Biscuit World and Butterflies by Lora Hilty
Judge's Choice, 2019 Fiction Contest
My sister held the fleshy pulp of reworked paper she had formed into a crude blue butterfly, letters she had written to the people who had hurt her the most. Her therapist had suggested that she dissolve the papers to create the butterfly, our mother’s favorite, with the pulp, and she now held the delicate horror in her palm as she told me that she wanted to bury it with our mother’s ashes. Frita’s gesture left it all said but unspoken, buried beneath the earth after the last shovel of dirt was packed into the hole. I didn’t know if I liked the symbolism.
My heart couldn’t take a fight with Frita right then, on account of the secret I had kept from her for an entire year while Mom slowly disintegrated, but the truth was about to spill, whether Frita liked it or not, and I estimated a toss-up when it came to her reaction. Frita had no idea we had a full blood brother who had lived a separate life in the world. I was a full-fledged senior citizen before I found out at the ripe age of 55. Thanks to a little spit and Ancestry.com, I discovered that Frita, eight years older than me, had a twin.
We left Jacktown around 4:30 a.m., Frita’s righteous early-bird trumping my lackadaisical fondness for third shift. I complied by staying awake all night to wait for her to pick me up, and on the dot, she was sitting in her car in the dark, her headlights splitting the misty drive-way and her silhouette growing large as she walked toward the house. She peered up all the steps as I opened the door of The Birdcage, my 1,000 square feet of living space above the garage on an odd little property that my husband and I had turned into a mini-farm. The main house, now Sonny’s office, served as a mess hall and work space because I had no kitchen in The Birdcage, and the entire set-up irritated Frita, who was convinced that our marriage was over because of the two houses. She shook her head as I opened the door and started down the steps with my leather duffle slung over my shoulder.
“Want me to drive first?” I asked, knowing she rolled her eyes and never intended to allow me to get behind the wheel of her new electric-blue Rav4.
“Really, Juney?” she said, watching my duffle hit the empty space she left in the hatch.
I eyed the cooler. Frita was always prepared with healthy snacks and bottles of water for the drive, and knowing the contents of that blue cooler made me want to stop for breakfast so I could eat bacon in front of her. “Where is Mom?” I asked.
Frita pointed her finger into the floorboard behind my seat. A smooth, blue burial box embossed with a golden butterfly held our mother’s ashes, and it would ride behind me during the entire drive to Richmond, Virginia.
“Don’t you want to put that in the hatch?” I asked.
“No, she’s riding like humans ride.”
We pulled out of the gravel driveway and made Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in a little over two hours. Frita kept her eyes on the road, silently biting her lip, our mother’s ashes clunking the floor every time she made a sharp turn along the winding country roads leading us toward the Ohio River and the state line. I breathed the cool morning air and tried to shake the scent of rose water, Mom’s favorite concoction, wrought from the roses I had planted in front of her condo. I looked out the window at a stop light, and I saw a blue butterfly riding the warm wind of August outside. I pointed it out to Frita as she accelerated.
“She’s with us, you know,” I said, and Frita’s breath became ragged in her throat. I asked if she needed a break and suggested we stop and view the Mothman stuff before we drove on.
“Nothing will be open,” Frita mumbled, but she drove, hard and fast, through town, ogling the statue of the beast before swiftly turning the car down a side street, hot on the trail of reaching Richmond before noon. “Don’t say I never gave you nothing.”
I peered through the early morning dim to see if Frita had lost her mind and was met with hooded eyes and a bit of snarl bouncing toward me. I needed to find a way to slow her down before we arrived in Virginia. She needed some time to soak in the secret before it was shoved in her face, and it was far too late to put things in reverse.
Early on, I had told myself that Aaron could have been one of my father’s brother’s children, but we shared too much DNA, according to Ancestry, for that to be true. Then, I wondered if a conman could somehow change the DNA results, but what could a conman possibly want from me or Frita? When we finally friended one another on Facebook, a full six months after initial contact, his photographs had put my doubt to rest. The man looked like a clone of our father, and I knew then that all three of us saw the same large nose and dark eyes when we looked in the mirror.
