by Scout Micallef

‘Are you sure we should still go to the zoo today?’ a friend asked, obviously hoping that I’d decline and opt for a movie day indoors, where we would be warm, drinking hot chocolate in front of the television.  ‘Of course,’ I replied stupefied, ‘Why should we let a little bit of rain scare us from playing outside?’  Seeing some sort of reasoning in my retort, we continued to search for our warm jackets, beanies and gloves, piling winter garments into the car, barely leaving enough room to transport ourselves in the same vehicle.  Reversing out of the driveway, we were momentarily stopped by my friend’s mum waving a giant umbrella in front of the windscreen.  ‘You are all going to get soaking wet and catch colds,’ she scorned as we accepted the umbrella and continued our way.

The roads were mayhem, and I was glad not to be the one driving so I could concentrate on marveling at the storm around me and plotting my little escapades to instigate havoc within the confines of the zoo.  With my brain ticking away, devious thoughts clocking over, I slyly asked out loud, ‘With this weather, the zoo will probably be empty, won’t it?’  As though they could all read my thoughts, in unison, the car load of my friends shouted, ‘Don’t even think about it!’  At that moment, my original plan of attack at the zoo was recalled.  Obviously this proposal that I had announced only days earlier had not escaped my friends and I could only wish that I hadn’t been so absent minded.  It was already too late to drive back home to get my can of insect spray.

If only they could feel my fear associated with my past experiences, then they wouldn’t hesitate in the slightest in my plea for them to join my army against the butterflies.  For as long as I can remember, butterflies have been my worst nightmare.  Their bright, overwhelming colours and delicateness masquerade their unpredictability, causing deception.  Plotting to frighten the most unsuspecting bystanders, choosing victims at random; it’s all a matter of time before one lands on a shoulder, arm, or in most extreme cases of butterflies causing terror, a head.  The sheer thought is worthy of spine tingling goose bumps.  Each time my skin crawls at the mere mention of the scary little creatures flapping around, I can’t help but wonder about the possible origins of my fear.

As a small child, I had a bedroom with huge windows that overlooked the enormous backyard.  During the day, it was nice to have such a view, where I could peer outside to evaluate the weather and decide if I wanted to join in on the action created by my brothers.  At night, the window scared me.  The pleasantries of the outside world would disappear at sunset and it was my duty to ensure that the blinds were pulled across by this time. I would do this in preparation for the night, to block out the unrecognizable shadows that would project onto my walls and haunt me.

I have vivid recollections of entering that room after dark on the rarer occasions where I’d forgotten to close those blinds.  Every night as I’d walk through the bedroom doorway, my head would turn involuntarily towards the window, searching for the evidence of a task I should have completed earlier in the evening.  If my mission was proven successful, I could turn on the light and proceed with my business.  In the instances where I had been unsuccessful in my operation, my heart would skip a beat and I’d have to run to the comfort of the lounge room where I could regain control and compose myself in the light emitted from the television before working up the courage to ask my mum to close the blinds with me.

One particular night, I arrived home rather late after being at school since early morning, and then shopping with mum in the afternoon, followed by dinner out somewhere.  It had been quite a busy day for a seven-year-old to say the least.  I helped mum put some groceries away before her instructing, ‘Go put your school bag in your room and get into your pyjamas.’  Marching down the hallway, towards the bedroom, I heard mum yell out, ‘I’m going outside to feed the cat, so don’t worry if you see the outdoor light on through your window.’  My heart jumped up into my throat at the sound of her words.  I had completely forgotten about the fact that I hadn’t been home to close my blinds and that I’d have to deal the consequences.

I shut my eyes at the doorway and breathed deeply.  I took a step inside the room and, in what felt like slow motion, I opened my eyes and turned my head towards the window, wishing that somehow the blinds had closed themselves.  They most definitely hadn’t drawn themselves shut, for there, amongst all the daunting, indescribable shadows, perched directly in the top, right hand corner of the huge window, was an unidentifiable object.  I may not have even noticed it under normal circumstances, but the outdoor flood light that mum had on for her to feed the cat had illuminated this entity, yet I couldn’t figure it out without closer analysis.

