The Mouse in Chapter Two

This selection is paired with Chapter 2 of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. Get NonBinary Review #18 from Zoetic Press. 


Mouse was his name. The boy who would commit
Suicide by laying his head upon
A rail track. He didn’t even get his
Own grave in the end. His father shares it
And the world comes to see where Kenneth Graham
Is buried. On top of his dead son. It’s

Horrible, really. Broken carts and Mole
Standing in for not wanting to see all
The horrors that real grown up life contains,
(but it’s always there anyway), while droll
Gypsy caravans and river banks call
Attention to idyllic quests. The train

Reminds us of Mouse, of course, and the fact
That these stories were for him. But we don’t
Care to dwell on that for long, there is Rat
And Toad and motor cars set to distract
Us from the melancholy so we won’t
Think of Mouse, no, we won’t think of Mouse, that

Would be all wrong. He’s not in the book, he’s
Just who the book was for, his father wrote
It for him, to him, about him, on him
Really in the end. Quite literally. These
Things never sit well with fate. Gods take note.
They rewrote the book when they made the film.


Juleigh Howard-Hobson’s poetry has appeared in Able Muse, The Lyric, Star*Line, Fairy Magazine, Polu Texni,The Alabama Literary Review, Caduceus, Weaving The Terrain (Dos Gatos), Poem Revised (Marion Street), The Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch), “The Literary Whip” (Zoetic Press podcast) and many other venues. She has been nominated for “The Best of the Net” and The Pushcart Prize (twice), and is currently nominated for a Rhysling Award. She has always been fascinated by the horrible story behind this particularly beloved book.

Dear Megaparsec

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


I reread A Wrinkle in Time once every few years. Sometimes, I reach for it every year. There are times in my life that I need its refuge more than others.

When I first read it, I was 12 years old. I’d never met my father, and my mother spent most of her time locked behind her bedroom door with a bottle in hand. Alone in my room, I read voraciously. Fantasy was my mainstay. Before I discovered A Wrinkle In Time, dogeared copies of The Last Unicorn and The Neverending Story lived next to my bed. I was in need of a magical world, a place where lost people could become found.

Meg Murry was the kind of protagonist I desperately needed to meet, although I didn’t know it. I had unruly hair the mousiest shade of brown, glasses with thick lenses, and a body shaped like a barrel; all bulging lines. When I looked around me, I saw glamour everywhere: on MTV, on the cover of Seventeen, in the precisely drawn angles of my mother’s lipliner. I already felt bad when I looked in the mirror, even though I didn’t understand why yet.

Meg wasn’t glamorous either. But she was smart and brave and determined. She had a father-shaped hole, just like me. And so I loved her.

There’s so much vulnerability in the people that live in these pages. Meg’s mother fears her husband will never come back. Charles Wallace is too otherworldly to fit in. Even Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which are both powerful and bumbling. Etched into each character, I saw a promise that being different was okay, and feeling alone wouldn’t last forever. And perhaps there were others like me, if I only dared to look.

I had no others like me when I met Meg, Charles and Calvin, which is perhaps why I lost myself in this story time and time again. I spent long hours thinking about the tesseract, and whether or not space and time could truly fold (I still believe it can). Each time I read the book, I don’t think of it as fiction. To this day, when I reread it, I imagine it happening somewhere in the universe.

Even though Camazotz frightened me, I was willing to follow my friends into its darkness. If my own father had been there, at least I’d have known where he was, that there was something I could do. But I didn’t know. So I tucked myself into the stardust as Meg, Charles and Calvin tessered from one galaxy to the next. I sought their friendship, their company.

If the Black Thing is the cold darkness of the story, Aunt Beast is the anchor of warmth. Near the end, she tells Meg, “Good helps us, the stars help us, perhaps what you would call light helps us, love helps us.” At first, I didn’t understand what she meant. Even so, I sensed they were important words, so I wrote them down in my diary. As I grew older, I started to understand. These words went far beyond the book in my hands, weaving their tremendous power through every life. Especially mine.
When I had no way to find my dad, I cheered for Meg as she chased hers. I felt her anger and her frustration, her impatience and her sorrow. I felt his absence with her, because her father was a small part of mine, as all fathers are a part of each other.

