Year of the Butterfly

Life goes on.. even when you lose someone you love, even when you don't know what to think, how to feel, how to act and what to say. Everything will be okay, is what people like to say, but it won't and you know it. All you can do is bury your grief and hide, and hope on the surface at least life will appear to be normal. Is there any hope?
This is a story of a young girl battling with the loss of her father. Accompany her on a journey of self-discovery and misadventure as she negotiates her way through bereavement and processes the unanswered questions. Along the way, there are dreams, visions and schemes, at least one golden urn and a kidnapping. Her story is about a metamorphosis from pain into renewal and growth. Her destination is a place of hope with a promise of healing.

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5. Nightmares awake & asleep

What a waste of time this is! Whoever invented detention obviously never had to sit like this for an hour wasting a perfectly good afternoon of playing outside in the sun. I wouldn't mind it so much if we could at least read a book, but for some dumb reason all we are allowed to do is sit here and “reflect upon your deeds” as the school principal keeps telling us. Can’t he see by the blank looks on our faces that we haven't got a clue what he means by that? I am a little bit worried that the principal might decide to tell Mommy that this is my fifth trip to detention, especially after she warned me not to get into any more trouble at school. Not that I got into any real trouble! I just forgot to do my homework a few times. Okay, I didn't forget. It's still the stupid fractions I can't do, that's all. Teacher is actually really nice to me and usually asks me why I didn't do the homework, but just when I think it might not be so bad telling her about my problem, I catch Kenny’s evil eye across the room. So I lie to her and say I forgot, and I act like I don't care. That’s the only way to fool everyone. Sooner or later we'll finish off this section of fractions and then everything can go back to normal again… Yesterday afternoon was so good! After school I invited Jada over for lunch and then we spent the whole afternoon shooting hoops. She couldn't keep up with me, so I must be getting really good at this now. You see? It’s all the practice I get playing with Jerry and Tom. The day before yesterday, we got onto our bicycles and cycled around the neighbourhood. For a change the yellow car was nowhere to be seen, so I was very relaxed and we had a great time! Jada’s the only one I really feel comfortable with because she doesn't ask silly questions, she makes me laugh and she's game to do anything. I don't understand why Mommy insists that I hang out with girls like Jacky and Jilly. They’re not really my friends - we only play together when they come to our house with their mothers. They irritate me. They look at each other and giggle when I talk about the sports I love, as if there's something weird about it. All I’m trying to do is to keep fit and healthy. I know Mommy thinks I play too much sport, like a boy would, but if she knew why I’m doing it, I’m sure she wouldn't mind so much. So that's one way of protecting myself: eating well and being active. Since Jada's already gone home, I think I’ll drag Lisa out to go cycling with me later. She’s always nagging to go along but she can't cycle as fast as we do. Never mind, as long as I get in some exercise today. She had better not talk too much though. Next Tuesday it will be 4 months since Daddy died and every time there's an anniversary like that, Lisa gets all teary and she's miserable to be around. For a change though, none of the adults is saying anything. I think the missing urn is bothering everyone a lot, especially since we were supposed to have buried and scattered Daddy's ashes by now. I overheard Mommy talking on the phone the other day and from what she was saying, I guessed it was the police she was talking to. They have nothing new to report. Mommy kept asking what they were doing about it, obviously not very satisfied with the answer. It couldn't just have disappeared into thin air! Sometimes I wonder if she doesn't secretly still blame me and I can't help feeling it's almost as if Daddy doesn't want to be found. Maybe this is only to punish me all over again. Daddy used to give me the silent treatment when I did something bad and this feels exactly like that. Well, at least then I could grab at him, pull his arm and nag him until he started talking to me again. What do I do now? If I could just see him one more time, to apologise, to sit on his lap and put my arms around his neck, or even scratch his head, that would make me feel much better. But he's so gone it's like he was never here. I once heard someone say we shouldn't be sad Daddy died because he's gone to a better place. Is that why he left us – to go to this better place? Whatever. I don't care. Oh, thank goodness! It's over now. I’m going to ask the detention teacher to give me a lift home because she lives near us and she's always very nice to me...

