KJ Hunter grew up in Riverview, New Brunswick, Canada. During a teaching career later in life, KJ found a voice as a writer and has gained confidence engaging with writing groups and book clubs. The story “Fly by Night” was published in the Globe and Mail‘s “Facts and Arguments” in 2017. KJ divides time between grandchildren and writing groups on both the east and west coasts.
The Butterfly Cage
Genie lays spread eagle on the ground, her arms spread wide. Eyes closed, she lets the sounds of insects settle down around her like a shroud – in slow motion. She begins to relax. Yes. This sound – the chirrup of grasshopper cousins beginning to arrive.
Tall blades of wild grass shoot up between her fingers at the spot where they had landed. Resisting the urge to move or adjust them, she wills herself to be perfectly still. The breeze that plays through the air makes the grass sway back and forth with a gentle swish, lightly brushing first the side of one finger, then the one next to it.
At the same time the scent of green things reaches her nose, mixed with rich untended earth and meadow flowers full of bloom. The recent rain had washed the air and made it clear and crisp and innocent, holding no malice – or secrets. Genie opens her eyes and looks at the sky, high and wide, arching like a snow globe over this meadow-planet from the far horizon to where she is. Inside it is safe, quiet and peaceful. She needs no secrets.
She becomes part of the sky and part of the earth, aware of the flowers growing beside her head and sprouting up beside her waist, growing through her vest and past her sally-ann jeans, ensnaring her hair and tickling her ears, catching the laces on the sneakers she had gotten on the last good-will stop.
She is not alone here – the meadow is full of life. Out of the corner of her eye she can see a grasshopper making its way to the top of a single blade. Slow and deliberate, it clings as if scaling a ladder to climb to the roof to look around. Its green mottled armor a perfect camouflage.
Genie fills her cheeks and sends a gentle push of her breath toward the climber. The grass moves a few degrees then springs back. The grasshopper seems to grip on harder determined not to fall or spring away to safety.
She takes a deeper breath and sends a stronger wave of air. She doesn’t know what she is hoping for – a sign that the grasshopper knows she is there, perhaps. She watches it hang on stoically for a few seconds, then fills her lungs one more time. But before she can deliver the blow the grasshopper flies and she is left with her cheeks puffed and lips puckered, looking at the naked blade of grass. She lets out a sigh.
And then she hears it- the distant honking of a car horn – long and loud, over and over again assailing her ears. Becoming more impatient, more insistent, more difficult to ignore.
He. can’t. find. me.
That simple statement fills her with a sense of power; Genie allows herself a little smile. She pushes away the image of what would happen if she does not respond. She takes a deep breath. She won’t let him spoil it. She will not answer. Every part of her feels at peace in this meadow. The perfectness of the spot. Genie had always loved meadows and this one seemed as if it had been waiting just for her, always, untouched, and she has found it.
It was a surprise at first. They mostly pulled off at quiet picnic areas and this one seemed just like all the others. The picnic tables had seen better days – rusty chains holding them down so they wouldn’t be dragged off for a campfire. Garbage cans were chained down, too. An outhouse was quietly keeping watch from a safe distance.
The sound of a stream had tempted her towards the cool, dark canopy of trees on the edges of the park. As it came into view, it presented large stones that looked like magic carpets designed to carry her across its width to alight on the far shore. It seemed a natural thing to do so she took off her socks and shoes and waded out into the centre of the ice cold water towards the largest flat rock. It was perfectly placed, allowing the water to sweep around from both sides.
She climbed up and stretched out on her back. The cold water numbed her toes and quieted the many mosquito bites on her legs. The rock was just the right temperature of soothing warmth and the dappled sun was calming and warm on her face. Since they had already eaten the gas-station sandwich there was nothing to do but relax. As was his habit, a read of the local paper and a snooze to refresh was his agenda for the afternoon. After all, there was no one around and not likely to be all day. Genie was free.
When the sound of the stream reminded her she needed to pee, she looked at either shore for a private spot. The opportunity to use the picnic ground outhouse was not an option. Not since the ‘ccoon episode.
On one of their stops last year she had headed into the outhouse and latched the swinging door. As she lowered her shorts and started to squat she noticed a pair of eyes staring at her from the shadowy corner. At her screams he came running and tore the door off its hinges. With one movement he grabbed a furry parcel and threw it down into the lime-filled pit. The noise the baby raccoon made was horrible but the silence that followed was even worse.
So today Genie followed the sound of birds into the trees looking for a hidden spot to squat. When that business was done she continued to follow the birdsong and the whisper of the trees until the canopy above opened up.
She was in a vast arena – trees all around holding up the sky, their branches waving in the late summer breeze like fans with banners. Genie had seen an arena once, driving through a town where every person was watching the televisions in the storefronts. There was a hockey game on and the crowd in the TV and the one on the sidewalk cheered with excitement. Genie listened closely to the trees in her arena and their cheers of encouragement. Imagining what she must look like from their highest branches – a tiny, miniscule, forgotten, yet strangely powerful little girl – at centre stage.
A yellow butterfly flew past just missing her nose and Genie turned slow motion to see hundreds more coming in pursuit. She followed them deeper into the meadow-arena. As they swarmed they created a funnel swirling round and round and Genie began to spin too. Arms outstretched, she spun in the same direction, became one with the golden cloud, spinning and spinning until all the bad was out and only the good remained.
Dizzy, she had fallen down, arms spread, and melted into the earth. And here she lay. She had become just another applique on this colourful quilt. The yellow and white of the daisies, the purple thistle and aster, a hundred shades of green all blended together like paint spatters that spilled out toward the stands. And the butterflies, so many butterflies. She would never be lonely.
Then it strikes her – if she were to stay right here she would be happy, always.
And she hears the blare of the horn again.
© 2018 KJ Hunter