man on the stilts didn’t tower over me, and the cotton candy didn’t please me. Dad asked why am I so sad. I told him I wasn’t sad, just unimpressed. I guess it was the combination of the move and mom that really bothered me. See, what I’ve learned from my few short years is that a lot of times when something bad happens, something good goes away. The day mom left was the day I lost my freedom. The move was meant to rid our family of the past, of the scars and the bruises. Little did dad know was that those scars were indeed, scars, they were not going away.
I met the town on a Monday. It was the first time it hadn’t been raining, so I felt it fitting to leave the safety of our home, and see the town for what it was. On one side of our home was a large mansion, but it had fences stacked on top of one another so high, that you could not see over them even if you were a butterfly. But the fences served for another method of protection: to keep the poor out. I suppose there is one major detail I neglected to inform you of. See this town is unlike most. The council claimed it was for population purposes, as well as a method to lower the people’s taxes. The neighbors on our side said it was a safety precaution, and the neighbors on the other side... well we don’t see them often enough to hear their take on it all. The media attempted to keep it from the rest of the country by threatening the townspeople and shutting off all our forms of communication. But word leaked, and people know. They know that there’s a wall that separates the rich from the poor, that the poor can’t leave, that the rich won’t let them. I guess that the rich are afraid that if the poor get out, they will tell people how unjust and immoral the whole thing is.
The reason we came to the town was merely because dad got a job. The reason we came to move into this particular house is because it was on the market for an extremely low price. I guess it was cheap because it was on the edge of the poor side, right on the Wall. Ten feet high and covered in moss, the Wall served as a daunting reminder of the “bad” that might be on the other side. Next to our house was a mansion, just like most of the houses on the rich side. On Monday I met the people that lived in that house next to us. I walked outside to walk to the lake, when I spotted to nearly identical boys about my age, dressed like neat done-up dolls. Their faces were clean and shiny, but far from pure. Their clothing was clearly manufactured by the most well-known and fancy brand, tailored and trimmed perfectly. Their hair was combed to the side, both of them with a colic that stuck out like Alfalfa. I watched as they skipped in matching strides towards an expensive-looking car that was waiting on the curb. The windows were tinted, and all I could make out of the driver was that she seemed to have a wicked smirk on her face.
The house across from me was of the same size and stature as that of my neighbors. However, it was far from magnificent. It lacked the homely feel I remembered from our last home. Standing outside, I watched as a fat old man wobbled out of his driveway to pick up the morning Script. As he bent down, I winced in disgust as his bottom leaked out from his tight fitting robe. As he stood up, he glanced in my direction, took one look at me, then at my house, and turned to head inside.
But this story isn’t about the two boys next door, or the woman who drove them, or even the fat old man. It’s about the other side of the wall, and how I came to know it quite well.
I met the Wall on a Tuesday. When dad gets mad, he leaves the house. He always says he’s going for a walk, but he often comes back with foul breath, spitting anger and spewing frustration. When he would come back from his “walk”, mom and I would always go outside, where she’d tell me a story. Sometimes she’d tell me about the Indian Chief, a white woman taken in by an Indian tribe, who worked her way up to the top of the totem pole. Other times she’d tell me the one about the lion cub who, neglected by it’s pride, found a home amongst a pack of hollering hyenas. But my favorite one was about a young boy, who left his town for no particular reason other than to see the world. The boy traveled for 14 days and 14 nights, and walked from one side of the country to the other, with no goal or purpose. Finally, he returned home to his town, to find that of all the places he had seen, this was where he wanted to be most. But mom wasn’t here anymore. So I went outside to the sound of dads screaming, and sat against the Wall. I wondered what made this side rich and that side poor, and why we needed the Wall, and why people allowed for this to happen. I thought about the two boys who were my neighbors, and why they let their mom dress them up like that, and I thought if mom were here with me, we would have laughed at the boys together. I thought about the fat old man, and why he looked at me that way. Then I thought of how he would have looked if he saw someone from the poor side, then I thought about how I would have looked. Then, mixed amongst the screaming from dad, and the howling of the wind, I could make out faint groans and sighs. I turned behind me and saw no one, then I listened closely to the Wall. The sounds got louder, and I could hear some mumbles and murmurs from the other side.
“ Is someone there?” I asked.
“ Are you okay?”
“ Yes. A tad under the weather is all.”
“ Well, sorry to hear that. It’s nice to meet you, uh, sir.”
“ Same to you young man. What brings you so close to the Wall?”
“ My family just moved in, I sat down to think a while. Can I ask you a question mister? Why are you over there and I’m over here?”
“ I guess it’s the same reason there are genocides and epidemics, and pain and struggle.”
“What reason is that?”
“For no reason at all.”
I met sickness on a Wednesday. It came in a strange way, unexpected and uninvited. I feel as if that is how it often comes. I woke up to church bells, and looked out the window to see the two boys next door, dressed in their finest Christmas suits. I never understood religion, maybe because I never made an effort to get to know it, maybe because it never made an effort to get to know me. I guess what I don’t get is how people can rely so heavily on something they don’t know exist, and then put all of their trust into it. They say after something bad happens you look to god for help. After mom left, I trusted god even less. I mean, what’s the explanation when someone you love so much leaves you.
