Broken Butterfly Wings, by SM Johnston

When I open my eyes will it be the same?  The white wisps of cloud sailing past the window on their blue canvas? Tall tree tops with willowy branches waving as we passed by?

I take a deep breath and wonder where else I could be. 

If I think really hard, will it be real?

I squeeze my eyelids tighter and listen.  The repetitive puttering of the Kombi motor is like the drum beat for the music of our life, while the tinkling of the review mirror crystals play the melody.  I can still hear them both.  They’ve been part of my life for as long as I can remember.  My tune to march to; my song of life.

I giggle as the feathery fluttering sensation grazes past my leg.

“Hey, La-lee, here comes some more.”

Shrill laughter from the driver’s seat melds with my squeals as the interior of the Kombi becomes engulfed with the flying invaders. Our windscreen had gotten smashed yesterday and an unnatural wind now flowed in, bring with it butterflies that from the large swarms that are out in the spring air.

“Are you alright back there La-lee?”

I stretch my arms up to embrace the dancing air letting my touch see for me.

“Yes, Kitty-Kat. Are we almost there?”

“Only about ten minutes to go now.”

I smile contently with the knowledge that when I open my eyes I will be somewhere where I will want to keep them open.  It all sounds safe, so nice, so…normal. Sometimes I stare at the people with houses, wishing we had one too.

It’s not long before the slowing of the motor and the fast ticking indicator signals our journey’s end.  I wait for the sound of the driver’s door to open with a squeak and slam close, followed by the rickety sliding of the side door, before I snap my eyes open and leap out onto the grass surround in a swirl of butterflies that had gotten caught in our van with its missing windscreen.  I can’t stop giggling as I spin around, reaching up towards the escapees.  I’m so dizziness with my dance that I fall to the ground, the whole world still swirling around me.

“Catch one Kitty-Kat.  Catch one for me.”

She smiles at me. “No La-lee.  They’re too fragile.  If we caught them then how would we make them stay?”

I get onto my knees and look eagerly up at her.

“In a glass jar with holes in the top,” I reply, standing up.

“Oh, La-lee.”

Sliding her arms around me Kitty whispers in my ear, “First, how long do you think one would live for in a jar? But more importantly, how would you feel if you were denied your whole purpose for being?”

A blank look is my only response.

“These are creatures of flight, confining them would make their short lives one of suffering.”

“Oh, then, follow your destiny flutterbyes and fly,” I cry.

As I watch the remaining butterflies flee, Kitty calls me back into the van. I’m careful not to step on the stray shards of glass on the floor, the only remnants of our smashed windscreen.

“Are we here?” My eyes settle on the house before me.  It looks like a mansion.  It’s surrounded by meticulously kept gardens with a brass doorbell and pink rose curtains.

“Yes, this is it,” Kitty replies, but her eyes are on the house.

“Who are we visiting again?” I ask, though I do remember what Kitty told me but I want to see the pictures again because I don’t remember my sister.

“La-lee. You remember her don’t you?”

I shook my head. Kitty leans into the car and pulls out a picture. I’m just a baby cradled in my sister’s arms with Kitty beaming behind us. They could pass as sisters. I flip over the back and there’s her name – Melanie. Apparently that was the last time we were together as a family. Kitty took my dad back and Melanie left. Kitty left six months later with me, starting our gypsy lifestyle.

A sullen face stares through the curtains surveying the scene, it’s an older version of the face in the photo and the hair is shorter.  I smile and wave, but the chilly gaze has already locked eyes with someone else.

“Wait here La-lee.  I’d better go alone first.”


“No buts today.”

And with that she strides to the door, leans past the brass bell and knocks on the door.  The curtain is now hanging lifelessly in the window.

Time is unmoving as Kitty stands, waiting, unmoving.  With Kitty’s eyes fixed firmly on the door, I decide that the tightly trimmed hedge will make the perfect camouflage.  Like a spider missing half its legs, I scuttle up the pebbled drive behind my green wall.  As I inch towards the porch, the door creaks open, just a crack.

“What do you want?” The voice is harsh and cold.

“Well hello to you too.”