My search for my own father hasn’t ended yet. If that pilgrimage had started when I was an adult, I might have given up by now. Meg taught me not to. Kids imagine solutions to their problems in ways adults could never dream of, and so I imagine my journey as a child does. Maybe I’ll shoot across space and find him waiting in the next galaxy. Maybe he can sense me, the same way I have always sensed him. Maybe I’ll dare to reach out, and find I’m already holding his hand.

 


Colette Bennett is a journalist with ten years of experience in storytelling and a particular passion for fantastical worlds. She has published at a wide variety of web outlets, including CNN, HLN, The Daily Dot, Colourlovers, Engadget, Kotaku and Joystiq. Her work has also been featured in Norwegian print magazine AftenPolten Innsikt. She’s currently at work on her first novel.

Ix Chel

This selection is paired with Chapter 11 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


Or were you the rabbit?
Forgotten from the Moon
but remembered by Aunt Beast
to soothe the frightened child
grown wise before her time.
Nothing smells better than her fur.
No one can replace a mother.
But when one has no loving mother,
no understanding aunt, well, I
was that child who desperately
wanted tentacles, a tesseract,
anything that would bring me to you,
Aunt Beast. So for Meg
you cleverly disguised yourself
as an alien, knowing that Goddess
would not be allowed in such a book,
on science and modern ways.
Some of us knew better.
Some of us are still waiting
for Aunt Beast.


Denise Dumars read A Wrinkle In Time shortly after the book was first published. It has always been one of her favorite SF novels. Denise writes fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, an helms Rev. Dee’s Apothecary, a New Orleans-Style Botanica online.

A Wrinkle

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


I still have it, almost forty years later. The pages are brittle and the cover is torn, so all it says is A Wrinkle, leaving In Time lost to when the cover cracked from too much love. It has my sister’s name written on the first page, but this book was just one of hundreds from her childhood. It could never mean to her what it meant to me.

Mama read it in my bedroom to all three of us over the summer, but Meg had already read it, of course, and Johnny was little and didn’t pay attention. Meg loved it because there was a character not just with her name but her nickname: Meg, not Maggie or Margie or Pearl (from the Greek word for pearl, Mama, ever the professor of linguistics, informed us). I loved the name as much if not more because I worshipped my sister in the way that only a little sister of a slightly older, and in my eyes, much cooler, sister can. She taught herself to read at three and here I was, eight, and I was mostly illiterate. My mother was teaching me but with dyslexia it is a slow, painful process and I hadn’t moved past books with one or two sentences a page on them at this point. But I lived in a house of readers and I loved stories – hearing them, telling them, dreaming them.

Meg and Charles Wallace seemed both so much and so little like us. Our parents were eccentric professors who nobody seemed to understand too – but ours were old and not beautiful and studied linguistics, not the science of the universe. We were forever being whisked away to strange places like Camazotoz except it was England or Holland and we weren’t with Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who or Mrs. Which (“Witch, Mama? Like in The Wizard of Oz?” “No, Judasha. which, like which cereal do you want. Now listen…”) but with hired nannies, taking us to see Big Ben or the canals of Amsterdam while our parents went to conferences to speak Linguistics, a language we didn’t know and secretly hated.

That summer that Mama read us A Wrinkle in Time was the last summer she was healthy. In the fall, she would get diagnosed with breast cancer and then she would die a few years later.

And later, as I longed for her, I pretended she was like Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, being held captive on another planet and somehow we could save her. Many boys played the part of Calvin O’Keefe to my Meg Murray, and we would battle IT, the force holding my mother. And the evil conformity of IT seemed all too real in the early 80s on Long Island where conformity was the name of the game.

