A Butterfly on the Shoulder

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Sylvie Loy

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My father used to say that butterflies only landed on the prettiest flowers. And on people who possessed a beautiful soul.
When I was a child, butterflies often used to land on me. And that made me proud in the eyes of my father.
In that little bit of garden he rented, he carefully tended wild plants and flowers. By instinct. This corner of wild and uncommon greenery was very like him. So, on Saturdays and Sundays we would all pile into the Simca to go there, because it was some way out of the town. Out there, my mother would spread a picnic on an improvised table of cloths on the ground. Then, after eating, we would sleep to the sound of the crickets.
My father would work the land with and for pleasure. With no purpose in mind. Just to turn the earth over and aerate it, he would explain to my sister and me. Then he might forget about it for a whole season. To let it rest, he would say as justification.
It was in this intimate environment that in spring the butterflies would choose me by settling on my shoulders. They folded their wings and kept as still as I did. Gently, for fear of shattering the magic, I would turn my head and observe them. I examined the expert designs on their wings at my leisure. I wanted to stroke them. But I stopped myself, as I knew how fragile a butterfly was. So I confided my secrets in them by telepathy. And they would only take flight again when I had finished pouring my heart out.
Today, in my garden, as the fine weather is returning and butterflies are fluttering round my children, I think of my father. And if, by chance, one of them should land on a child’s shoulder, I tell them our family legend. Then by telepathy, I ask the butterfly to tell my father that I have found in his grandchildren my beautiful child’s soul that he used to love so much.

To my father, that too ephemeral butterfly.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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