A Short Story
by E.B. Jones
Mason Maxwell wasn’t like most of the other boys that he went to school with. Whenever he was twelve years old his mother bought him a box with a glass front and he decided that he was going to use it to start a butterfly collection. He liked the idea that butterflies weren’t always the way that butterflies seemed to be. For he himself, felt as though he was a caterpillar, simply waiting until he was able to wind himself up in a cocoon and then to emerge and fly away from everyone and everything.
Mason had never been a very popular boy, he was skinny, small and had to wear very large glasses in order to see. He spent most of his time alone in the library reading books and avoiding confrontations at all costs with the mean boys in gym class.
His only real friend at the school was the librarian. She had taken a special liking to Mason because of his love of reading. Many times he would excuse himself from the pep rallies and assemblies, saying that he needed to go to the bathroom, and he would sneak off to the library to read.
Mason wasn’t the only kid in school that didn’t get along with the mean boys in gym class but they weren’t the same as Mason was. They all wanted to be accepted by the popular kids. One of them, Lynn, had once been friends with Mason years ago. But whenever the boys would be mean to him he would run to the bathroom and cry.
There was another boy, Jeremiah, who would be made fun of as well. But instead of running off to the bathroom and crying, he showed up to school one day wearing all black and pretending like he had no emotions. The kids eventually stopped making fun of him but they never accepted him and Jeremiah would spend most of his off time standing behind the dumpster smoking sweet smelling cigarettes.
Mason was made fun of just as much as any of the other kids that were made fun of, but he didn’t mind it so much. He never wanted to follow the status quot, but preferred to focus his energy on things that interested him. With his affinity for insects he categorized all the students in the school into different groups. Most of the kids in school were ants, just following whatever was popular at the time and doing things that way because that was what you were supposed to do. Mason never got angry at them or wanted to cry whenever they made fun of him because he knew that was just how they were. He knew that none of the ants could understand him, being a caterpillar, and he never expected them too. “There’s always tomorrow.” He would tell himself and smile.
One day, one of the boys from gym pushed Mason up against a locker, “Hey nerd,” The boy said, “How come you like butterflies so much? You a fag or something?”
“No,” Mason said calmly, “I just think they’re pretty. I mean, they aren’t at first, whenever they’re still caterpillars. But eventually they grow up and are beautiful, then they fly around in big groups with their own and are never alone anymore. Not like ants, ants just stay on the ground and do whatever they’re told to do, never thinking for themselves.”
“Whatever faggot.” The boy said, pushing him down on the ground. “I bet you like other boys, that’s why you like butterflies.”
“I don’t see the correlation,” Mason said smiling, “Don’t worry, one day you might see.”
“Shut up faggot,” The kid said. Then he swung and knocked Mason’s glasses off. “That’s what you get for being a fag.”
That evening Mason’s mother picked him up and asked him what had happened. He explained and she just sighed. She didn’t understand him either, “Why don’t you try to play sports of something and make some friends?”
“It’s ok mom. I don’t want to be friends with people like that. They’re mean and one day things will change and I’m going to have a bunch of friends. People that aren’t just mean to each other because they are insecure in their own shortcomings,” he told her.
“Where do you get this stuff?” She asked. She didn’t understand her son, but she didn’t really care, she was proud that her son was more mature than even she was.
“I don’t know, I think it’s because I read a lot of books,” he told her.
A week later Mason decided that he wanted to explain to the other kids in school why he loved butterflies so much so he asked his science teacher if he could do a presentation on then for class. His teacher agreed and he set to work laying out all the details and making sure that he had everything in order for his presentation.
The presentation went well despite the spit wads and name calling. After he finished his teacher stood up and addressed the class.
“That was very informative Mason. Now, can anyone tell me what the process that a caterpillar goes through to become a butterfly?”
Mason raised his hand but the teacher just looked at him and smiled. “Obviously you know Mason, does anyone else know?”
A girl at the back of the class raised her hand slowly, as if she thought she might know the answer.
“Yes, Sandy?” The teacher asked, “Do you know?”
Sandy hesitated for a moment and bit her lip, “Is it, metamorphosis?”
“Very good Sandy.” The teacher said.
Sandy wasn’t the most popular girl in school, but she was a cheerleader and her boyfriend was on the football team. Of all the members of the cheer squad she was the only one that actually seemed to care about any of her school work. Mason turned around and looked at her and smiled.
She looked at him and started to smile, then someone coughed out the word “nerd.” Then her smile went away and she rolled her eyes at Mason.