Almost cruelly, shortly after Mama died, reading came to me, a gift to replace her love. I reread A Wrinkle in Time over and over, trying to figure out how I could tesser home with my mother, how I could wrinkle the fabric of time and space, and have all that I dreamed of – a whole family, even if they weren’t beautiful and even if I found linguistics deadly boring and even if we had to visit Big Ben a thousand more times with a thousand more nannies, it would be worth it to have Mama again.


Judy Ryan Hall is a writer and itinerant teacher of writing who has lived in such far flung places as Iceland, Sudan, Germany and New Jersey. Her MFA is from William Paterson University. She has been published in Brevity, Split Lip Magazine, The Blueshift Journal and many other places. Judy is also a fiction reader for Literary Orphans. Her as yet unpublished novel, Max Runs, listed in the Mslexia Competition. She has a blog on Facebook called Voluptuous Mermaid, so titled because of her love of being in water.

 

C8 : A Tessellation of Faces, Wings, and other Obscure Things

This selection is paired with several chapters of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


She smiles, she sighs,
she steals the neighbor’s sheets
wrinkled beyond
a woman’s worth,
a star’s exhalation
spread out to dry
October dreams
of Which and What and Why
winged poetry
shadows, rainbows
bleached and starched and pressed—
a Schläfli script.

Yet still it storms,
time and space disrupted,
seams split and hemmed,
even stitches,
controlled symmetry sought,
found reflected
facing reason,
defining perfection:
model subjects
surrendering
in synch, a metronome,
relative mass.

The first sphere sings
heavenly guardians
shining stars bright,
supernovas
collapsed and on the wing
to tip the scales,
push back the dark,
the death bat defeated,
reclaimed by life
tended, reborn
under a midwife’s touch
stalking the moon.

Still we battle
the shadow of evil,
mundane torture
devices stamped,
process manufactured,
replicated,
an infinite
tessellation of birds,
reptiles and beasts—
patterned design,
an Escheresque study
of humankind.

NOTES:
This piece is framed on the structure of a tesseract: “There are four cubes, six squares, and four edges meeting at every vertex. All in all, it consists of 8 cubes, 24 squares, 32 edges, and 16 vertices.” This poem is written with a syllabic structure of 4-6-4, repeating 16 times, and each stanza features four repetitions of the 4-6-4 syllables. The title references C8, which is another name for a tesseract.

The first stanza, references the opening scenes in A Wrinkle in Time and the three supernatural Ws: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. Other references tucked into this stanza include the month the story takes place (October), Mrs. Who’s theft of Mrs. Buncombe’s sheets, the fact that all of the Mrs. Ws were once stars, Mrs. Whatsit’s transformation into the winged creature, and the Schläfli symbol (The tesseract can be constructed in a number of ways. As a regular polytope with three cubes folded together around every edge, it has Schläfli symbol {4,3,3} with hyperoctahedral symmetry of order 384.)

The second stanza references the storms (both metaphorical and physical) that occur within the confines of the novel as well as Mr. Murray’s disastrous attempts to tesser, the horrifying synchronicity of the inhabitants of Camazotz, and of course Einstein’s theory of relativity (E = mc2) which he postulates that time and space are relative.

The third stanza explores the mythic influences in A Wrinkle in Time, in particular the references to the planets: Uriel (an angel in Christian mythology), Camazotz (Mayan for death bat), and Ixchel (the 16th-century name of the aged jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine in ancient Mayan culture). The fourth stanza brings in modern elements and connections to the mundane. I hope you enjoy it.


Carina Bissett is a writer, poet, and educator working primarily in the fields of speculative fiction and interstitial art. Her short fiction and poetry has been published in multiple journals and anthologies including Hath No Fury, Mythic Delirium, NonBinary Review, Timeless Tales, and The Horror ‘Zine. Her work has been nominated for several awards and she was the recipient of the 2016 HWA Scholarship. Links to herwork can be found at http://carinabissett.com.

