Gordy knows something is wrong. It's not the smell of decayed fruit, slick and sweet; it always smells like this in the butterfly house. No, the wrongness is something far worse than rotten fruit. The wrongness is inside his wife—inside Mai. Something that shouldn't be.
Inside the butterfly house, he tries not to step on any butterflies as he follows the pebbled path. But like little origami folds, they are crumpled on the ground, under flowers, at the base of the small pear tree and peach tree and orange shrub and on the path as well. He cannot help but feel them break underneath his shoes, because every single butterfly is dead.
He finds Mai at the end of the path, standing in front of the hatchbox. She grips her cane at her hip, her knuckles have gone white.
Inside the hatchbox, all the cocoons are shriveled and dry. One shiny golden cocoon has a thin split but the butterfly has not freed itself. Mai studies it. Gordy studies Mai, following her gaze. The cocoon is that of a Monarch, but it isn't a black antenna that pokes from the slit. It is white.
Gordy doesn't say anything about the butterflies. He just says, "Let's go, Mai. We need a change. Don't we?" And the next moment he guides her out, his hands on her shoulders, away from the sad scene of wadded beauties tossed down, like so many bits of paper.
Gordy only intended to go as far as Bellingham, maybe find a rental near Mount Baker—but now they've across the Canadian border. He'd shown their enhanced IDs to the woman in the booth and she hadn't asked many questions because most people didn't when you were as old as Gordy and Mai.
He drives as fast as anyone on the freeway, the Buick glides past Vancouver city as the west turns a bruised purple. He can feel the shuck of tires and Mai's steady breathing and the cancer inside her that she's too old to beat and too strong to let win. The reflective streaks on the road mesmerize Gordy. Each one, like the years he's spent with her, starts in the distance and whips by in a flash. It is August, and because she hates the air conditioning, Gordy has the front windows cracked and Mai's wispy hair is caught and flung like the best of clouds in a summer sky. But there are no clouds overhead.
Soon Vancouver is behind them and the dashboard clock strikes late. Traffic thins. There are stars overhead. The Milky Way gleams down fighting the headlights.
"You can sleep," he tells Mai.
"What about you?" she asks.
He wants to drive through the night, wonders if the road will end around the next bend, and they will leave the earth, float off into the sky above or below, it doesn't matter which.
Miles mean nothing anymore. Time is the only measurement. They'd met in Busan when he was stationed in South Korea. She had been shy, so had he. Her English was poor, his Korean even worse. But when he wasn't working he would leave the base and they would meet at a cafe, she teaching him her language in exchange for some of his.
Gordy wishes they were back there now, drinking coffee, miming actions when language failed. He doesn't want to meet her again for the first time. He wants to be suspended in those moments. Maybe that's why he's driving north. To outdistance time itself. Ridiculous, he knows.
Beside him, Mai is asleep. How long has she slept? The stars fade and the dark turns gray. He realizes he's driven all not when the road leads him to a valley, the sun peaks over the ridge in the east. He finds a small turn-off. The field beyond stretches golden and clean in the early morning. Mai sighs when he turns off the car, but doesn't wake. He closes his eyes and is asleep at once.
There is a tap on the window. Gordy's mouth is dry and he slurs a sloppy, indistinct word of surprise.
A man in a light blue button-up shirt is leaning down, peering in the half-open window at Gordy. "Sir, everything okay?"
"Hmm?" says Gordy, spying the badge "Sorry, officer?"
The policeman has a scrunched brow, his beard turning gray against dark skin. "Are you alright, Sir," he repeats.
Gordy clears his throat. "Yes. I drove through the night," Gordy says. "The sun was rising. I just ran out of time."
The police officer nods. "Can I see some identification?"
Gordy hands over the IDs. The officer glances at them, hands them back.
"Who's that?" asks Mai. She's awake.
Gordy pats her leg. "It's just a police officer."
"Caught you speeding?" she asks.
The officer chuckles. "No, ma'am. The opposite, actually."
Gordy is about to speak, about to assure the officer, everything's just fine, but Mai lets out an exclamation.
Gordy sees a pure white butterfly flutter past, swoop low, and land on the half-down window between the officer and himself. Its needle legs dance this way and that, balancing.
"Ho-boy," says Gordy. "What kind's this one?"
Mai cranes her neck over, examining. "White antennae," she puzzles. "But not White Ascia."
Gordy's head whips around. "What's that?"
"It's an Aporia Astra," says the officer, examining the pure white butterfly. He nods as though he's confirmed something; his dark eyes dart to Gordy, then Mai. A smile reveals his white teeth.
"We've made our own butterfly house," says Mai, "And I've never heard of butterflies like this before."
"That right?" says the officer. "That's neat. Well, they're good luck. Hatch every year. Always a treat. You'll want to be in Prince George for that."
"Why?" Gordy asks.
"Because," says the officer, his eyes back on the butterfly. "There's a festival for these little buggers."
"Yeah, tonight," the policeman says. "The Prince George folks love the Aporia Astra."
"Oookay," says Gordy in a you're-saying-weird-stuff voice.
The officer isn't put off in the slightest. He straightens up. "Look," he says. "You're about five miles out. Head there and grab some breakfast at Delenore's. It's great. Wherever you go after that is up to you."
Gordy nods and Mai waves to the policeman. A moment later the police cruiser U-turns and heads the opposite direction.
"I need to see the butterflies," says Mai, pointing to the one still balancing on the half-down window.
"Do you?" asks Gordy. "I was thinking another day north—maybe, I don't know. I'm not ready to stop."
"I am," says Mai. "I think Prince George is where I'm supposed to be."
As Gordy starts the car, the butterfly takes to the air again. It flaps, floating up and up, into the sky, until it is lost in the vast blue above.
YOU ARE READING
Aporia AstraShort Story
~Gordy knows something is wrong. It's not the smell of decayed fruit, slick and sweet; it always smells like this in the butterfly house. No, the wrongness is something far worse than rotten fruit. The wrongness is inside his wife-inside Mai. Someth...