“The Butterfly House” by Orla Price

When you walked the winding country lanes, along each twist and turn, you could almost always see the house. It stood on the highest hill, overlooking the hedgerows and all their diverse life, overlooking the grass which had struggled and succeeded in growing up through the tar on the bumpy roads, overlooking the village, the business and the gossip, overlooking the children which had struggled and succeeded in growing up away from the village, overlooking the struggles of all nature trivial and tragic, oh if you could understand those creaking floorboards, the groaning of the pipes, the shudder of old window frames, the stories you would learn, the stories that house could tell.

Not one person in the village could restrain themselves from craning their necks upwards and looking at the house as they passed by, whether from slight curiosity to simple habit to an insatiable desire to know something, anything of the houses inhabitants. Strange people the shopkeeper would add to the chatter of mass goers as they crowded into his shop on a Sunday morning, strange people the words would echo down the queue like a domino effect into the frozen section. The words strange people washed over the icy stiff wings of the chickens in the freezers as they sat almost frozen in agreement to it all. The same conversation had passed over themselves, their relatives, and their ancestors for such a long time. So as the factory churned the life out of chickens, the villagers churned the life, the meaning out of words. Strange people repeated and repeated. Strange people indeed, strange people, keep themselves to themselves, strange people alright, was the sum total of elaboration that could be conjured upon the statement. Strange was a judgement made when the opportunity to judge was nearly all but absent, a judgement made on the judgement of others, a judgement made on shadows and emptiness and yet such judgements held the conviction of steel. Yet when the flames licked the up to the tip top of the house, their minds became as blank as the basis for their judgements and as empty as their meaningless words.

The ivy had grown thick and strong, the green tendrils had snaked and tangled their way to the utmost reaches of the house. It was an incalculable journey taken by one sprouting seed grown into an undecipherable code of many routes. A rich tapestry made by a loom gone out of control, a web woven by a deranged spider, a road map to the farthest reaches of one’s imagination, to destinations that could only be accounted for in ones dreams. It was disordered chaos yet with elusive control over its surroundings. It was completely natural. That’s what my grandmother would tell me, taking my hand into hers with surprising strength, blue veins popping out through pellucid skin. ‘Let it remind you’ she had whispered as wisps of grey hair fell into her electric blue eyes, ‘that there is no how to living’. I was five at the time, struggling to grasp meaning but silenced by the sense of utmost gravitas. She had let a trembling and watery smile surface, lips pulled back to a certain translucency, her one blue and one green eye completely focused, ‘how to live is with no how, naturally and without order’, her voice started to crack at the last syllable and I heard the laugh brewing, a twinkle in the eye, a crinkle at the corner of the mouth, a tremor of the shoulders. ‘Eliza’ my mother’s voice pierced through a moment, ‘come and help me now’. Memories fade with time, maybe I should have listened to her more, maybe then it wouldn’t have happened. The heat, the blistering heat, clouds of smoke, my throat closing up.

On a par with the blanket of ivy, the most amazing thing about the house was the dome shaped greenhouse. The house was a square with four joining corridors and laid in the middle of it, perhaps where there should have been a courtyard was a domed shaped greenhouse. The dome reached higher than the other roofs, leaves pushed against every pane of glass, giving the impression of something trapped, life suppressed and yearning for escape but these were plants, they were driven through instinct not desire. So what of us? My grandmother would ask What is wrong with the people in this village is not that they are suppressed for we are all suppressed, for does the horizon, that barely discernable line marking the edges of atmosphere and solidity, is that not just another boundary? When we think of things on a grander scale, are we not all just in a huge dome, sitting silently and unawares like plastic figures in a snow globe? Who decided the rules about space, we define big and small through ourselves but there is an entire world on that table for the insect we watched scurry today. No what is wrong with them is not that their desires are suppressed but that they suppress their desires. What is desire only instinct defined differently because it is burdened with traversing through human reason, human habit and our so called knowledge. Instinct is natural. Impulse is the decision based on the beat of ones heart, so closely connected to our natural selves that it doesn’t have to suffer through a process that will have it defined as desire. Follow impulse and instinct, listen to your desires she would tell me, live naturally, we can learn a lot from plants.

Once you took a step inside that greenhouse, nothing seemed trapped, it was wild. Leaves dripped with condensation and moisture, vines meandered along bark, branches hung low laden with growth, buds bloomed, petals curled. The glass was like the skin of a living breathing organism pulsing with life. I would take tentative steps as child gazing through these layers of life. The glass was like the separation between mind and body, where my tentative steps saw me delve into myself, gingerly stepping through the thick undergrowth. It was wild. I would gaze through layers of life, tiptoeing around puddles, my eyes following the darting flashes of colour, flutter of wings, brushes against my skin.