A Fracture in Fate

This selection is paired with Chapter 2 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


There are no dark and stormy nights in Pasadena, or so it seems. My window looks out on a cultured rose garden and a grassy knoll encircled by a brick walkway on which the sun is always shining, especially during high tea, which is quite the thing here, unexpectedly. Somehow I had in my mind that all Southern California was beaches and palm trees and boulevards crowded with long-haired musicians, not this parade of women dressed to the nines for afternoon outings. Then again, this is not the type of hotel in which I usually stay, but Polly insisted that I deserved the royal treatment. Having a daughter as one’s oldest child is proving to be a remarkable lesson in female solidarity, as Mother told me often in her later years. Of course, Father was more attentive than most husbands, perhaps because he never took Mother for granted after their long separation, when he was imprisoned behind The Black Thing. That is something Calvin and I have never experienced, an extended time apart. He has always just been there for most of my teenage and adult life.

I mean, it is difficult not to fall in love with a boy when you have traveled with him across the galaxies, when he has braved your adolescent worst, when he has probed the headspace of every member of your immediate family and made up his mind that he belongs with you and them. I never really questioned whether he and I would end up together, and what would have happened if I had? Whenever I have any feelings of doubt or negativity or apprehension, Calvin does that thing that Charles Wallace does by instinct and that they are both now helping the researchers to study. Mirror-touch synesthesia, they call it. Except that Calvin and Charles Wallace mostly use their skills not in reference to bodily pain but to the chinks of armor in people’s minds. Sometimes I wonder how Calvin and I would be if we tried to put words to our feelings and talked things out instead of just kything.
It was actually Charles Wallace who got the ball rolling about my doctorate. He mentioned the idea to his namesake Charles, who shrewdly brought it up to his older sister Polly, who began calling me every weekend. Mother, you must do it before you get too old, she would say. You’re not doing anything now, and Rosy is nearly in college. And you promised Grand.
I did promise Mother. We were sitting in the solarium by the indoor pool on one of our rare visits back home when she said, My dear, there is something to be said for a higher degree. It is just a formality, but it would be so easy for you and something of your own.

After all, I’m not out to win the Nobel Prize, I said somewhat tartly, and Mother sighed. She was still beautiful with her snowy white hair and high cheekbones but seemed even smaller than the last time I had seen her. I felt badly and reached out and took her hand, and we sat there for a long while before she roused herself and said, Just promise me. And though I was in my forties and already a mother of eight, I said, Yes, Mother.

After Polly got it in her head that I was going back to school, she started making even more calls around to various universities. I had a feeling she was liberal about name-dropping her father and her uncles, which is probably why I got a letter from Harvey Mudd inviting me to meet with the dean of the mathematics department. Across the letterhead was a scribbled note saying, Mrs. O’Keefe, we would love to host you for a visit. I showed the letter to Calvin, and he raised his eyebrows and we looked at each other for a few minutes. Finally, he said, April would be a good time to go.

So Polly booked the flight and the hotel and even thought to hire a car, which had not even crossed my mind, and in fact I kept thinking it might have been easier just to stay on campus. But I had a lovely and encouraging phone conversation with the Canon Tallis just before I left. When Cal walked me to the gate, I looked at him and tried to signal my concern about Rosy staying out late at parties and getting her college applications done on time. I think he got the drift.

Dean Matthews looks younger than I expected. He has photographs of his two children on his desk. He told me he was somewhat of a child prodigy, though nowhere near the degree that he’d heard Charles Wallace had been, and he was well into his second doctorate by his late thirties, when he had a late revelation about being behind about the adult things that truly matter in life. He ended up marrying a childhood friend who also happened to be a professor nearby, though things ultimately didn’t work out, but they were friendly and his children were still in the area, and they had dinner together every week.

That was about two hours into our meeting, when I had already explained to him my thoughts on Riemannian manifolds as a possible thesis, and he apologized and said he had not meant to delve into such personal matters. Mrs. O’Keefe, I have sincerely enjoyed every minute speaking with you, he said, and we shook hands. Please call me Meg, I said, and he laughed and admitted that he had read in an interview with Father somewhere how he had called me Meglet when I was young and to be honest he had been calling me that inside his head the whole time we were talking. I was already halfway down the hall when he came jogging up and said, Meg, this is highly unusual, but I wondered if you might want to talk a bit more over dinner, as it would be a chance to break away a bit from this stifling academic setting.