The road hummed beneath my feet as Frita drove like a madwoman, like she wanted this chore firmly behind us, and I was nothing but a pest, like I was when we were young and she called me Scab. It had been three months since our mother had died, and we were just now getting around to burying her ashes. All those months, Frita had kept Mom on the dresser in her bedroom, and I feared that she had grown too attached and was silently sliding into deep depression. One Sunday afternoon, out of the blue, Frita called to ask when I’d be able to go with her to bury the urn beside our father, the man who had caused such incredible pain that I no longer allowed him to take up any space between my ears.
Inside the car, I became increasingly haunted by the memory of Dad, sitting on the red brick and sand porch behind our house, his bags packed and Mom in tears. She had begged him to stay, and he went outside to smoke in the quiet. Mom sent three-year-old me out to crawl into his lap, and we sat there that way, well into the night, and I fell asleep, anchoring him in place so that if he moved, I’d know and wrap my arms around him to hold him there with us. That was before he came for me in that dark way, but I later learned that Frita had told Mom what he had been doing to her on that very night. It’s the last best memory I have of him, when I was innocent and he hadn’t broken the father code with me yet. Our father had died young, at 42 years, and I purposefully buried what was left of him until I fizzled into middle-age with barely a whisper of him left. Mom never married again. She was done with all thoughts of romance. She had lived the rest of her life leaning on me and Frita.
Frita turned the wipers on to knock the moisture from the windshield, and every time I started to speak, I swallowed my words before something accidently escaped. She had lived it worse than me, and I didn’t want to dredge Dad up. Our father wrapped my thoughts like plastic wrap, but I didn’t want him inside the car.
The landscape was green and thick, and the dew hung in the air and sunk inside our clothes. We passed grocery stores with names like Food Fare, and a restaurant named Cornfed’s Smoke House and Grill, and it made me feel closer to Mom, to be surrounded by the kudzu covered hem of the skirt that hung from the broad hips of the Appalachian Mountains. Mother earth cupped her hands to hold me close when I was near the mountains, and although I had never lived inside of her palm, the mountains evoked a thin memory, like an echo of my mother’s world hiding inside my skin.
Frita’s face looked worn and tired and soft, unlike the Frita I had known as a kid. Eight years older, she had often been put in charge, and I had made it my life’s mission to give her a hard time. Sitting next to her in the car, I wondered how I could possibly lighten the air when I knew the worst secret I had ever kept from her. I checked my phone to find the nearest restaurant. It was time to let it rip, but I didn’t want her driving when I did it.
“I think we should stop at Biscuit World,” I said into the silence. Mom’s urn thumped against something even though Frita hadn’t made a turn. I twisted around to find it sitting there, straight away, the golden butterfly catching the early light like thin, gossamer fairy wings.
“I’m not eating that crap, and you shouldn’t either,” Frita snapped. “I brought some perfectly good healthy snacks in the cooler.”
“Frita, I need some comfort food, and Biscuit World has comfort to spare. Stop in Beckley. It’s the half-way point. You can get something healthy. An omelet full of vegetables or something.”
“Okay, okay, Scab.” Frita sighed, easing back on the gas to get into the right lane, and I smiled to hear my old nickname spoken aloud.
Aaron, our full brother, had grown up less than twenty minutes from where our mother had been born, which made me wonder if she knew the people who adopted him. It had been a private adoption, and the female attorney who did the paperwork remained Aaron’s Godmother until her death. I listened to the origin story he had been told about a pretty young girl who needed help, and I tried to imagine our mother going through the process alone in the days that followed. It had nearly broken me, knowing the pain our mother must have felt in giving her baby away. I couldn’t look into her eyes after I knew, but I never let on, in word nor deed. I think it would have killed her, and telling Frita would have resulted in a blowout during the last sad months of Mom’s life. I made the decision to keep it quiet on my own, and now it was time to follow it through to the other side.
Frita wheeled the car into the lot in front of Biscuit World and shoved the stick into park before opening her door. She briskly walked over to my side and popped the door behind me, leaning in to take Mom with us inside.
“Good Lord, Frita,, leave the urn where it is,” I said, and just as the words left my mouth I saw it, floating above Frita’s head, a small blue butterfly flitting through the air, backing away and coming round again. “Look.” I pointed at the insect. “Even Mom doesn’t want to be seen in that box.”
“Someone will see the gold embossment and take it for their mother,” Frita said.
I got out of the car and shut the door while I studied Frita, her downcast eyes and wrinkled skin, and I quietly understood the toll the last year had taken on her. She treated the burial box like it was a living thing, and getting the blue container in the ground became all-the-more vital. Slipping my sweater from my shoulders, I tossed it over Mom. “She’ll be fine. Lock the door.”