 

Yippee!! Let the fun begin. "Come on Sis, pedal faster!" She can moan and groan all she likes but I’m not paying her any attention. She wanted to come. "Wait! Look over there." She's pointing at a street lamp pole. "Yes, it's a lamp pole. So what?" She's struggling to speak through her panting. Okay, maybe I should slow down a bit. If my baby sister falls over, I’ll be in a world of trouble back home. "Take it easy. Let’s go over there and get a closer look." There's a poster of some sort tied around the pole. "But that's--" What on earth? It’s a 'missing' poster with a picture of Daddy's urn on it! Lisa has her face all screwed up like she's trying to read the poster. "What does it say?" "Hang on, let me read it." It says: Have you seen this ornamental urn? "What’s 'ornamental'?" "Shh, I don't know. Wait, there's more." It was last seen on 10 September. A generous reward will be paid for any information on the whereabouts of this urn. Please contact... "Hey, that's Mommy's name and phone number!" I don't believe this. I can feel the volcano pushing up inside me again. "Do I look blind to you?  I can read, thank you!" Lisa is looking at me like she wants me to explain what this is all about but all I can do is snap at her, like it's her fault. "Have you seen any more of these around?" "Yes, a couple. That’s why I showed you this one. The picture looked like something I know." You know it, all right. We all do. "Look, Sis, we've got to find them all. We’ll have to search the whole neighbourhood. Okay?" And as I’m speaking, I’m ripping off the poster and putting it into my bicycle basket. "What are you doing? You can't do that!" Watch me. "We have to take them all down." To put an end to this conversation, I get back on my bike and start pedalling, looking around me like a nervous meerkat. Lisa is still protesting and grumbling behind me but she doesn't want to be left behind, so she catches up to me and points me in the direction of another poster she's seen. I can't believe what Mommy's done, embarrassing us like this! Now everybody in the neighbourhood will know that we've lost  Daddy's ashes. It’s bad enough that we've lost him - now we've lost his ashes too. We’ll become a big joke in the neighbourhood and then of course at school too. No, no, no! I’m not having any of that. We’re going to go down every single street in this area until we've found all the posters, and then I’m going to throw them all away in the dumpsters outside the corner shop. Mommy will never know. I’ll have to make sure Lisa doesn't spill the beans. That’s easy - I can bribe her... We've collected about 30 posters and we'll have to stop there because I can see Lisa is getting very tired now. "Here, let’s throw them into this dumpster. Come on!" Lisa is doing what I’m telling her, which is strange for her because she never listens to me. I wonder what's going through her mind. "Why are we doing this? I mean, we want to find Daddy's ashes, don't we?" "Do you really want everyone at school and all your friends to know that we lost Daddy's ashes? You know you'll get teased non-stop, don't you?" She's nodding. "But how are going to find -- " We have to hurry up now because we don't want anyone to catch us doing this. "That’s the police's job, remember? Mommy doesn't know how the police work. They investigate a lot of things and it takes time to do all that. Mommy’s just impatient." You can tell Lisa anything and she'll believe you, but never ever say anything bad about Mommy. "Mommy isn't! I’m going to tell her you said that." "Sis, impatient isn't a bad word. It only means that Mommy doesn't want to wait for the police to do their job. But they are doing their job; we just don't know exactly what they have to do and how long it’s supposed to take. Remember when we watch C.S.I. on TV? They look at all different kinds of clues and sometimes they find out nothing and sometimes they crack the case." Thank goodness, she's nodding again. I’m closing the lid of the stinking dumpster with my heart beating wildly. "Right, I’ve got some of my pocket money with me. Let’s get something from the shop. You can have anything you want, okay?" As we leave the shop, we both take one last look back at the dumpster and start pushing our bikes home. We’re sucking our lollipops in silence and I know Lisa is thinking about what we've done, just as I am. We’re just about home, I stop and look her dead in the eye. "Lisa, you know we can't tell anyone about this afternoon, right? This has to be our secret. We’ve got to help Mommy, right? So we can't give her any more stuff to worry about. You can borrow my Manchester United socks any time you want and I won't shout at you, okay? In fact, you can borrow anything of mine any time you want, as long as you keep this secret. Got it?"  Her lips and tongue are a monster green colour from sucking the lollipop. "The police will catch the thief, won't they?" "Of course they will. It's their job." She says she won't tell. And she doesn't want my tomboy clothes. She wants the new dress Mommy bought me the last time they went out shopping. It’s way too big for her but she can have it - as long as she keeps her word.