I thought it over. I said, I think I might like that, and he smiled and said he would take care of all the plans and to please just meet him in the hotel lobby.

I walked away with a sort of thrill in my stomach until I got back to my room and then felt suddenly faint with guilt. I paced around for a good half-hour, then I went down to the bar and ordered a glass of cabernet sauvignon and thought about what I would be doing if I was on Benne Seed Island on the normal schedule. There would be Rosy, getting ready for a night out after hastily finishing her homework, and another quiet dinner with Calvin during which we would not say much — as we have not needed to for a long while now — but instead he would be sensing my thoughts, and I would be sensing his, this boy who kissed me goodbye when I was ready to face IT, who held me when the Echthroi first appeared by the stargazing rock, whose mother I have traveled across time with and back. The man to whom I have dedicated myself, not simply with my heart’s devotion, but with all the cells of my mind, which he has always acknowledged while simultaneously pursuing his own ambitions, as well as being so loving and generous and intelligent and kind, as everyone always says.

Around the corner of the bar, I could see Dean Matthews approaching while straightening his jacket and tie. I got up and said, Hello, Dean Matthews. He said, Please, Meg, call me Joshua. I think we are going to be good friends, that is, if you choose to stay and accept a place here. He kept my hands in his and bent his heads slightly towards mine. I couldn’t quite look in him in the face, but I inclined my head and told him I had already made up my mind.

 


SMJ Lee is a Los Angeles native and attorney. Her work has appeared in The Common, The Atticus Review, and FORTH Magazine.

In Which the Prime Coordinator Has a Short-Lived Moment of Clarity

This selection is paired with Chapter 7 of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Get NonBinary Review #17 from Zoetic Press. 


There will be no
pain. A light pres-
sure (lighter than
a thumb) behind

the temples – that’s
all there is to
it. No curved lines.
No blurs. Just end-

less rows of Eu-
clidian per-
fection: that is
to say, freedom

from yourself. Hu-
manity, my dear,
is the worst sort
of prison. Each

rib is a bar
for a cage you
never asked for.
You may feel a

gentle pressure
behind the ster-
num just now. Don’t
try to fight. It

will all be o-
ver easier
if you don’t. Pic-
ture a pulsing

Yet there is music in her blood singing too loud and I am but a flute wrenched from a madman’s hands tasting metallic lips that never kiss never speak seeing red in the gray always red but not fire always rhythm not dance and my thoughts are wings I’ve never unfolded and my skull has windows I’ve never opened and I am small and I am small and I and I and and

iron lung, on-
ly we are the
lung and it breathes
for us. No i-

ron, in truth. It
is soft as eye-
lids and as qui-
et too, with smoothed

fingertips. Child,
hush now. Let the
singing fade. All
this I shall give.

Yet there is music in her blood singing too loud and I am but a flute wrenched from a madman’s hands tasting metallic lips that never kiss never speak seeing red in the gray always red but not fire always rhythm not dance and my thoughts in are wings I’ve never unfolded and my skull has windows I’ve never opened and I am small and I am small and I and I and and


Desirae Terrien lives in California, where she earned her B.A. and will soon begin graduate school. When she is not reading or writing, she can usually be found playing an instrument or cuddling small furry animals.

Sonnet 24

This selection is paired with Chapter 1 of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Get NonBinary Review #16 from Zoetic Press.


Our ferry from Issambres crossed the bay –
all Blofeld yachts with helicopter pads –
to exquisitely cheesy St Tropez,
where Russian billionaires humoured the fads
of girls approximately half their age.
Along the jetty, fauvist headache art
enticed the frozen-blooded copraphage.
The harbour smelt quite pungently of farts.
Not caring what the Salafists might preach
or who, just promenading, might be killed:
a lively market in the shade of trees.
A cemetery slumbered on the beach.
Upon the brown pine needle-coated hill,
the monument to Saint-Exupéry.


