The Grumpy Naturalist

Fly, Butterfly: 2 minute read by Farrriz Mashudi posted 25/12/2020

Photo: Suzy Hazelwood

Just last week I asked her about the butterflies. She wasn’t sure. She brought nets, I said. I reminded her how she showed me how to grip the handle tightly with one hand and run with the threaded squares billowing above my head. Buttercups in a field. Or was some other specious wild flower colouring my thoughts?

Yellow, a species of yellow.  

Maybe daffodils? Thick, fleshy leaves, their happy petals, basking in the sun.


Hadn’t it been a little cloudy that day?

A blur in my mind. Fog, where reality stopped, made fertile ground for made-up notions. Like mould on old film, the lines were haziest on the fringe. But no way could I have dreamed up the whole thing.

            “Mum, you were there. I’m not making this up.”

Photo by Snapwire

Could she just agree that the butterflies were for an assignment? She’d done a Biology degree, then a Masters and Phd. We filled an array of clear jars with our catch. None had holes in the metal tops, and as I watched life departing the paper-thin wings, I was told it was all fine. Oranges and browns outlined in black, some dotted with white, all caught in their prime, apparently didn’t feel a thing. Besides, their infinite beauty would be preserved, saved from being lost in a short-lived blink. All said, it didn’t seem quite right still.

Pins, she had used tailors’ pins, and a wooden board. Was it for a display?

“Maybe,” she said, shoulders rounding in a shrug. If she could care less about my memories, at least feign nostalgia, if only some. Don’t brush me off like this. Distracted, dismissive, was it coldness, or confusion? Where was the all-knowing woman, the one who didn’t necessarily know best, but always presumed she did. Were her missing pieces, gone for good or merely gone amiss?

She looks a bit dazed. Absent without leave. Checked-out . . . This could be me one day.

            But this isn’t about you. Or maybe it is. Isn’t this how it’s always been between us?

Should it change? I’m only over 50, but in my favourite memories of my mother, I’m still three. Four tops.

In the here and now, who would be the repository of our everything? — Details too minute for anyone else to notice, the secrets that are ours alone to leak, all the shade she filled between the lines and jumped to conclusions with, the conspiracy theories she insisted were real. The laughs, the humour, the wit . . . It wouldn’t be the same ‘her’ — or ‘us’, or ‘me’, without these individually meaningless things.

This is why mothers aren’t allowed to abandon their offspring. Ever. Not physically, or mentally. If caterpillars only knew what was out there, they’d want to stay cocooned for longer. And in that perfect place, butterflies would never fade, nor fly away. Or at least not until all concerned are ready and prepared for what it takes.

“Mum, tell me you remember, please?”

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