The ULYSSES BUTTERFLY eats kerosene, little puffballs, and is a danger to draw in with the finger. They breathe fire. They are fantastic. They are firecrackers of the fluttering type. Spontaneous combustion is caused by the consumption of a Ulysses butterfly, then smoking, or swallowing flint, or cooking, or filling up your gas tank. I grabbed a Ulysses butterfly straight out of the air and it exploded and I lost three fingers. I found the fingers, kept them, couldn’t reattach the little bits, so I put them in a glass case with a pin through each and put that case on my shelf. Here lies my left-handedness, I thought. I put on a cap and there was a Ulysses butterfly inside and it bumped around until I took the cap off to have a look and it burst right beside my left ear. I’m stone deaf in that ear now. I put the cap on the shelf by my fingers. I speared a Ulysses butterfly out of the air and brought it home with me and put it in a thick metal thermos. There was a velvety scraping sound, then a pff sound, and then I put the thermos on the shelf by my cap and my fingers. I woke up the next morning and the house was surrounded with Ulysses butterflies. They covered the windows, filled the sink. They grew out of the chimney like moss. I thought well, never in a million years would I have seen this coming, and then I thought if the house blew up, the crater might be a kind of keepsake. I could put the crater up on the shelf next to the thermos, my cap and my fingers. And I felt very happy. I drank a coffee and the table was covered in Ulysses butterflies. I held up a newspaper and read the backs of their wings. I called in to work and my boss made a velvety scraping sound. The Ulysses butterflies found my kerosene in the garage and brought it in and started drinking like they were putting out fires. They were all fat little bombs by the end of that afternoon and they were on my arms and legs and chest and face. The mailman knocked once and the Ulysses butterflies shivered. He rang the bell and it made a velvety scraping sound. I mouthed the words please don’t do it, but he cracked the door and slid in the junk mail. Nothing happened next. The best kind of nothing. The kind of nothing that gets you thinking, I could do this. I could manage. The next step will be getting dressed. That simple. The next step will be going back to work. The next step will be learning to cook again, to clean again, learning to sleep with more stillness, learning to tread more lightly, learning to think less loudly, learning, in everything, to be more delicate. The Ulysses butterflies cracked their knuckles. They thumped their wings. The mail truck left our street with a honk.
Colin Winnette is the author of several books, including Haints Stay (forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio in June 2015). He thanks Alice Blue Review for originally publishing this story, and The Literary Review for celebrating it here. Also Spork Press, who made these little animal stories into a book, which they bound with their hands. Colin is online at colinwinnette.net, if you want to know more.
“The Ulysses Butterfly” was originally featured on alice blue in alice blue fourteen.