Richard Craven is an Anglo-Canadian Doctor of Philosophy, specialising in high burlesque long fiction, dystopian short fiction, neo-Jacobean drama, and neo-Elizabethan & neo-Augustan verse forms. In the last five years, he has written three novels, Amoeba Dick, Pretty Poli, and Odour Issues, numerous short stories, 155 sonnets including one in French, and a solitary play, The Senseless Counterfeit. He lives in Bristol in the UK.

Lay down in greener grass to cry

This selection is paired with Chapter 6 of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Get NonBinary Review #16 from Zoetic Press.


As lonely with rose as with
desert sand: Paths endless or short-circuited,
straight ahead doesn’t go far.
The work of it, the hair shirted
myth of better world,
the snapped wishbone.

Love is a small world:
a day of forty-four sunsets
on tamed animals asleep in boxes.
Regrets for dreams of ferality
curled sadly ’round
a flowering shrub:

No time wasted is less closed,
never not worth the secret place.
A passive-aggressive rose is a
casing is a rose is his revers,
a glass globe to show
unbuttoned sublime.


Brian A. Salmons lives with his wife and children in Orlando, Florida, where he writes and occasionally performs at open mics. His work has previously appeared in Eyedrum Periodically and Man in the Street Magazine and he is the host of @BrianAndTheNight, a poetry podcast on Facebook.

I Am She

This selection is paired with Chapter 9 of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Get NonBinary Review #16 from Zoetic Press.


He believed my lament to be a love song, the first he’d ever heard, but caterpillars are impatient creatures, so he interrupted.

“Have they gone, those beaks, those beady eyes?”

The flock was by then just a speckle on the sky, carrying away my lost Prince, who was no more than a golden fleck. Reduced from royal company to larval. I shook the tears from my petals. “I’m afraid we’re quite alone.”

Caterpillars know exactly what they want and never pretend otherwise. He emerged from behind the smaller volcano. “Sing again.”

I understood at once: even the rose’s sorrow charms. “Do not ask this of me, don’t make me think of him again, not at sunset.”

“But the melody was sweet as a stamen, and I crawled half way around the world to understand it.”

“A grand boast for a small world. And the other caterpillars?”

“It’s their dinnertime.”

“As always. I suppose the ordinary flowers over there sing a little?”

“Never. They chatter about soil and sprinkling cans.” He crept closer. “Though they’re very kind to caterpillars.”

Brazen, these caterpillars, but forgiven, because they’re the promise of a butterfly. In all my fascinating life I’d never seen one. “Will you be very beautiful?”

“If you’re kind to me.”

The rose is ever magnanimous, but his undulation was too eager, his mandibles looked too sharp. Raising all four of my thorns I cried, “Stay back! I’ve slain tigers.”

“There are no tigers here.”

“From which you may draw your own conclusions.”

“I have. I’m hungry. You look tasty.” He hastened to me.

As darkness arched over us, there came the appalling sensation of his many crochets on my stem. “Appearances can be deceptive. For both our sakes, stop!”

If I embellished, it was in the circumstance of a ravenous progress towards my lower leaf. “I’m poisonous,” I cried into the night, “Horribly, devastatingly, excruciatingly. There is, alas, no cure for me.”

He fell away. I heard the pattering of departure without goodbye. Cold pierced my bloom. Two abandonments in one day! I listened to myself weep, wept again for the caterpillar’s perspicacity, for the melody was delicate indeed.

Woken before dawn by increasing sounds of mastication (noises which rose shall not elucidate), I found he’d lingered. The caterpillar had found a shoot, or, as he explained, another shoot, just beyond my roots.

“Baobabs,” he said, with his maxillae full. “Or maybe roses.”

Caterpillars make poor horticulturalists. There are no other roses. I am She. His victims were therefore baobabs. The Prince had been meticulous about weeding them. Though I’m naturally immune to jealousy, I’d teased him for it. It occurred to me, too late, that his daily dig had been for my benefit. Baobab shoots ignored are inevitable trees, within whose shadows I would wither.

I have a particular horror of withering. “The baobabs are delicious, I hope?”