Unknown to Frita, I had called our elderly uncle, our mother’s brother, late yesterday afternoon to buy myself another day before we completed the burial. I told him that we had a side trip to make, and that I needed another day with my sister. He understood, he said, and he would take care of the arrangements with the cemetery if I took care of Frita. I didn’t want to pile too much onto her, but Aaron was expecting us. I took a deep breath, guiding Frita away from the vehicle with my arm around her shoulder.
Inside the restaurant, calm sage walls were trimmed in creamy white. Wooden chairs and tables hovered in the middle of the space, and I nodded to the women lined up at the counter readying to take our order. I decided to get Frita into a rust colored booth to wait. “Western omelet?”
Frita added a black coffee.
“It’s funny that we keep seeing the butterflies,” Frita said. She pulled the paper butterfly out of her purse while we waited for our food, and she quietly spoke about what my father had done, and how our mother had pretended it didn’t happen. Her voice was small and faraway, as if she didn’t know I was there with her.
I stood at the counter. Gravy and Big Tators meals beckoned. I settled for the sausage gravy-smothered biscuits with a side of bacon, unable to break my old pattern of passive-aggressive irritation. I ordered my coffee with cream and sugar before ordering Frita’s western omelet without the ham. The woman said she’d deliver the food to the table and gave me a receipt back with my credit card. Frita’s eyes had stayed on the car, and when I plopped in the bench seat opposite her, she jumped.
“It’s funny that we keep seeing the butterflies,” Frita said. She pulled the paper butterfly out of her purse while we waited for our food, and she quietly spoke about what my father had done, and how our mother had pretended it didn’t happen. Her voice was small and faraway, as if she didn’t know I was there with her. When the server set down the order, Frita still fingered the frail paper like it contained the world, and I realized that it did. I warmed to the idea of burying the thing, once and for all.
Sitting there in that restaurant, me chomping my heart-clogging gravy and her moving her fork over her plate like she might actually take a bite, Frita spoke about the summer before our father had died, how she had sat on his bedside in the hospital and still his hand had moved over her thigh. How we had been afraid to have our girlfriends for sleep-overs, and how we both felt like we had a bullseye on our forehead all the way through high school. I held myself inside, cradling my own memories in my silent depths, unwilling to allow him to break me.
“I want to bury it with Mom and leave it there, where it belongs,” Frita said.
“I agree that we should.”
Frita focused on her food, and then she sat her fork alongside her plate, and the movement exasperated me. She was starving herself because of who our father had been and how poorly our mother had handled it.
“He was a bigger asshole than you know,” I said.
“What more could he possibly have done?”
“It was Mom that he tortured with this one.”
“He tortured her with all of it.” Frita’s eyes grew wide, and she covered her ears with her palms.
I leaned in and took her hand. “Frita, it’s okay. It’s actually kind of magical, once you soak it in.”
“What?” Frita breathed. “What did he do?”
“Promise me that you won’t lose it on me first.”
“You remember when I took that Ancestry test and Mom got so upset about it? Right before she died?”
“I do remember that. She said that we shouldn’t live in the past,” Frita said.
“It was weird, right? Her reaction overblown?”
“Well, I found out something. Something I wasn’t supposed to discover.
“Spit it out, Juney,” Frita said.
“I found a brother.” I swallowed the hard lump in my throat, never letting go of Frita’s hand.
“He’s a conman,” Frita said, and then she snatched her hand from me. She laughed in the snarky way that she had laughed back when she called me “Scab” daily.
I held up one finger before reaching inside my purse for my phone. She watched as I scrolled through my photos, her arms crossed over her chest, her head tilting to the side. I found Aaron’s photo, pulled it up, and shoved the phone toward Frita.
Frita’s neck reddened first, and then, the color slowly climbed like a thermometer until it reached her forehead. She set the phone down on the table only to pick it up again and study Aaron’s face, every inch, as I had done when I found him.
“He looks like Dad,” Frita said, her voice strangled. “But he has to belong to one of Dad’s brothers.”
I shook my head. “I’ve seen the test results.”
“He could fake those.”
“Why would someone do that? We don’t have anything he would want.”
“I don’t know,” Frita said.