I went back to the Wall in the early afternoon. I was welcomed by the same groaning that I heard the day before.
“Hello again.” I said.
“ Why hello young fellow, nice to hear your voice again.”
I sat there solemnly. I wanted to ask him something. I wanted to ask him a million things. Instead, all I asked was, “why?”
“ Why what? Why am I here? I’m here because I’m sick, and they don’t want me infecting your side. Why is there a wall? Well kid, sure as hell if I know. We think about it every day. Think how even if we wanted to go to your side we couldn’t. Think about how regardless of how hard we work there’s no escaping. Thinking about how sad of world it is when people are locked up because their ill, or poor or different. “
“ Why do they put people on your side?”
“ Why? Well they put just about anyone who isn’t “right” over here. They put the retarded, the minorities, the criminals, the immigrants, the blacks, the greens, the yellows and the purples. They put the questioning, the creative minds, the innovative ones, the smart, the helpful, the helpless, the harmful and the harmless. They put the alive and they put the dead and everything in between.”
“ So, have you been over here before?”
“ Sadly. My ticket into this place was my sickness, and if I have it my way, it’ll be my ticket out. By the way, Merry Christmas kid.”
I met winter on a Thursday. It blew down the tree in the fat old man’s yard so he couldn’t get the paper. It filled the the two boys driveway up with snow so the woman could not park the car. Funny how things happen. They say everything happens for a reason, but mom used to always say that things happen because you make them happen.
I met the man on a Friday, right after Winter left. We had talked before, but never for an extended period of time. We discussed everything. His family that he left behind on my side of the Wall. we talked about how my mother left, then about how his mother did the same when he was young. Then we talked about how he got sick. He said the reason he’s always next to the wall is because that’s where they put his bed. See on his side there were no homes, just beds, stacked up next to each other as far as the eye can see, he said. I guess we were both on the edge of our side. I said maybe we could switch for a couple days. He said he couldn’t put me through that. I asked how they got food shipped to his side if there was a wall. He said they ate what was within the Wall; some ate animals, some crops, some humans. He said when you’ve been hungry long enough you’ll jump at the chance to eat a cockroach. I asked what he thought about religion. He said he didn’t understand religion until he went to his side. You see, he said, some people survive through the idea of faith. The only thing that keeps them going is the sheer knowledge that there might be someone somewhere who can make everything better. I told him about the two boys, and asked why they needed religion because they had everything they wanted. Why couldn’t they save the religion for people who actually need it, people who are sick. Everyone’s sick kid, he said. For some it’s just more apparent than others. I asked if he still wanted to come back to this side. He said the only reason he’d come back is to see the lake. He said the only two things that are still pure in this world are the unspoiled mind and the untouched land. Everything else is impure. He said you can’t have an unspoiled mind unless your on untouched land. These days, he said, untouched land was few and far between. The lake was the last of the untouched land in the town, that’s why no one goes to it, because all of their minds are spoiled.
I thought about what the man said, about unspoiled minds and whatnot. That night, I left my toy car, hoping that if he ever got it,could use it to drive away in. I also left him a photograph of my me and mother, with a note that read, “ If you ever see this, you’ll know my face. So if we ever meet at the lake, you’ll know who I am. “
I met death on a Saturday. I went to the Wall, and heard no response. No sighing or moaning or groaning. No mumbling or murmuring, shaking or shuffling. No creaking or croaking, prodding or poking. Just the still sound of silence. For a couple seconds, everything seemed to be silent. I could not hear dad screaming inside, or the sound of the woman in the car picking up the two boys, or the fat old man whining about how far down the paper was from his lazy, wrinkled hands. It was weird to hear nothing. I didn’t think much of the nothingness until I remembered the man’s living situation. He was on a bed, with nowhere to go. I didn’t believe he had just gotten up and left, for that would have been quite the commotion I would have heard. So I went back inside.
That night dad came in screaming and shouting. So I left. I walked down to the lake, and sat there for a while amidst some seagulls and a scattered showing of some boys and girls on their bicycles, and some homeless men lying on park benches. When the boys and girls left, and the homeless men went to sleep, the only sound to be heard was the dripping of the water as it dropped from rocks onto the ground. I walked in circles around the lake. I walked the mile with mouse-steps, carefully avoiding cracks and trying to move as slowly as possible. I skipped and I danced happily across the bed of rocks, humming to the beat of my own music. I laughed at nothing, and shouted at no one. I sat down on a bench that didn’t exist, and threw a rock at a figure that wasn’t there. I jumped off a cliff that never stood, and into a world that I never saw. I cried tears I couldn’t create, and held hands with a woman I didn’t know. For those minutes I was living.
I met life on a Sunday. The same day I met the butterfly. I met them both when I saw the man.
No longer waist-deep in debt, and rid of regret, the man lies motionless. To his left is a toy car. To his right, a photo. His eyes are locked in place, but they tell the story of a man ready to go. His ears, once alert and watchful, now rest. Alone for years, the man welcomes company, as she takes him in her arms, and the two escape the world, together. Above the man, a butterfly flies into the distance. The butterfly can fly over anything. Over any bed, any house, any tree, any wall, any town, any world. The butterfly is free.