Mason didn’t mind Sandy rolling her eyes at him. He just turned back around and kept smiling.
Three weeks later Sandy missed several days of school and rumors started to circle around. Someone had said that her mother had been murdered by her father and that she had been kidnapped and was in Mexico. The only thing that anyone knew for sure was that the news was saying that her mother had been murdered and her father was on the lam.
Eventually Sandy did show up to school. Most of the time she kept silent and whenever someone tired to talk to her she told them to go away. Many of her friends ended up taking it very personally because none of them understood what she was going through.
The day before her mothers funeral, Sandy was standing at her locker whenever Mason walked past and noticed that she was crying so he decided to walk up to her.
“Sandy.” Mason said to her.
“Go away, I just want to be alone.” She told him.
“I’m sorry about your mother.” Mason said.
“Just go away! All right?” She yelled at him.
Mason continued on towards the library and went inside and sat down at his usual seat. The librarian came and sat down next to him.
“You like that girl Sandy huh?” She asked him.
“I like everyone. I just think she’s sad and I want to be nice to her because her mom died.” He told her.
“Well, I think you are being a very kind and proper gentleman.” The librarian told him.
“I don’t want her to be sad.” He said “I know why she’s sad, but everyone thinks she’s just being mean to them. They tried reaching out but I don’t think any of them really understand.”
“Well, she is going through a lot right now, and you have to understand that there are a lot of things going on in her mind. Just try and let her know that you’ll be there if she needs to talk to someone, but don’t be pushy about it.” The librarian said, “It’s kind of like whenever you get a little older, you’ll learn that you need to be available, but also respectful of boundaries. Lord knows I’ve been waiting for a boy that understands that.”
“You aren’t married?” Mason asked.
“No,” She laughed, “I was a caterpillar until about two years ago.”
“How old are you?”
“Here’s one more lesson. Never ask a girl her age.” She told him, “But between you and me, I’m 27.”
“Wow,” Mason said, “You were a caterpillar for a long time.”
The librarian laughed and then said, “Yeah, I was.”
“You made a pretty butterfly though.” He smiled.
“Thanks kid.” The librarian said.
Sandy opened the door with her head down and stood in the entryway for a bit, then walked to one of the aisles of books.
“Go get her kid.” The librarian said.
“Right, available, but respectful.” Mason said confidently.
“You’re gonna be something someday.” She smiled.
Mason walked slowly to where Sandy and gone. “I know you don’t want to talk to anyone right now, but if you ever do want to talk, I just wanted to let you know I’ll listen to you.”
Sandy looked up at him and had tears in her eyes. They stared at each other for a moment and then Mason smiled at her, turned around and walked away.
The next day Mason asked his mother if he could go to Sandy’s mother’s funeral and his mother agreed that it would be a nice thing to do.
Sandy arrived with her grandparents and Mason with his mother. “I don’t want to get too close, she’s going through a lot.” Mason told his mother.
After the funeral service ended Mason looked up in the sky and noticed a dark cloud moving swiftly towards the site. Mason’s mother put her hand on his shoulder, “We should get going.” She said.
“Not yet,” He told her.
The dark cloud got closer and closer until everyone that was left at the grave site could see that it was a swarm of butterflies. As the small group marveled at the site, Sandy looked down and noticed that there was one single butterfly resting on her mother’s coffin. She watched it as it slowly moved its wings and then took off and joined the other butterflies and flew north. She watched them until they disappeared into the sky. Whenever she looked back she noticed that Mason was watching the butterflies as well.
“I want to go talk to that boy.” She told her grandmother.
“That’s fine dear.” Her grandmother said.
Sandy walked towards Mason and tapped him on the shoulder. “What kind of butterflies are those?”
“Those are called Red Admiral butterflies. They migrate through here during the spring and fall.” He told her, “This is the first time I’ve seen that many of them though.”
“Do you think they took my mother to a better place?” She asked.
“Maybe,” Mason said, “Maybe in this life we’re all just caterpillars right now. Then one day, we go into a coffin for a little while, and then come out as something even more beautiful.”
Sandy’s throat closed up and tears started forming in her eyes. She tried to open her mouth to make words but nothing could come out so she just leaned in and kissed Mason. It was the first time a girl other than his mother had kissed him. They both stood for a moment looking at each other.
Then, Sandy turned around and walked away, and even though no one ever saw it, for the first time since her mother had died, Sandy smiled.