 

It’s a good thing no one's in a talkative mood today. The house is quiet again, like those long uncomfortable days when Daddy lay sick in bed. Four months doesn't sound like a long time, but it is. Then one day it will be a year since we last saw Daddy. I’m thinking it but it makes no sense, not when Daddy has always been there, as long as I can remember, since before I was born. Four months without him. Four months of pretending to know what to do, but having no idea. Four months of feeling like I’m holding my breath, waiting for something to happen. And four months of being confused because nothing about my life makes sense without Daddy in it. Most of the time, it's pretty easy not to think about the day that Daddy died - there's enough other stuff going on and going wrong to keep me busy. But today feels almost exactly the same as that day. We went to school as normal, had dinner as usual, watched TV as usual, but everything we've done today felt unusual, like we were just pretending. Only Lisa acted up – she hung onto Mommy more than she usually does. Is it always going to be like this on the 23rd of every month? Will we always walk around like zombies on that day, saying and feeling nothing? Zombies are the living dead. I used to love watching horror movies about zombies, vampires and werewolves. I used to think they're fun - it's not as if I ever believed in any of that stuff. I can't help wondering about it now though. Can the dead really get up and walk around as if they're alive? And vampires can never die. Well, they are supposed to be dead but if they drink blood, they can also go around as if they are alive, only at night. Now it's strange for me to think about a person being dead and then coming back to life. One side of my brain knows it's all just nonsense and impossible, but the other side wishes some of that nonsense could be true. Oh, come on! I’m thinking like a crazy person now! Zombies! Honestly… Well, I’ve decided to get into bed early tonight so that today can be over sooner. I think I’ll read my book to take my mind off the living dead! Now, you can't get less scary than a story about a family of rabbits, some squirrels and a badger. I’ll have warm, fluffy dreams...

 

***

The young girl soon falls asleep and drifts away back to the beach of her dreams. Again, she's walking along the beach but this time, there's not another soul in sight. She looks out over the sea but this time there's no sunlight to cast a thousand sparkles on the water, and no diamonds to scoop up. She's confused, wondering why everything's so different in this dream. The sky is grey and the sea is muddy-looking. Even the sand looks dull: when she looks more closely at it, she sees that it's covered in ash! The sight of the ash sends a chill down her spine. Suddenly, the salty sea breeze blows some sand or ash - she can't tell which - into her eyes and it stings! She's spluttering and trying to rub the burning grit from her eyes when she sees a cave off the beach in the distance. She's now crawling across the beach through the sea breeze that's become a howling storm, pushing her back. She reaches the cave on her hands and knees and climbs her way up to the mouth of the cave. All she can think of is the peace and quiet of that cave, so she doesn't notice that the sharp rocks she's climbing up are shredding her hands and feet raw. Then she's at the mouth and trips into the cave. It is dark inside. The air is thick and still. She gropes around the floor and realises she's bleeding from her hands and feet. She starts rubbing at her wounds when she sees a light flickering at the back of the cave. She stumbles across the uneven rocky floor of the cave and approaches the light. It looks like a single candle set in the floor. When she's close enough to see around her from the flame of the candle, she becomes aware of a bed against the cave wall. She wipes the last of the sand and dust and ash from her eyes and focuses, and this is what she sees: it's her father. He's lying on his bed and he looks exactly like he did when he was sick! He's so thin and his eyes are set deeply inside his head. He looks desperate and his arms are stretched out towards the girl, but when he calls out her name, his voice sounds strong and steady like it did before he got sick. "Find me. I’m close by." She reaches out to embrace him but before she can get close enough to touch his hands, his body sinks into the bed and suddenly it is covered in worms! So many worms wriggling all over and off the bed and they're closing in on her, so she screams with all her might and—

 

***

"Noooooo... Get away from me! Help! Help me!" "What’s the matter, honey? Wake up! It’s okay, Mommy's here. You’re safe. You had a bad dream, that's all. That’s it, calm down. It’s all over now. Shh..." I can't stop shaking and crying. I remember everything. It was so horrible. I can still see Daddy's face in front of me and hear his voice saying, "Find me. I’m close by." What does it mean? What?

 