“He looks like us. Especially you. And he should. Frita, he’s our full brother.”
“Full? What?” She looks at the photograph again. “How can that be?”
“Aaron was born in 1958,” I said. “February.”
“But I was born in 1958.”
“At Walter Reid in Washington D.C.,” we say together.
Frita alternated between looking at Aaron’s picture and me as I filled her in on what it took me a full year to wring out.
“Mom got pregnant before they married, and that’s why there is a discrepancy between the family Bible and the marriage license,” I said. “She must have not been able to keep both of you, being unmarried and all. Mom was a waitress, for God’s sake.”
“We didn’t have any money even with Dad’s salary,” Frita said. “I always thought that was why we were so far apart in age, because of the money being so tight.”
I told her all I knew about Aaron. I told Frita that he was a Bluegrass singer, and how he was raised by good people and had a happy childhood. I told her how the woman who completed the adoption had remained his Godmother, and that he had received our father’s Tiger Eye ring on his twenty-first birthday, long after Dad’s death. “Mom never forgot him,” I said. “She loved him always. I would have said it was a lie too, if it weren’t for that picture.”
Frita took a bite of egg as if she just noticed the plate of cold food in front of her. I sipped my coffee as she chewed. I allowed her to settle with the news for a bit, and then I told her the best part of it all. I told her that Aaron was raised and still lived in Richmond, Virginia, the place where our mother was born and where she will be buried upon our arrival.
“He’s there, in Virginia? Oh, my God, Juney. Mom kept this secret for all these years. She didn’t want it known.” Frita was losing it, her hands wringing and tears streaming down her face like runoff after a storm. “We cannot betray her like this. We need to hold her secret.”
I sat back in the booth and drilled a hole in the table with my eyes. “Frita,” said, “I knew Mom pretty well before she died. I think Mom chose love every time.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mom thought she could actually change Dad, if she loved him enough. She stayed because she knew she couldn’t take care of us on her own, but she stayed because she loved him, too. She convinced herself that he had changed after what he did to you.”
“Juney, she called you a bad seed and a liar.” Frita, unable to hold her head up, openly sobbed.
“I will tell you this, Frita. I won’t allow him to steal one more thing from us. We choose love. Every time. Do you hear me? Hold your head up and choose love because that’s what our mother would do, even when it hurts.”
We’ve got to go.” Frita fumbled with her purse before her trembling hand slapped a five dollar bill on the table. She unabashedly wept, a thing she hadn’t done since we were kids.
“It’s like a little piece of her is still here. We are okay, Frita,” I called after her, but she was already walking, heading for the glass doors that led into the parking lot. I took one last bite of biscuit and left the rest, scurrying to catch her before she took off without me.
I rushed out the door without looking and nearly shoved Frita off the curb. She was just standing there, mouth agape. My eyes followed hers to the car and I too, stood there, mouth hanging like an open jar as we watched exactly six rare blue butterflies landing on the hood of Frita’s electric blue car, landing before taking off and riding the wind back to land again, like they were some kind of a sign.
I slid the keys from Frita’s hand. She allowed me to take them without protest and leaned into me. I felt her sorrow and a bewilderment that tinged on madness erupting inside her, as it had done inside me when I realized the truth. I walked with her across the lot and opened the passenger side door. She slipped inside and buried her face in her palms.
I settled into the driver’s seat, adjusted the mirrors, and told Siri to take us to Richmond. I spied the map folded between the seats and knew I didn’t need a map or Siri to make the drive, but for Frita, these things were a necessity. Being prepared had yoked her entire life, and now, she sat there bawling because she had lost control of our parents’ memories. I imagined that Aaron must have been the proof that Frita needed in order to know that our childhood had not been her fault. I imagined this because I had experienced this epiphany several decades prior. As illogical as Frita’s thoughts had been, she had felt responsible, for herself and for me, and this had, most assuredly, kept her mind locked for far too many years.
We drove in silence for two hours, but soon, the traffic grew thick and the green landscape and sheared rock walls dissolved into towns not unlike my own in Ohio. The closer we came to Richmond, the more agitated Frita became. “How long have you known?” She finally asked.
“I knew about Aaron a year ago. I kept him from meeting Mom because I thought she needed to be old and die with her dignity. I thought it was only Dad who had gotten another woman pregnant for a long while, until I got smart and looked at how much DNA we actually shared. I thought he was a conman at first, too. I really did.”
