© 2016 by Helen Sperber

A BUTTERFLY NAMED SPOT

She lived with us for over three weeks: a pair of golden-orange wings clinging to the folds of the living room curtain, a bright little fairy perched on a curled finger, a breath of amazed enchantment coloring our lives.

Kim was just 5 when she came home from kindergarten that cold afternoon in early November, her hands cupped ever so gently around her precious find, eyes bright with excitement.

“Look, Mommy!”

She spread her hands, and there, numbed by the cold, to all appearances dead, lay a magnificent butterfly. Soft and velvet looking, golden-orange, with black circles on the two lower wings, delicate legs and antenna.

“She’s just cold, Mommy,” Kim insisted. “She’ll be all right when she gets warm.”

I gave her a clean napkin to lay the butterfly on, so it could be moved without being touched, and helped Kim out of her own warm bundlings. With proper interest and sympathy, and a gentle attempt to suggest the butterfly might not wake up, I helped Kim get settled near the heat duct, with the butterfly on her lap, and returned to my duties in the kitchen.

The other children, Ann, 7, and Susan, 6, came home, and immediately joined the hopeful vigil at the butterfly’s side. It must have been nearly an hour later that shrill, excited cries brought me back to the living room.

“He moved! He moved!”

“Oh, I knew she was all right!”

I couldn’t have been more amazed when I saw the lovely wings twitch ever so slightly. But soon they were slowly, but steadily being fanned up and down, up and down, while tiny legs reached faltering steps across the white napkin.

Excited cries of “Daddy! Look!” greeted John as he arrived home just in time to see the resurrected butterfly launch her maiden flight straight to the white curtains covering the window. The triumph on Kim’s face was glorious.

Normally, keeping a butterfly cooped up inside the house would seem a cruel thing to do, but this was November and it was cold. Temperatures were expected to drop below freezing that night, so we agreed to let Kim keep her inside.

As we sat around the table finishing supper that night, Kim asked, “What do butterflies eat?”

Not having any flowers in the house to produce nectar, John suggested honey. It seemed like the next best thing. While Kim went to get the butterfly, we mixed a drop of honey with a bit of water to thin it.

With the butterfly perched on one hand, Kim dipped her finger into the sticky fluid and brought it close to her pet.

We were skeptical.

No one made a sound, even breathing seemed to have stopped, as we watched,fascinated. The butterfly dipped her antennae inquiringly toward the offered finger, then eagerly unrolled a long slender “tongue” from somewhere, and sucked the liquid from Kim’s finger. Excitedly, the creature searched along her finger, the next finger, crawled onto the other hand, fluttering and searching. Someone placed another drop of honey on her finger. The butterfly quickly found it and sucked it dry. Several drops of liquid later, apparently satisfied, she stopped hunting for more, and sat relaxed on Kim’s hand.

“She ate it,” Kim almost whispered. It was the first sound any of us had made. Now we all began to babble at once.

“How did she drink it?”

“I would never have believed it!”

“Was that a straw?”

“Where is her tongue now?”

“A butterfly, eating from your hand!”

We all felt we had witnessed a miracle, but for Kim, it was the miracle of making a new friend.

“What are you going to name her?” Ann asked.

Kim barely hesitated.

“Spot,” she declared. “Her name is Spot. See the spots on her wings?”

We all laughed, and suggested more ephemeral names – Daphne, Gwendolyn, Celeste – but Kim was not to be swayed. Her butterfly’s name was “Spot”.

For the rest of us, Spot was always a dancing bit of magic, sure to disappear at any moment, but to Kim, she was as real and substantial as the parade of kittens, hamsters and guinea pigs that passed through our lives.

True, she could not romp with this gossamer pet, or even hold and caress it, but by the end of the second or thirdday, Kim had only to stand in the middle of the living room and lift her arm with outstretched finger. Spot would flutter away from her perch on the curtain, perhaps circle once or twice, and then light gently on Kim’s finger, just as surely as the dog would come running in response to our whistle. Kim spent long periods of time watching Spot’s gentle explorations of her hand and arms – legs feeling tentatively, antennae dipping gently forward and back, side to side.

Spot accepted food from the rest of the family too, and would even sip from a saucer when we were busy. She ate several times a day, and enjoyed fruit juices as well as honey.

None of us will ever forget the gentle touch of her delicate legs tickling our finger, or the barely discernable touch of her unrolled “straw” (properly called a proboscis, we learned) through which she sucked up the offered sweets.

I was hesitant when Kim wanted to take her new friend to kindergarten for “Show and Tell”, but a couple of weeks after her arrival, Kim coaxed Spot into a glass jar and covered it lightly. Tucking it into Kim’s coat for warmth, we set off together in the car.

The children seemed as awed as we had all been, watching Spot flutter onto Kim’s finger and eagerly drink the honey water. They watched silently a while, then, as they crowded a bit too close, the butterfly became nervous and flew away.

“Be quiet!” Kim ordered, as her classmates jumped up and began to shout. Wondrously, they obeyed, and Kim stood still in the middle of the room, stretching her arm high. No shouts, just muffled “Oh”s and “Ah”s as Spot landed on Kim’s finger after a moment. Kim gingerly returned her to the jar, and handed it to me.

“You’d better take her home now, Mommy. She’s kinda scared.”

The teacher’s incredulous “Thank you for sharing this with us,” was softly echoed by the children

We never knew what happened to Spot. We went to visit the children’s grandparents over the weekend at Thanksgiving, leaving Spot behind, with a saucer of honey water on the table beside her curtain, and an amazed friend who was to replenish it when he came to feed the dog. When we returned, Spot had vanished. We searched the house over, but could find no trace of our fairy friend.

The effect she had on our lives, however, was permanent. Observation of that tiny life at close range taught us all that even such a miniature creature can have likes and dislikes, preferences, and even enjoy company.

Kim especially has never ceased to be fascinated by all tiny creatures. The most minute life, to her, is a thing to be held, studied, protected.

I have seen her often, standing straight and still in the garden, one arm lifted high over her head, finger slightly curled, with as many as three butterflies vying for the perch of her finger at one time.

She calls them all “Spot” and sometimes, I think they know her.