As hard as I try, I can't seem to get that picture out of my head: Daddy's arms stretched out to me. We were so close! We almost touched. That dream that I had about the nun on the beach felt so good, I really thought this was going to be the second part of that dream, and that it would help me remember the bits I don't. It looked like the same beach but if the first dream was in summer, this one was in winter. I guess all that thinking of zombies and stuff really was a bad idea. How strange that this dream was so much clearer than the first. Mommy wanted to know what the nightmare was all about and I almost told her. She always tells us about dreams she has of Daddy and she believes that dreams have messages in them. But I feel guilty about taking down the posters of Daddy's missing urn and I can't help but wonder if the message of this dream is Daddy's way of telling me I was wrong to do that. I woke Lisa up with my screaming last night and she was too scared to go back to sleep. Mommy had to stay with us in our room all night and we had to leave the bathroom light on. This morning Mommy told us we could stay home from school. I don't know if that is a good thing or a bad thing, because every time Mommy sees me, she asks me if I have remembered anything about the nightmare and then she gets annoyed with me when I get annoyed with her for asking. She keeps telling me to pick my lips up off the ground… In the meantime, Lisa is having a grand old time playing with the dog outside, enjoying her day off. I have to do something. I can't sit at home like this. My head feels like it's going to explode with all the voices talking over each other inside me. I’ve got an idea of how to figure out what last night's dream means, and also the nun dream. I remember Aunty Mary once told me she has a friend who dreamt she was a tin roof! I don't know how her friend knew she was a tin roof in her dream. What is being a tin roof supposed to feel like? Well, she couldn't make sense of it herself, so she looked it up on the Internet. Aunty Mary said you could find anything on the Internet if you knew where to look. I wonder if the police have thought of doing that to find Daddy's ashes. The only thing is I wouldn't even know where to start and besides, Peggy and Sue hog the computer all day long, chatting on the Internet with their boyfriends that they see everyday anyway. Aunty Mary and Grandma have been asking me for ages to spend a weekend with them but every time we plan to do it, something comes up. I think I’ll try for this coming weekend, if Mommy says it's okay. Then I can ask Aunty Mary to ‘Google’ a few things for me on the Internet on her laptop. Right, that's a good plan. But for now, I need some exercise before I go mad. "Hey Sis! Aren’t you bored playing with Porky already?" Oh please, look at this. She’s trying to show me a trick she's taught the dog, but she forgets this is probably the stupidest dog that ever lived. Cute, but stupid. This has to be the only dog I’ve ever heard of that went to a doggy training school and failed its first test. Apparently the dogs were instructed to sit but our little genius, Porky, heard 'pee' instead and that's what he did - all over the instructor! Daddy laughed so much about that. He said it was a wonder the dog didn't do number 2 because the rude word for that sounds a bit like 'sit'. "Let’s go for a ride outside. The weather's too nice to stay in all day. Come on!" Now the stupid dog is lying on its stomach, chewing grass. He does that a lot. Lisa thinks it's because he's really a vegetarian. "But I’m already outside." "I mean the proper outside, on the street, silly." Now she's lying down on the grass too, picking at weeds. "You’re going to cycle too fast for me again and besides, what will happen if we see more of those posters, huh?" I cover her mouth with my hand. "Shh! Do you want Mommy to hear? We have a deal, remember?" The dog is looking up at us with dumb, sad eyes. "You keep too many secrets. You never want to tell anything. It’s not fair." She's got the same look on her face as the dog. "Yes, but this is a secret between you and me. That’s special, isn't it?" She pulls her lips straight across her face. "Oh, nice try! You think I’m stupid but you don't fool me with that 'special' nonsense. I’ve got a good mind to tell--" "Okay, okay! You win. You’re right. I do have many secrets, but you want to tell Mommy everything and I told you we mustn't worry Mommy with silly things. Remember she has to do everything for us now: everything Daddy used to do plus everything she usually does for us. It’s hard on her. We’re supposed to try and help her." She's shrugging. I think I’ve got her convinced! "I guess. But I’m telling you now, we're not taking down any posters anywhere, and I want an iced lolly first." "Fine, okay. Now let's go then!" "No posters?" "No posters." I’m almost begging now, the little pest. "And you'll buy me an iced lolly first?" And finally, off we go... We told Mommy we're going to the shop first and then we're going to cycle around to the park. She said we're not allowed to go further than that and we must bring back some milk from the shop. I think I’ll get that on our way back home from the park. Lisa has her iced lolly now and she's happy as can be. I’m cycling just slowly enough for her to keep up but as we near the park, I start speeding up. She can see where we're going now, so she can't get lost and her mouth is too full of bubblegum flavoured iced lolly to whine. Wheeeeeeee! This is just what I needed! I haven't been to the park in a very long time. Mommy says it's full of teenagers smoking and swearing loudly, so we don't go there so much. But this time of the day on a school day, it's usually empty. As we enter the park, I see there are some people there: mostly mothers with babies