“What do you expect, open arms and a flow of tears?” Melanie narrow her eyes.

Kitty shrugs. “I’m not sure.”

“Where’s Lara?”

Kitty gestures past me to the van.

I look past Kitty at her reflection in the doorway.   Melanie looks like a missing piece of jigsaw that you can never seem to find until you have packed the whole thing away.  I lift my finger in the air and trail it around the path of her cheek and down her jaw until it meets the door.

“Am I going to get to see her?  You could leave her here for a few hours.” The harsh voice softened.

“We need to talk.”

“Really, what about?” The response is so steely that it sends a chill down my spine. 

Kitty looks longingly through the doorway. “I think it would be better if we went inside.”

“I’m not interested in spending time with you, just Lara.”

“It doesn’t work that way.”

“I guess there is nothing to talk about Katrina.”

And with that the door closes. 

As Kitty does her impersonation of a stone statue, I make a tactical retreat to the van in my own spider-like fashion.  I jump back into the Kombi and hide under the blanket on the back seat.  I peep out from my sanctuary to see Kitty body returning to the car, her face staring blankly at nothing.  It’s as though she’s moving in slow motion.  All the enthusiasm and life that has emanated from her on the trip so far has drained away, leaving Kitty a pale shade of grey.  The car door opens slowly in the silence.  I can even hear the sounds of the compressing springs as she got back into the car.

I’m not sure if I should speak.  To ask questions to which I already know the answers to feels like deception.  To console her now would give away my interlude outside of the car.  So I stay under the blanket staring at the back of a weathered seat a wisp of hair. 

The Kombi returns to life with the jingle of the car keys and rumbles down the street and round the corner before pulling up under a weeping willow tree.  I don’t know how long I stare at Kitty’s profile and Kitty stare at the wavering branches of the softly swaying comforter.  A branch softly caresses Kitty’s face through the window and wipes away the calm to reveal a salty sea of sorrow.  It’s all that I can bear.  I awkwardly rush into Kitty’s arms and cry in sympathy, despite the fact I don’t know why.  We cling to each other until the sun sets the backdrop for our sad scene.

As the moon heralded the coming of the night, Kitty looks at me and whispers reassurances.  Not that I understand fully what’s wrong to begin with.  We have barely moved the whole time.  I wouldn’t have been surprised if the police had of come along and asked as to move on.  But they didn’t this time. I look into Kitty’s eyes as she smiles back at me with a sorrowful face.  Her face is still stained.  I wondered if mine is too.  No, I don’t think I cried as much. 

She takes my hand and squeezes it tight. Then she grabs a tissue and cleans her face. Her body racks with coughs and she puts the tissue to her mouth; it comes away with spots of red. Kitty quickly pushes it down between the seats.

“La-lee, can you get the map out of the glove box.”

I scoot over to the passenger seat and fumble in the dark for the silver button.  With a push and a click the glove box pops open.   It’s filled with a jumble of tapes, pens, jewellery and a buried car manual.  I push it all aside, my hand searching desperately. 

“It’s not in here.”

I reached down to the floor, empty packets, tape cases, pieces of paper, something squishy, eeww.  Normally, I would’ve made a fuss, but not tonight.  I explore further under the chair and find the half-folded map.

Kitty opens it up.

“Are you ready?”

I nod and close my eyes.

“Now remember if we have been there before it doesn’t count.”

I make a stab at the page.  Kitty roars with laughter.

“I can’t even pronounce that name.  That probably means it is a good place to go.” Kitty stretches and arches her back. “Let’s go find somewhere to stay, we’ll head out in the morning with the birdie’s song, ok?”

I nod enthusiastically and we roll off into the night.


The Australian Literature Review

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4 Responses to Broken Butterfly Wings, by SM Johnston

  1. Diane Finlay says:

    Interesting, sad piece – I felt I wanted to know more about Melanie and Kitty.

  2. Pingback: May Short Story Comp – Shortlist | The Australian Literature Review

  3. Pingback: SM Johnston – Author Interview | The Australian Literature Review

  4. Pingback: Honing Your Teen Fiction Skills: For Aspiring Novelists, by SM Johnston | Writing Teen Novels

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