Brilliant sapphire-blue wings beat in eight motion, tinkling against the glass, instinct searching for escape. Leo slipped an old envelope under the rim, and placed the butterfly on an evergreen that shivered in the breeze. Flitting, fluttering, kissing a buttercup with a quiver of air, brushing a four-leaf clover with the fringes of its wings, never settling, always on the move – onto the next thing.
Leo promised himself it would be different this time, he wouldn’t allow the rust of routine to corrode his heart or wrap its oxidised arms around his windpipe. Screams and laughter of children on lunchtime break carried on the wind, sharp little daggers of sound piercing his ear drums. He’d never wanted children, never wanted to be caught in the Venus fly trap of parenthood, told Sarah as much, now he’d become the butterfly in the glass, knocking against the sides of his own cell.
The butterfly skitted across the yard, pursuing its mate, relentless in the chase. Leo recalled the first time he’d seen Sarah, burrowed in a corner of the working men’s club, the wide-eyed rabbit hiding in her hole. He was drawn to the quiet ones, they were such a contrast to the pawing and pinching he was used to. Leo peered around the curtain, assessing that night’s crowd, he spotted her sheltering amongst the usual assortment of thick-waisted bodies, wearing too-tight clothes, their flesh bulging like splitting sausages, and brides’ up for a last hurrah before years of disappointment and comfort eating morphed them into their mothers.
Leo’s mother had been disappointed; by love and life. His father married his mother in a whirlwind of suppressed passion, took her virginity, and left four months later, the morning after she’d given him the happy news. Leo recalled the venom with which she’d told him the story of his father’s adored three outside children; she spat out words like sharp little arrows, to sting and wound.
She no longer remembered a son, calling Leo by his father’s name, he fended off her amorous advances like a child fighting a frisky dog. Leo’s deftness in batting off horny women deserted him when dealing with his own mother, embarrassment erupted into shame, shame and anger, ending with her pleading, don’t leave me, please, stay, stay, and nurses running into the room to calm her with soothing baby talk; soft voices comforting a hard voiced woman.
Growing up, her astringency seeped into his pores, dissolving his flesh like acid. She gorged on the bitter taste of life, reopening old wounds, picking over bones as he tried to recycle his broken pieces. You’ll never amount to anything, you’re just like your father – her cultish mantra only stopping when she’d forgotten who he was, forgotten who she was.
Mantra turned prophecy.
Leo had no perceptible talents, he was a late-twenties slacker hopping from low-paid job to low-paid job, so when he saw an advert pasted to a wall above the urinals in the working mens’ club promising, all the money and women you could ever want, he applied. He welcomed hot wine breath tickling his ears and sardine women jostling to get their hands on his be-thonged body. Gyrating, grinding hips, blink-of-an-eye flashes teased, enticed, enthralled, and fingertips slid between the furrows of his baby-oiled chest. The women intoxicated by a heady mix of twofer offers on jugs of Sangria and Leo’s brooding intensity felt it in their hearts, and felt it in their parts.
The butterfly passed over the clover as Leo nipped its stem between thumb and forefinger, his mother would’ve called it a shamrock and crossed herself for good measure. He wished he’d had a buttercup childhood of golden reflected light, of well-done stars and head ruffles, but his metamorphosis from boy to man had created a cold blooded butterfly, tasting with his feet before walking away.
Leo stuck a post-it to the dining room table, I’m sorry, he wrote, and as the corner curled towards the light, it revealed a carbon-copy apology etched into the soft teak wood where he placed the four-leaf clover.
Debbie Taggio has had pieces of flash fiction published in The Drabble and as part of National Flash Fiction Day and is a finalist in The Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Awards, the winner of which will be announced at an awards dinner on 29th September 2018. Debbie has also started an MA in creative writing at Birmingham City University.