By Thomas Elson
July 15, 2023
July 15, 2023
He sees butterflies.
He is no longer the seventy-eight year old with high blood pressure, cold hands, and a perpetually sore right shoulder picking up a prescription refill as he walks through the pharmacy section of Safeway.
It has been decades, nevertheless, today he is a nine-year-old fourth grader in Sacred Heart school, who fell out of a tree and onto the exposed barbs at the top of a playground chain link fence. He is walking home with a shred of skin flapping against his knee as blood stains his ripped Levi 501 jeans - the ones with the buttons he hated, the only ones sold at Jett’s Department store in this little post-war town with not enough housing for families of men freshly discharged after World War II and Korea.
He limps from fence to sidewalk to trek the five blocks home without mentioning the blood and pain from the gash, when on his left he sees his mother’s face on the driver’s side as their two-tone green 1953 Oldsmobile Super ’88 pulls to the curb. The car stops. His mother exits the car, opens the rear passenger door, and he, without hesitation, hops in. No words spoken. It’s as if she knows - what, where, when, and how.
He recalls nothing until they arrive home. She tells him to stand in the bathtub. He struggles to remove his jeans. She allows the blood to drip. Then, as if by magic, and with a surgeon’s grace, she lifts the flap of skin from the knee with the little finger of her left hand. Cleans the wound with her right hand, applies mercurochrome, then removes a Band-Aid from its tin container, fashioning a butterfly shape, pulling the cover from the adhesive, placing it over his knee. He hears muttering about a tetanus shot.
Decades later, the school is still there. As is the fence with its twisted links— now covered with protective tubing. Sometimes the image of that butterfly recurs—
when picking up a prescription refill,
when not in a hurry,
when he reads the Band-Aid labels—
the rounded butterfly—
he remembers his mother’s magical powers.
Thomas Elson’s stories appear in numerous venues, including Mad Swirl, Blink-Ink, Ellipsis, Scapegoat, Bull, Cabinet of Heed, Flash Frontier, Ginosko, Short Édition, Litro, Journal of Expressive Writing, Dead Mule School, Selkie, New Ulster, Lampeter, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.