About the Stage

The trains stopped running that day. Ice on the pantographs, those arms that reach to touch overhead wires and conduct 700 volts into the cars.

Not today.

Temple University to Suburban Station. A twelve-minute ride.

Not today.

He’d asked her to meet him at Love Park at noon. She’d agreed, with the caveat that he not be late.

She liked to be in control.

When she was three, her father built a raised wooden platform in the family garage. He lined the walls with mirrors and lights, displacing the Taurus and the rusting Skyhawk they’d inherited from her grandmother. He disgorged the messiness of their livesshovels and rakes and gallons of dried paint beneath a blue tarponto the lawn which browned and muddied.

Evenings, they would dress her in colorful costumes and make her to dance, her parents and three sisters seated on folding chairs arranged about the stage. “Our little butterfly,” her mother would say at the end of her performance. Her father would clap and call for a bow. As she bent forward, she would study his bony knee through the hole in his jeans patched and patched and patched again.

As soon as they could, her sisters would slink off, three stooges, jealous and complete in themselves.

After school and on Sundays, they would climb the trees near the garage and watch her dance, jeering, taunting, daring her to climb the forbidden branches and throwing acorns onto the wooden platform.

One hour a day belonged to her. She spent it chasing butterflies.

She caught an eastern-tailed blue. Cupido comyntas.

She put it in her killing jar, watching it flutter and protest against the glass before it succumbed to the inevitabilities of life. The relaxing jar next, where the stiff legs and wings were softened again so that she could arrange the butterfly prettily upon a cardboard square before stabbing a pin between its wings.

She stood back, admiring her work before she was called to dance.

When she returned the following day, she saw that someone had affixed beneath the butterfly a label, written in one of her sister’s hands: “Cara.”

She stared.

She was the stooge.

He left the station. He would have to walk. A grimy bus drove past. A girl stepped into gritty snow, cursing and leaping to a salted circle to dab at her leather boots with a crumpled paper napkin.

She took her final leap that day, climbing a tree to its highest branches and studying the muddied grass as it reached out to her.

She broke both legs; her left arm in four places.

Her parents were affronted.

They tore down the stage and all but one mirror.

They filled the garage with the stuff of their lives and hired a man who spoke only Spanish to put in the lawn.

Sometimes she would go to the garage and find her sister standing before the mirror, practicing pliés and admiring the muscles in her legs.

Her sisters opened a grudging space for her, once she began climbing trees, the four of them sitting on a thick oak limb, singing Queen songs and watching the lawn begin to green.

Her parents ignored her.

She still chases butterflies, trapping them in silvery nets, affixing small stickers to their wings before lifting her arm and encouraging them to fly.

When he reached Fairmont, he tried to call.

She didn’t pick up.

He began to run, slipping on ice, his breath coming in white gusts, arriving in a jumble.

Couples stood hand in hand, forming a queue of sorts, to wait their turn to stand beneath Love Statue. Homeless people approached the front of the line, offering to snap a picture, hoping for a tip.

He joined the line. He looked around. He called her again.

The line moved forward. Pictures were taken. She still wasn’t there.

He found himself at the front of the line. A man approached. “You want a picture?”

He shook his head and stepped from line. “Not today.”

He was late, but that wasn’t the reason she hadn’t waited.

Butterflies cannot be trapped; cannot be pinned down for long.

They will go where the air carries them, sailing on currents and jet streams, following deep instincts, seeking nourishment before moving on, chasing destiny.


This was written for this week’s Write Tribe prompt: He was too late…

3 thoughts on “About the Stage

  1. Beautiful illustration of that one line – She liked to be in control. And so she was. Wonderful the way you weave her story in and out of the present. Great piece, Kelly.

  2. Sad tale of jealousy and malice, laced in the wings of a butterfly. A touch of the side of reality that requires putting away the mirrors.

    It leads me to remember the question asked of me many years ago:
    “Are you a human doing, or a human being?” It took me another decade of years before I could answer.

    As for me, I am still chasing butterflies but now with my camera. 😉

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