“He is my twin?”
“He is, Frita,” I said.
“My God, did they only keep me because I was a girl?”
“Stop. Mom didn’t know what he was back then. He was a master manipulator.”
“He probably told her boys are studier and can take it,” she said.
“I think we both know why he wanted to keep you,” I quietly said.
“He was such a bastard.”
“Yes, he was. But he will not break us.”
“Does Aaron know?”
“He knows our father was a terrible person,” I said. “And that we all suffered, including our mother. He honored my request to leave Mom to die in peace. It wasn’t easy for either of us, but it was the best thing we could do for her.”
Frita was silent for a long while, until we began the last stretch leading into the city. “We cannot bury her without him, if he wants to go.”
“I’ve made arrangements with Uncle Alvin to bury Mom tomorrow.”
Why?” Frita breathed. “I want it over.”
“It won’t be over until we make it right.” I let her sit in the thought, both of us knowing that I spoke the truth.
“What now?” Frita asked.
“Aaron is playing at the V.F.W. today, and we are going.”
“Oh, my God. Does he know we are here?”
“He knows we are on our way, but he doesn’t know we will be at his gig today. We don’t have to go, but I thought it would be a good place to see him before he knows we are even here. He’s in Short-Pump, about twenty miles away from where Mom grew up. You want to stop and check in at the hotel first?”
“How could you have kept this from me? I’m angry that you didn’t tell me.” Frita’s words garbled in her throat, and I was truly sorry, but it was too late to second guess myself. She grabbed my hand and held it. “We are all that we have left, Juney. We have to go on after this, no matter what happens.”
“He’s happy to meet us, Frita. He grew up in a loving family, and he’s thrilled to meet us now. This is a good thing. I swear to God, it’s the right way to go.”
I pulled onto the off ramp when I saw the sign for Short-Pump. At the light at the end of the ramp, I turned right and drove into a Shell station. Frita jumped from the car to find the restroom and fix her face while I pumped the gas, and when she came out, she brought two coffees for us, and she even splurged and put some cream and sugar in her own. I looked up the address of Aaron’s gig using my cell. His band’s website on Facebook revealed the dates and places scheduled. I told Siri to take us there.
We turned right and made our way through town, the place a dreamy blur, but I got an impression of upscale and nice. Another right and a left later, on the far edge of town, we spot the place, a large redwood building with a helicopter statue out front. I parked in the crowded gravel lot and took a deep breath. Frita stared at the building but didn’t move to get out of the car. We could hear the music from where we sat, and as Aaron’s deep, buttery voice filled the echo in our minds, we both began to weep.
“I don’t know if Mom would approve of what we are doing,” Frita whispered.
“I think Mom would love that we’ve set it as right as we could, as long as she didn’t have to live through the turmoil. I know she never stopped loving Aaron. She was at the mercy of a complete asshole.”
“We would have been better off on welfare,” Frita said.
We sat and listened, the car warming in the sun and my brow beginning to sweat.
“We should go in,” Frita said, but she didn’t move.
I popped the door and got out of the car. The sun shone like a beacon above us, as if the world had stopped just so we could get grounded in this new phase of our lives. Frita opened her door and stepped out of the car, but she paused at the back passenger side as if thinking about bringing Mom inside. I shook my head and led her toward the building.
We slipped through the front doors and were transported into the mid-seventies. With only one window, dim light revealed several pool tables on the left and a jukebox near the restrooms along the back of the square room. Thick wooden paneling stretched from wall-to-wall, and under the booths that lined the perimeter, brown shag carpeting had been worn thin. A small, elderly woman smiled from behind cat’s-eye glasses, adjusting an apron before shuffling behind the wooden bar lined with black stools.
We were immediately drawn to the patio along with everyone else to hear Aaron’s rendition of “Wagon Wheel.” Once outside, I slipped on my sunglasses to cover my red, swollen eyes and sat down on a metal bench furthest from the stage, with Frita beside me, holding my hand.
At the end of the song, Aaron spotted us, probably recognizing me, as I did him, from my profile picture. He turned to speak to the rest of the band, and then he sang, clear and deep, “The Long Black Veil,” and I swayed in my seat, chair dancing. I felt like he sang the song just for us, like no one else could know the vibration we shared in that moment. I held myself together as best as I could and wiped the tears when they fell over my cheeks. Frita was in the same space, sniffing as we watched Aaron set down his guitar and descend the steps on the right side of the stage.