Closing my eyes once more, I took another deep breath, possibly even deeper than before, building up the strength to force myself forward and inspect the unknown.  In one swift maneuver, I lunged my body towards the window, managing to accomplish a commando style roll over my bed, in the middle of the room.  In front of the window where I had landed, I looked up, simultaneously amazed at my smooth action and intrigued as to what was on the window.  With the flood light shining through it, this thing seemed to be radiating a rainbow of colours, but wasn’t much bigger in size than a tennis ball.  As my heart thumped a million beats per second, I reached out my hand in an attempt to grab it.

My hand was merely a centimeter away from the object when my eyes fully focused on it and my brain realised what it was.  I retracted my reach and froze for a brief moment before shaking my head in disbelief.  Could it really be?  It was.  Someone, most probably my meddling mother, had installed a disgusting, ghastly looking, leadlight butterfly on to the window.  Screaming, I ran from the room terrified at my discovery, and found the culprit before asking her what exactly was going through her head during the moment of purchasing such a horrid thing to torture her child with.  ‘It’s pretty, don’t you think?’ she exclaimed more as a statement than a question.

Quite obviously, I did not find this revolting creature to be “pretty” in any way, nor did I see how anyone could for that matter.  Its shape, the contrasting colours, its antennae, even its out of proportioned wings I found to be grotesque.  It just didn’t seem right to me.  Even though I had only this eerie, glass prototype to base my opinion on, I decided from that incident onwards that I hate butterflies.  With the word “hate” being classed largely as such a harsh word to use; I prefer to claim, ‘I dislike butterflies with a strong passion!’  I said this to my mother that same night and she promptly removed the leadlight insect from the window.

Although I never saw that glass butterfly ever again, I remained petrified of all butterflies, great and small.  I thought that the fear was manageable, that I wouldn’t even need to admit it to anyone, but then came a school excursion to the zoo many years later.  The inevitable happened.  I was forced to enter the butterfly enclosure in order to keep my secret.  I tried every line I could conjure up to get out of it to no avail.  ‘They don’t really interest me,’ were my last words before being practically dragged into the first entrance where we had to remain before it was apparently “safe” to open the next door so that the butterflies didn’t escape.

Beads of perspiration were congregating on my forehead, welling in the corners of my eyes, fogging my vision.  I was standing inside the butterfly house. I couldn’t believe it.  Looking around, all I could see was plantation and other students, the teachers behind the group, ushering everybody through.  Without a butterfly in site, I felt relieved and thought that perhaps they kept them in little glass cages, like fish tanks, where people could gawk at them and tap their grubby hands on the walls until the butterflies collapsed from the vibrations.  I was almost instantaneously proven wrong as a large, extremely brightly coloured insect fluttered past the tip of my nose.  I searched in desperation for anyone else feeling as anxious as me, only to find myself surrounded by butterflies of every colour.

Gasping for air, I tried to scream for help; the intense humidity making this impossible.  I caught a glimpse of the exit in the far distance and shut my mouth in preparation to dart through the enclosure and out to freedom.  I began waving my arms in a propeller like fashion along the sides of my scared, quivering body.  I presume that my peers were wondering if I had gone mad, or rather, the extent of my insanity as I ran as fast as I could along the paths, pushing other students out of the way and waving, possibly squatting butterflies that came between me and that exit.  It is all a bit of a blur now, but I was informed later that in my haste, I didn’t close the exit door behind me and a single butterfly followed me outside to the cool air and died.

A guilty conscience ought to make me feel sorry for that one that got away, but I don’t.  I pass it off as a lesson for the butterfly kingdom to learn.  Fearful of the petrifying organisms that are reminiscent of poison-arrow tree frogs, with their array of colours making them appear so innocent, I made a pact to give the butterfly nation one last chance before I confront them with my spray cans of destruction.  Perhaps they didn’t receive my memo or they wish to initiate war with me, because if they are not, then I’m dumbfounded as to why they seem to appear like tiny, colourful ninjas, when I least expect it. Strolling to my car after a swim at the beach one day, I happened to cast my vision upon the roof where I was shocked to see two butterflies looking most menacing.  I flicked my wet towel at them, not resulting in murder, but just enough to return the scare.  That’s when the plan entered my mind.  I decided that the next time I go to the zoo, I will take a can of insect spray with me, and dash through the butterfly house with my finger pressed firmly on the nozzle.  It is certainly lucky for the butterfly population that my feeble memory has prevented me from remembering to arm myself with supplies each time I pay them a visit.  Now who lives in fear?