in prams or pushing little kids on swings. She goes straight to the jungle gym but I carry on cycling round and round along the park's cycling track to see how fast I can go. I can see she is trying one of the moves that Josie showed us in Mossel Bay when we were on holiday. She almost got it right! I want to try too... Phew! I’ve forgotten how hard this is. Lisa is actually much better at this than I am and she knows it, so she acts like she isn't interested in the swings today. Ha, ha, ha! This is great! It was the best idea to do this. Imagine how jealous Jada's going to be when she finds out... "Sis, come over here!" I’m whispering, so she can't hear me. I’m running over to her with my head low. "Sis!" "What’s the matter? What are you looking at?" I’m looking over her shoulder. Way on the other side of the park, at the back entrance, a flash of yellow caught my eye while I was swinging. When I looked again, I saw that a couple of guys were sitting on a bench near the entrance, smoking and talking. Something about them looked familiar. Maybe if I climb up into the jungle gym, I’ll be able to see better. But something tells me I’ve got to keep Lisa near me. "Let’s go up inside. Show me that move you did earlier. Quickly!" I’m pushing her further into the jungle gym. I think we're okay because those guys aren't even looking this way. Now I can see their mullets! It must be the same guys in the yellow car I’ve seen parked in front of the school grounds and near our house. What are they doing here? If they're not looking at us, maybe they don't know we're here. "Hey Sis! Do you want to play detective?" I knew that would catch her attention. "Yeah! Cool! What’s the crime?" She's so excited; she's really acting a lot more like Porky every day. She spends way too much time with that dog. "I don't know yet, but I think those boys over there are up to no good. They’re definitely too young to smoke cigarettes. We should investigate them." Mm, not such an exciting crime, I know, but I can't think of anything better. "We need binoculars." Yes, my little sister’s a genius! "Why don't we go closer? We can even follow them on our bikes!" Wow, she's really getting into this now. That’s a brilliant idea actually. We just have to make sure they don't see us. "Right, good plan. But try not to look directly at them, okay?" "Aye aye, captain," and she salutes me. We’re walking slowly towards our bikes, just keeping the yellow car in the corner of our eyes. I can see them getting up from the bench, still talking. Now they're walking slowly towards the car. "Let’s start riding slowly to that side, but keep your head turned away from them as much as possible." I want her to ride next to me at first so that we can pretend to be talking while we cycle. We’re not far from the car now and I can see the guys getting into the car. Now they're just sitting there. "Let’s stop here for a bit until they start the car, okay?" Lisa is dead serious and I can see she loves every minute of this. "Okay, we have to stake them out now." That’s so funny! She’s even pretending to check her bike's gears. I’m looking at her with my eyebrows raised and she smiles that naughty smile of hers. "Just in case they're looking!" Now they're throwing cigarette butts out the window and at last we can hear the engine of the yellow car grumbling to life. "Back on your bike, Sis! Let’s go slowly now..." From here on it's actually quite easy because the car isn't going fast at all. I can see their elbows hanging out of the car's open windows and their hands are beating against the doors as if they're listening to music. "They’re cruising." If this wasn't so serious, I’d be falling off my bike laughing at Lisa, especially since she's being so serious herself. "What?" "Cruising! That means they're moving slowly through the hood like it belongs to them. You know, like they're street kings or something." "Mm, and showing off too. I wonder who they are. Oh, wait! Slow down and look at me! They’re coming to a stop street." "Look! They didn't even stop! That’s a crime too, isn't it?" Lisa knows her stuff all right. "Let’s ride over the lawns in front of these houses, so if they see us, they'll think we live here." Actually I’m trying to keep Lisa's mind off the fact that we're getting further and further away from home... We've been following them for about 20 minutes now and I don't know this part of the neighbourhood we're in; so I’m hoping they stop somewhere soon. I don't really know what I’m going to do when they stop. I guess I want to know something about them, where they live or what they look like. Lisa was right: if only we had binoculars. The yellow car is turning up into a driveway now. "Stop, Sis! Let’s park our bikes here and sit on the grass like we're playing here." "I can't see. What are they doing?" "They’re getting out. There are 4 of them altogether and they all have the same hairstyle. How weird!" "Maybe they're brothers. Do you think they live there?" I have no idea. I really don't know what I’m doing here. I just hope I can remember the way back to the park because I definitely don't know the way home from here. Where is here anyway? "How long are we going to sit here and wait?" All good questions, Lisa. "Um, do you know what we can do? If we want to report them to the police, we have to know 2 things: the car's number plate and the house address. That way the police can find them in 2 different ways." Lisa looks impressed. "Okay, we can write it down on something. Have you got a pen and paper?" I shake my head. "Well, I didn't know we were going to play detective today! Look, let's just go. They’ve all gone inside now. I’ll memorise the number plate and you remember the address. Have you got it? Ready?" Ready or not, here we go.

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