He shook hands and playfully slapped backs as he made his way back to us. He was a large man, towering above everyone else, and it was all I could do to find my legs and stand up to meet him in the aisle, Frita at my back. His arms circled me, and my head rested against his chest while he gave me a tender hug, the best hug I had ever received. His heart beat against my temple and my mind raced as I breathed him in, Old Spice and cinnamon breath mints. I let go reluctantly, and I grinned as Frita and Aaron held one another at arm’s length and smiled as if they had always known the other was somewhere in the world. He enveloped Frita and buried his chin in her hair, eyes closed.
Aaron led us into the empty bar that smelled of spilled beer and popcorn, away from the music that continued without him. We ordered beers and sat by the window, Frita chattering like a school girl, all of us mesmerized by the other, each slipping through history like we had always known what I had learned about Mom’s family.
“Our ancestor actually signed the Declaration of Independence,” I said. “A house bearing Mom’s maiden name still stands in Yorktown.”
We laughed because our ancestor lit the brick place on fire before he surrendered it to his enemy, and we knew without comment that we all received a stubborn vein from our mother.
Frita’s eyes landed on the ring Aaron wore on his pinky finger, our father’s Tiger Eye, and we sat there, staring at the ring until Aaron broke the silence.
“It arrived at the attorney’s office two days before my twenty-first birthday,” he said.
“It was our father’s ring,” I whispered.
“I figured as much,” Aaron said.
“If you knew him, you’d throw it in the sewer,” Frita blurted.
I placed my hand over Frita’s, unwilling to meet Aaron’s eyes.
We ordered another round. Frita had already had too much alcohol, her lack of fat making her tipsy much faster than myself and Aaron.
“He wasn’t a very good person, Aaron,” I said.
Aaron’s eyes softened before he stared at the ring on his hand like it would disappear if he didn’t give it enough attention. When he looked up, he lifted his brows in the same way our father had done when he was about to say something important, or lie, and I chastised myself for having the thought about my brother.
“Have you logged onto Ancestry lately?” Aaron asked.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t logged in since we became Facebook friends. Why?”
Frita’s hands shook as she placed them on the table in front of her.
“It seems good old Dad was busy in the years between our births,” Aaron said.
The air went out of my lungs.
“Good, God,” Frita whispered.
“Hold on, now,” Aaron said. “It looks bad from the outside, but I want you to know that I started wearing this ring because our father gave me more than I ever dreamed could be possible.” He paused, meeting each of our eyes, in turn. “My adoptive parents are gone now, and that was hard. I understand that you girls are hurting right now, too.”
Frita bit her lip, and I wondered if she would draw blood or blurt the truth about Dad. I placed my hand on her lap under the table and felt her palm slide into mine.
“But I still have a family,” Aaron said. “Different mothers, all of them. They were adopted out and didn’t know either of their biological parents, like me. We are the only full siblings in the bunch.”
“The bunch?” Frita nearly shouted, her voice shrill.
Aaron sat back in his seat and folded his hands on the table before he spoke, covering the ring with the palm of his other hand. “I don’t want to upset you, but you need to know.” He cleared his throat. “Ladies, we have three more half-sisters.”
My eyes found the window. I sat there, for what seemed like forever, listening to Frita sniffing and feeling Aaron’s eyes on my face like the glaring sun. Until I saw the butterflies.
Tiny wings lifted from the edge of a fallow field, near the woods where a clump of wild purple lupines had grown. I counted the insects, exactly six, small and delicate and rare—one for each sibling, all of them blue.
My insides began to dance, a tingling sensation that rose up from somewhere inside me to push out of my mouth in the form of a ridiculous giggle, the story too much to believe and yet here it was, fleshed out, absurd, and darkly tinged with ancient pain. “No wonder he died so young.” I giggled again. “The fool used himself up.”
Aaron laughed then, his deep, booming sound contagious. When Frita finally broke and began to laugh, it took a full three minutes before any of us could regain our composure. I sipped my beer to ease my dry throat and looked for the butterflies, but they had already dispersed, our journey now rounding toward completion. I searched my brother’s eyes and knew our mother, true to her quietly ravaged spirit, had somehow found this odd, magical way to send me her blessing.