The Box

I have one son. He is twenty-five years of age. He is loyal, in many ways handsome, tall with dark eyes. He still holds my hand wherever we go. He is my life and I hate him, most of the time.

I caught a butterfly today. I was brushing my teeth and saw it out of the corner of my eye. Large, black one, nestled on my bedroom ceiling. It was too dark to take outside, so I trapped it in a paper box, punched with air holes. It didn’t move much when I lifted it. I left the lid open slightly so more air could get in. I put it on my side locker and turned off the light. Fell asleep almost instantly. Not a peep from my new companion.

I got pregnant at the same age as he is now. I wanted to be a chef. I was talented, offered a position at La Cuisine Noire. I was being recognised for my fine tastes and meticulous skills. He got in the way of those plans. My boyfriend at the time told me to have the baby. His head was filled full of romantic notions about starting a family. He promised he’d provide for us. He said that eventually, when the child was old enough, I could return to the kitchens. He said my plans needn’t stop because of my condition. Then he got down on one knee.

I was scared so I said yes.

The father was committed the whole time. He worked two jobs, mornings and nights, to provide for us. I spent my time preparing the baby’s room. We lived in a flat, it wasn’t much, the room was a box. Small window, not an awful lot of light. I made it as pretty as it could be. Even though the father said to paint it neutral, I painted it blue. Call it intuition, call it a lucky guess, call it whatever you want. I painted it blue.

He arrived on the morning of the twenty-third of December. Cold month, not quite a Christmas baby, not quite the Christmas Miracle that the father hoped for. It was difficult and long. People told me that the first baby’s easy. It was difficult and long.

Everything was fine afterwards. Took him home the next day. The father had spent all his money on a cocktail of nappies and Christmas lights. The day was quiet enough, only he cried a lot of the time. That was that. It was an inoffensive holiday.

Today I woke up and checked on the butterfly, looking through the crack in the lid. He was still in the same spot I left him, not moving. I started to worry. I decided not to let him go yet. He was too weak. He wouldn’t be able to look after himself. So I checked online for ways to feed a butterfly. Then I found out he mightn’t have a mouth, he might be one of those defects that starve to death. I worried more. I checked the colour of his wings.

It took some time for us to twig that something wasn’t right. He would look through us, he was slow to speak. He was slow to react, slow to interact. So we took him to the doctor and he ran some tests. All of it took time. We couldn’t afford to go privately and we had no insurance, so it took a lot of time. Then we heard the news. Nothing that we didn’t already know, but it made it official.

Red and black wings. He had red and black wings. I checked online. Judging its wingspan and his look, he was a Monarch. Odd, I thought, because it originated from North America.  So he was rare, not a usual sight. He had a mouth. He had a varied diet. He was normal. There was hope for him. He was safer where he was though, in the box.

The father was a useless romantic. He grew tired fast. It didn’t help that the child was difficult. He would scream, sometimes for hours. We couldn’t get through to him. It was like a door we couldn’t open, or the child refused to open. He never slept, he hardly ate and he would get upset when we made him. The father grew more reserved. The hours he had to spend at work grew. He was hardly ever home. I would sit for hours in the blue box room, in the dark, the only light came from a moving lamp that shone stars on the ceiling. The child would look at the stars for hours. He would never look at me, but he would look at those stars.

To make a butterfly syrup, add one cup of sugar and one cup of water and bring it to an almost or close boil. When the solution becomes clear, remove it from the heat and allow to cool. Take three ounces of water and add one teaspoon of the home-made syrup, followed by six drops of soy sauce. 

The father never actually gave me a ring. It was all done through words. I think that made it easier for him. By the time the child was three we were alone together. Last I heard the father moved to Singapore. I took a few classes to understand the child’s condition. It had to be done while he was in play school – once a week for three hours. It was in the local technology institute. Down the hall was a cookery class. I could see them walk to it, carrying baskets of vegetables and meat. They were about the same age as me. They looked so young.

Butterflies taste with their feet, that’s right, their feet! So it’s really important to have them come into contact with the feeding solution. This can be accomplished in the following ways. For just one butterfly, use a Q-tip into the solution and place it onto the butterfly’s feet. Or, in the case of a number of butterflies, place a cotton ball into the lid of a jar or a bottle cap. Saturate it with the solution and place the butterfly’s feet onto the cotton ball. 

He had hit me many times as a child, but the worst incident was when he was fourteen. He couldn’t measure his own strength, so when he hit me, it was hard. I fell against the corner of the dining table. I know I fell unconscious, because when I got up he was no longer in the room. I remember being scared. We were on the third floor of a steep block of flats. I had a moment by the table – everything swayed. Then I ran towards the door. It was still locked. I held onto the wall for support and made my way to the box room. That’s where he was. He had upset himself, he was rocking and sobbing and yelling. There were scratches on his face from where he had hit himself. I remember wanting to leave him there, just so he could hurt himself a bit more. I wanted him to feel more pain. I wanted more blood to be drawn from his face. I wanted to lock the door and leave him there in his personal hell. Instead I went into the room, turned on the star light, and sat down beside him. I pulled his hands away from his face. We stayed there for a long time.

Today, as the day drew on, the sun rose and my room got brighter. I planned to prepare the butterfly solution. I was going to nurse my friend back to health. Then I’d set him free. But, he was rare. He wasn’t meant to be here. What if I let him outside and the climate killed him? I looked online, did some research, found a suitable enclosure. Something better than the box. I would keep him safe.

He was an adult, the child. By that stage we had gotten used to each other. Don’t get me wrong, he never looked at me. I rarely looked at him. It was just a routine. Up, breakfast, wash, dress, walk, lunch, walk, dinner, wash, bed. He liked routine.

The box started to move. I thought it may have been the sunlight, shining through the air holes I had made. He had woken up and was flapping his wings violently. He wanted out of the box I had made him. He seemed to have energy, like he didn’t need the butterfly solution. I held the box closed.

I remember the first time the child held my hand. Well, I always held his hand, but I remember the first time he held mine back. It was when he was fourteen. After he had hit me and knocked me out. After I had dragged myself into his room and after I contemplated leaving him there. I went into the room and turned on the star light. I held onto his hands to stop him hitting himself. That’s when I felt it, the squeeze, the recognition I was there.

He was hurting himself now, battering himself against the walls. I left my room and unlocked the front door. I walked out towards the balcony on the third story building.

I wondered if a butterfly could see. If the air holes I had made looked like stars.

I opened the box.

Then I went to the box room to wake up my son.