The Durham Co-op Market
Yesterday I found a butterfly in the middle of my bedroom floor. I don’t know how it got in. My building has only one window, sealed this time of year, and a single door at the the front. It is January, and cold, not butterfly season.
Still, there it is, this butterfly, black with silver-green shading at the tips of its wings, like it’s been dipped in crystal clear lake water and somehow retained the hue. It has four pale spots on its soft black body. When I nudge it with the tip of my finger, it’s antenna twitch and one of its wings lifts softly and then lowers again.
The floor in my bedroom is cement, because cement is cheap and wood floors are not. I move the butterfly gently from the cement to the rag rug I keep beside me bed, to save my morning feet from the shock of the floor. The butterfly is still, a silky black mark on the faded rug. I get to my feet and walk in socks to the kitchen.
The kitchen is really just a double hot plate, a coffee maker, a mini-fridge, and a spicket that pours out into a metal bowl. The coffee maker is faithful, kicks to life every morning when I ask it to, fills the space with coffee-smell. The mini-fridge and hot plates aren’t so reliable, but I’m not picky. I can eat food or not eat it. What I mean to say its, food is not much of an expense, nor is it a worry.
With my steaming cup of coffee, I don work boots and a jacket and head down the rickety front stairs and into the yard that’s not my yard, then through the gate to the next door market where a bin of old produce waits in the alleyway for pickers — me, a few homeless folks, sometimes a family with five children that comes by in a mini-van and takes the whole box to which I say huzzah! In the summer, the produce goes bad more quickly, attracting flies. But today the box is full — barely limp broccoli pearled with morning frost, a dimpled grapefruit, a collection of apples with bruises of varying shapes and sizes. I pocket the grapefruit and two apples and walk awkwardly back to my stairs, a too-thin old woman who has suddenly grown round hips.
I’m not opposed to taking in strays, folks who don’t make it to the shelter in time, people passing through to someplace warmer or cooler, the occasional collarless mutt with mangy fur. This butterfly is a first, though. While it perches on a slice of grapefruit, puncturing its sweet pink flesh with the dark straw of its tongue, I search the building for the source of its presence. I flip through sheets of aluminum siding, shine a flashlight into corners and cabinets, upend canisters and coffee cans — searching for the chrysalis, the place from which this velvet black creature has emerged. I find a photograph of a younger me, from a time before, and a postcard from someone I once loved whose face I can hardly recall, though his voice I recall as clearly as the one I heard on the radio this morning, deep and rich and lovely. I find a tin of candies melted into their wrappers, a tiny book of love poems by a very sad poet, the crumbling skeletons of a palmetto bug, a pair of withered camel crickets, and the perfectly preserved shell of a cicada, copper eyes bulging. What I do not find is a cocoon, which leads me to shuffle around the on the cement floor muttering, myth of the chrysalis, myth of the chrysalis, like a chant.
The butterfly perks up after eating, cheered, it seems, by grapefruit nectar and the warm air from the space heater. Its wings fold in, then out, then in, then out. It is very still, for a moving thing. I carry the fruit to a shelf, butterfly and all, so that I can watch the entire scene at eye level. I place a warm dish of water next the the fruit. I head back down the stairs and steal a pot of frozen pansies from a neighbor’s porch and put that beside the butterfly, too. I watch the shelf all afternoon and into the evening when I eat from a can of beans in the building’s dying light. I select one of the bruised apples for dessert, leaving the core on the shelf like an offering.
All day and into the night, the butterfly does not fly. I settle into my bed and fall asleep watching the rhythmic folding of its wings until they disappear into the blackness of my bedroom. I wonder, just before sleep comes, if the butterfly will be there when I wake. I dream of a lake in Michigan, blue to the bottom, butterflies emerging from one another in kaleidoscope blooms on the sun-warmed grass at its edges. So vividly do I dream of living things that I wonder, in my sleep, if I will wake.