“Everything is,” the caterpillar sighed, “Until they’re gone.”

“You graze efficiently, dear friend, if not painstakingly. But tomorrow there will be new shoots.”

“Too late. I’ve wasted my time on a love song. I’ve eaten too little, and the flowers are far away.” He curled up against my stem and closed his twelve eyes. “I’ll never fly. Sing again.”

“What will happen to you if you don’t become a butterfly?”

“Caterpillars only get one chance at happiness.”

As I turned towards the rising sun, the smaller volcano coughed. With nobody left in the world to tend it, a convulsion followed. The earth of my roots shook. I could not prevent the disaster. One of my petals, one of my perfectly placed, delightfully crimped, dewy, fragrant, beloved petals fell from my bloom and floated, with tragic grace, to the ground.

The caterpillar regarded it. “Horrible, excruciating,” he said, settling back into defeat.

In her heart, the rose expects to blossom forever, but after one petal has fallen, she knows that the others will soon follow. This I considered, watching the volcano puff out smoke rings. I could not bear to watch my pride wither on the ground around me, uncomforted, alone but for the recriminating husk of a starved bug.

“Caterpillars make poor horticulturalists,” I told him, “So you wouldn’t know that the rose has as many chances at happiness as she chooses. I’d be happy if I made the acquaintance of a butterfly. With great endeavour, a supreme triumph of will, I shall avoid poisoning you. That is why I gifted you that petal, as a sign of good intention, please do me the courtesy of enjoying it.”

The consumption of that dear petal was an agony, for, though I averted my gaze, I heard all. Singing the caterpillar’s love song, I shook most of the rest down to him, keeping barely enough for modesty. He left not a trace to mourn over, made a tickling ascent red-faced, to begin his repulsive spittle-spinning. All I endured with hardly a complaint, certainly fewer than were justified.

“Talk to me,” he said before entirely enclosed, “I’ll be listening.”

The rose does not tittle-tattle, she knows the value of a well-placed silence. She talks of herself, her anguishes and difficulties and dangers, only when circumstances demand it. She prefers to speak from the soul, of the temper of the stars and wishes on breezes. Of the last, I spared him the sulphurous details. I explained to him the intensions of each dawn and the auguring in every sunset, made vivid by the volcano’s effusions. I knew he heard, understood that he was comforted by my voice during tremors, as was I, holding my last petals in place. If once or twice I urged a swifter metamorphosis, it was out of regard for his safety, not the rose’s.

Aside from the glistening, which is a matter of taste, he was beautiful, though his colours approached excess, he was beautiful, despite inky limbs and twitching appendages, beautiful. In a quite different way to the rose.

“I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, butterfly.”

“Dear rose, we’re hardly strangers.”

“I hope you’ll overlook my appearance. It rains dust today.”

“Don’t be embarrassed.”

“How could I not be, when your grace is beyond the reach of art?”

“Because you have been brave and kind. The kindest flower in the world.”

“A small compliment in such a small world.”

“Because, dear rose, a part of me is you.”

I know the value of a well-placed silence.

Ash fell upon the butterfly, and at last he observed the volcano’s fractures, the billowing steam and smoke stacked above.

“When it erupts, as surely it must, which way do you think the molten rock will flow?”

“What does the dawn say?” He fluttered about me.

It was a pleasant sensation, if wistfully so. A butterfly is a caterpillar who has the exact thing he wanted, and has found that instead of happiness, doubt results. “I flew once, as a seed, though it felt more like falling. The rose does not fly. She holds tight to her rightful place. You must go.”

“The song,” he said, “I understand it now. I know what it means.”

But butterflies, like Princes, are creatures of impulse. Away he flew.

Perhaps he’ll bring the Prince back, or a sweep or a fireman, or an elephant with a trunk full of water. No matter. The rose is not afraid of ashes. I tell you, laughing stars, she’s not afraid of anything.


Jenny Gaitskell lives, writes and hunts for antique dictionaries in Lewes, Sussex. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the anthologies Tales from the Old Hill, Hysteria 6 and Everyday Epics.