I’m not sure when you arrived. You may have been that same fluttering thing which delighted the baby one bright summer afternoon. Something I pointed out when we went for a little wander around the house. The walls gilded by sunshine as we named the parts: Window. Tree. Sky. Birdie.
When you floated past us, you felt like a blessing. That’s another way of saying you made my baby laugh.
Probably you got in by the skylight, wedged open to let the steam from the shower escape. I thought to myself: I’ll have to get a window open, and make sure you get out. But of course, I never did, and nor did you.
Perhaps you’d gotten to the end of your time, naturally. Perhaps that corner was a choice you made, a place to stop, indefinitely. Nine-hundred and ninety-nine beats out of a thousand, this would have meant finding you where you lay, on a windowsill or mantelpiece. Or perhaps you’d never be found, your quiltwork matched to curtain or carpet, nature’s plumage enjoying one final deception. You’d be something too delicate to pick up with our crude moving parts, something so soft I would have needed tissue to make sure you were not crushed or torn, your death smeared with indignity.
But you did something different. When I saw you on the ceiling, defying gravity, I’d thought you were still alive. This would have been while I was bathing the little one, too busy to pay close attention to much else.
The penny dropped in slow instalments as winter wore on. Finally, I realised you were dead, and expected you to fall at any moment. I should pluck you off the ceiling, I thought.
But it is not a simple matter of standing on tiptoes and picking you like low-hanging fruit. You’re in an awkward spot, you see, and up on high with it. I’ll need to dig the stepladders out of the garage to retrieve you, but the garage is a big job in its own right, a Gordian knot of piled belongings, not an urgent task but a curiously insistent one, throbbing away in the far corner of the building. There are files and boxes in there that might go unpacked until the next move – or until I am placed into a box myself.
So in order to reach you it’s either the ladders, or balancing on top of some chairs. That precarious latter scenario might bring this tale to a grimly ironic close. You would still be unnoticed, long after your passing, though I daresay I would not, should the chairs give way. But whose death would be more beautiful to look at?
I’m not sure what forces keep you anchored up there. Perhaps you were trapped in some minuscule pit in the paintwork, too small to see with the naked eye, but I prefer to think not. You look unhurried. I hope this is how it ended. I’ve heard police and other first responders describing the face of death – even sudden death – in this way, in situations where calm has no business being there. No sense of shock, a curiously peaceful visage. You’d be fooled into thinking their passing was serene.
So you now have to go, as we all do. I think the best thing would be to wait until another stormy winter’s night, when the house quails and flinches against the wind and rain. Then I’ll pluck you as delicately as I can, and cast you out into the turbid night, your last resting place at the whims of the four winds.
You’ve already been gone a long time, but you will stay in my mind for as long as it lasts. This is as near permanence as anything, living or dead, or never alive, can get: a lasting impression.
Thanks for the kind words, big guy, but to paraphrase the King: I ain’t dead, baby. Just takin’ a break.
I chose bathroom number two because it never got too hot, nor too cold; and of course I was safe from all those airborne feathered bastards who might spoil my day. Spiders were more of a risk in-doors, but those eight-legged flavour bastards would need to be determined to snare me, away up there on the corner. Determined, or luckier than they look.
If you’d done some research, you’d know I was hibernating. That’s right – same thing the bears and badgers do. And I’m going to stay up here and do just that. Don’t worry about my leggies; they’re made to cling on, even when I’m fast asleep. Just think of me as Batman, only beautiful.
Night night. See you in springtime.
So, it turned out you weren’t dead. I should have done some research. That would have gotten a bad school report, maybe even an invitation to speak to the teacher.
Thank god I couldn’t be bothered disposing of you.
Here’s how I found out:
Testament to my laziness, you stayed up in that far corner of the bathroom all through the winter, like a Christmas decoration even the kids were getting bored of looking at. Then, events took over. The shower on the top floor stopped working; we had to bathe ourselves, as well as the baby, in the bathroom where you were perched. When I was bathing myself at high temperature: the revelation. Your wings beat, once, twice, very slowly.
Who knows what tempests this act wrought on the far side of the world? Perhaps there’s a storm with the same name as you.
It was all to do with the heat. The steam had woken you up – when we bathed the baby, the water was necessarily tepid, but with big people, the heat is on. You’re not meant to be exposed to high heat. This interruption soon set you a-fluttering all over the house again.
The advice on the websites I should have checked in the first place stated: “Put the butterfly in a box, and keep in a cool, dry place.”
The box I used once contained the bottle of white port I was given last year. It had the face of Christ on it. After capturing you as you rested on our front door, I finally had you where I wanted you. I cut a few holes – not just to keep the air moving, but to let the light in, to tell you when the springtime was here.
Spring came and went. And then it dawned on me – this time, you were truly dead.
I had high hopes for Easter. I’ve long paid my dues when it comes to religion, but I was tickled by the idea of me being wrong again, and you being resurrected on Easter Sunday, inside a box with Christ’s face on the side. But no-one rolled away the stone. You didn’t move. Worse still, you weren’t hanging upside down. You were flat, brown, and dead looking. Schrodinger’s cat I don’t know about, but there was a definitive answer to the problem of the butterfly in the box.
When I saw two of your kind performing a thrilling mid-air courtship on a walk, I knew that the game was a bogey. You couldn’t sleep in with that sort of action happening just down the road.
“We’ll give it until May,” I said to the missus, more in hope than expectation. “It might surprise me.”
But I was in denial, of course. You were still dead. You had ceased to be. You were extinct, etc.
So today I went ahead with the original plan. I opened the window, waited for the wind to rise, and shook you out. You went a fair distance on the spring breeze; I don’t know where you ended up.
But this is no way to end a story, even if it’s true. So here’s another idea:
Fooled you again big man. I’m already shacked up with a lady. Keep an eye out for a Tripadvisor review, but don’t get your hopes up, okay? I’ll visit with the kids. For sure.
Out you went, across the rooftops towards the park, alive as I’d hoped. The wind caught you and bore you away. Maybe your wings beat on; I like to think they did.
You can’t say for sure that’s a lie. It probably is, but no-one can prove it. Maybe that’s as much of an impression as we can hope to make in this life.