‘Swallowtail’

 

The day had begun like any other. A gentle sunrise, breeze quivering the muslin curtains, two spoons of coffee in the pot. She sat quietly on the terrace, sipping the bitter brew only as often as she remembered, and waited for the children to wake up with a mixture of relief and dread.

Unusually for a Saturday morning, she felt hungry, and reached for a pear from the fruit bowl. A tiny family of fruit flies swarmed momentarily and settled again. She wrinkled her nose. Too comfortable to dislodge herself from the chair and wash it, she began to peel it with a table knife left out from the night before. A shame, she thought, as its smooth freckled skin fell away in ragged-edged strips, because wasn’t the skin supposed to be where all the vitamins were?

Juice ran from her fingertips to her elbows, dripping its sticky way onto her bare feet. Typical, she sighed. Now I’ll have to wash again. The pear juice was drying, the coffee was cold and the sun was climbing higher in the sky, hitting six thirty, seven, seven thirty. In this time her mind was somewhere, everywhere, nowhere. Every other hour of her life was accounted for: driving to pick the children up, preparing contracts, visiting clients, evening events… Here, in the morning quiet, it felt luxurious to let time slip by.

In her frustration, and in revenge at its derailment of her morning routine, she had abandoned half the pear, and it lay on its haunches, seeds facing up to the sky, in a pool of its own juice. A dozen ants had discovered it and marched back and forth to their commune, excitedly spreading the word instead of drinking their fill at the edge of the puddle. A lone wasp, the most capitalist of insects, circled, wisely remaining out of swatting radius.

On the still-intact stalk, a butterfly alighted. She rested there, as if on pointe, raising and lowering her wings so precisely that she could have been talking in semaphore. She leaned in. They were so close to each other. Why did it feel like she had to hold her breath?

The creature edged gingerly forward, onto the pear’s moist surface. Inside, a door slammed, and the swallowtail was gone.

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