I think she enjoyed their curiosity, and even their suspicion and distaste. The suspicion and distaste was only the curiosity of those who disrespected the very feeling of curiosity, who only wanted to be satisfied with that which they thought they already knew. She’d put on a black velvet cloak, sparkling ruby rings and with the utmost care, she’d place a massive jewelled butterfly into her hair. She’d flaunt through the village head held high and ebony cane tapping out a rhythm that her eyes seemed to dance in time to. My mother was a different case, she would blush and stammer in the shop, cast her eyes downwards. Take the chatter as an insult; take the silence as an insult. Her hair was greying; her hands were weak, and her eyes dulling. She would sit at the table, her brow deepening, and her head in her hands. She needs help she would tell me. As I got older I would come home late, come into the kitchen to make tea, find her sitting there. We should find her somewhere to go where she can get help my mother would say. I should’ve paid attention to her, listened to her words, and not met them with the disregard and nonchalance typical of those silly teen years. I was so consumed to listening to myself, to obeying myself to surrendering to every spur and whim. I was rigidly disciplined as regards all I felt, I did whatever I told myself to do. Sometimes in the greenhouse, the plants would fight for sunlight. Straining and growing. The smoke constricting my throat, the acrid taste, what am I doing, going up to the house, leaping and dancing heat, flickering orange. Then the creaking the, the crushing thunder, in my ears I could hear fire falling.

The greenhouse was full of butterflies; the butterfly house, Emperors, admirals, peacocks and royal blues. Eyes on wings would solemnly lookout at you through the leaves. They were big and small and of every colour. They would land on you as silently as dust settling, closing and opening their wings full of intricate and bright detail. Sometimes they would erupt in clouds above me like an explosion of living fireworks, a sparkling volcanic eruption; a champagne bottle uncorked releasing living colour. She hated them and I never knew. She hated them, their thin spindly bodies, and the filmy tissue delicacy of their wings, their twitching antennae and the noise. You’d never think of the noise because it was so soft, barley barely audible. But there. The flutter, the close of wings, the alighting of bodies. At night there were the moths in the house. In the darkness, the hair would raise on the back of her neck, knuckles paling to white as she gripped the duvet, her imagination would play tricks and every corner would be full of them, the house would groan and creak and strain under the millions of bodies settling their dusky wings and furry bodies in for the night. In the morning the light would be cast into the corners revealing only dust and cobwebs and her body was the only thing that groaned and creaked with weight, not the house. Then there was the litter of dead bodies on the ground. Those paper thin, terribly fragile things were once alive. Revolted, disgusted, she shrank away from her parents work, their passion, hid herself in her room whilst young. The stages from larvae to butterfly were studied by my grandparents but it sickened her. The very sound of the squish of pin into cork board or foam, the dead hung and labelled on walls, fascinating for some.Yet how well she hid it, how one can harbour under a life they hate when they don’t know anywhere else to go. Isolated, she accepted the attention that came her way, went where others told her to go, went where he told her to go. Yet she never did explore the greenhouse.

What a ridiculous man. He was aware of each word, taking into account a reputation too small for our lives, a reputation too small for this world. His existence was full of the regard for the opinions of others. He stopped speaking to her when she bought the bread, he would let her blush and stammer with shame. Feelings created from the awareness of others as opposed to the awareness of ones own self. He would let them talk. My father would. Strange people he would agree with the ongoing conversation when she left, as if he never knew her. Nature has never cared about truth; nature has always cared about what is best for itself. Evolution has dictated that life present itself to whatever is in its best interest to seem like. Some butterfly bear an uncanny resemblance to snakes heads, fake scales and fake eyes and if bothered some even have the ability to rattle menacingly. However do they themselves fall under the illusion of their own false identities? In all of nature, we are cursed to lie more simply because we communicate more and inevitably that profusion of lying led us to lying to ourselves. Distinctions blurred, we became captivated by ourselves, lived in spells of our own crafting and yet it was the only way to survive for if we paid attention to how others were surviving, reality would become morphed, for it was the viewpoints of millions all clambering in the same space. It was better not to compare, it was better to avoid, to ignore, it was natural, we had to have developed it for a reason, it was a way to survive. Perhaps these are the things he told himself to justify his actions although I doubt he even had that intelligence, which means it was even more of a natural action, carried by instinct, absent of thought, he self-deceived with the same effort as a plant turns their neck to the sunlight. Yet still I wonder what went through his mind as he saw those flames rise?

Heart thumping, I ran and ran. I ran as I felt the smoke invading my own mind, as well as every corner of my former home. In momentary confusion I halted in the middle of the drive way and froze, stood suspended as all around me what seemed to be hundreds of black flakes swirled, I could feel My Grandmothers’ familiar hand gripping my own urging me to move but I was lost in a storm, it fell from the sky, it pummelled from the house, were they wings? Was the ash trying to fly away? Butterflies were dying and parts of the house were being brought alive, flying away with their secrets. When I fell at the end of the road, the gravel stood out in my mind. In the depth of chaos small details turned into the my whole world, the gravel sticking into my knee, spots of blood, brighter cleaner cut, a pixel enhanced image, a photo on a magazine cover, not my body. The blackness seemed to fall from a great height, like a comforting blanket thrown on top of everything. So I let myself be enveloped it, wrapped myself up in the security of nothingness, for that’s what we do with things that are horrific or terrible. In that case it seems natural to block out all we can’t handle, to dismiss which we can’t solve.

Biographical Note:
Orla Price is currently studying History and Politcs at UCD. You can read more from her, here: www.sillical.blogspot.com

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