Sunday Snippet, Flash Fiction, Monarchs by Bill Chance

“A withered maple leaf has left its branch and is falling to the ground; its movements resemble those of a butterfly in flight. Isn’t it strange? The saddest and deadest of things is yet so like the gayest and most vital of creatures?”

― Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons



After work Craig drove over to the health club and had a good, tough workout. It was a gorgeous day and he felt like staying outside for awhile so he drove across Sunnyvale to Lake Ray Hubbard and a little park at the end of Barnes Bridge road. He had been there before… often, really… this is the place with the two wooden crosses.

The two crosses were still there. He was glad to see that someone had repaired Jason Farmer’s cross. From the look of how it was done, it might be the same people working on the other cross.

Michelle Lemay Self’s cross was still kept up with a little plot of plastic flowers. The white wood was covered with messages written in what looked like black magic marker.

Wife, Mother, Daughter
Sister Beloved

We Don’t know you
but visit all the time.

There was a little line drawn about eighteen inches up from the ground. It was labeled, “Austin’s height when She left him.”

At about three feet there is another line. “Austin’s height, 7/9/98, 2 1/2 years old.”

Love U
Your Husband
Chris Self

Nearby, in crude but legible hand,

I love you
Austin 7/19/98

Along one side was a longer, more ominous message.

For those of U that come
and see this 1 and Lonely cross
I hope u all have took the time
and understand are pain & are loss.
This 1 man I’d Love too c out
here 1 sunny summer day.
So I can end his sorry LIFE,
AND then be on my happy
way to go & tell my loving wife that
he has finally paid.
u know who u are
I’m coming soon.

The park was as poorly-developed as always. Some run down playground equipment and an arc of shoddy grass, a bit of woods along the shore of the lake. Craig walked on down a path away from the parking lot.

All the lakes in North Texas were threatening to dry up with the summer’s drought. The recent deluge had helped, but the lake was still down. Instead of these little cliffs of mud-rock along the shore, there was a thin ribbon of sand which used to be lake bottom. Craig sat along this poor man’s beach and watched the gold sunset sky, the hazy distant opposite shore with its expensive homes and developments. A lone sailboat fought against the waves, a flock of white seabirds dove for fish.

The wind was blowing stoutly and that was enough to build waves from across the big lake. They came rolling in, miniature breakers. With a bit of imagination Craig felt it was like being at the ocean. It even smelt a little like the sea, mostly because of a mat of drying and rotting seaweed.

He walked on down the curl of the park ’til the stretch of public property ended in a steel barrier and “No Trespassing” signs. Away from the water was a thick grove of trees and a path. Craig walked back into a little grotto, his legs brushing away the night’s spider webs, nobody had been there all day. He looked up into the trees, still illuminated by the afterglow of the set sun and saw motion. The trees were full of Monarch Butterflies.

It was a beautiful sight. The green and yellow trees, orange sky, red and black flapping wings. The branches were lousy with them, many came fluttering down, disturbed by his approach. They flew in a cloud around him, close enough to reach out and touch.

They must have been stopping over on their annual migration. It was an unexpected treat, a special pleasure, to have them decorate this remote speck of shabby forest.

Craig needed to get home so I walked back to my car. The return drive was slow and fun, he was stuck behind a peloton, maybe thirty riders. A local club was finishing up a ride, trying to get back before dark. He especially liked slowing down on the uphills, watching them all come out of the saddle, black shorts and colorful jerseys, pumping legs and bobbing helmets.

It had been a long, tough enough day that Craig was content to sit in the bucket seat and steer, listen to a tape, let them all do all the work for once.