BUTTERFLY BOY • by Sanjana Raghavan

Butterfly Boy is watching TV in the trailer park house he shares with his ma, Jeannie. His castle is guarded by a moat of cigarette butts and beer bottles. His face is brown like hers, but the bandages covering his entire body are an off-white, like a mummy forgotten. Today, Butterfly Boy’s claw fingers grab for the remote and fumble until he succeeds in turning off the TV.

“How was cheer practice?” he asks Lily, the middle sister in his favorite sitcom.

“Totally tragic. No one asked me to prom yet, and I haven’t eaten anything but styrofoam for days,” Lily says.

“Family dinner tonight: spaghetti, no styrofoam!” the dad says.

His hearty laugh fills the room, and it’s contagious. Butterfly Boy catches himself laughing, too.

“Honey, how was your day?” the dad asks.

“Well… today I made a dumb joke in class but everyone laughed. I got detention but it was worth it,” Butterfly Boy says.

“Detention?” the dad asks.

“Totally tragic!” Lily says.

 “You know I can’t stay mad at you for too long, sport. No dessert tonight, and I won’t tell your ma what happened,” the dad says.

“Deal,” Butterfly Boy says, and they hug, Lily too.

Jeannie comes back from her first job, just as Tammy, the annoying neighbor, pops in.

“Anyone got some corn?” Tammy asks, grinning without any teeth.

“Get outta here, Tammy,” they all yell, pelting her with stones, vegetables other than corn, the blender, the fridge. She mashes her gums and hobbles away.

“I brought you some applesauce,” Jeannie says, and starts changing his dressing without waiting for a response.

At the preschool, Carly peed on her shoe and then another kid ran around in the shoe, which meant Jeannie had to clean more pee than normal, and also explain to Carly’s parents why she was wearing Jeannie’s jacket as her shirt. Also, Kenny was out sick today.

Every year, Jeannie has a favorite, a little black boy she pretends is her real son. She imagines taking Kenny to the park, pushing him on the swings.

“Stop,” Butterfly Boy says. “What if I want something different?”

“What if I want something different?” Jeannie says, staring stoically at his graphic flesh.

Kenny’s skin is a smooth soft brown, touchable kissable huggable brown. Loveable brown.

“Do you regret having me?” Butterfly Boy asks, and Jeannie tells him to shut up and stop spewing nonsense.

He asks his friends what they think, and for once his brain is silent. Completely silent, devoid of even the catchy theme songs that torment him. The ad break is over, the camera zooms in on his face. The audience holds its breath.

“Now, sport—” the dad tries, but Butterfly Boy can tell it’s not the same. It’s Butterfly Boy trying to force the dad to come out, but it sounds stilted, weird. Simulated.

He uses his teeth and nubby hands to pull off his bandages. He hobbles to the door, the friction of his thighs already carving away at his wasted legs.

“I’ll miss you guys,” Butterfly Boy says. “Even Tammy.”

The sun glints on a sea of broken beer bottles and soda cans, cigarette butts and wrappers. Butterfly Boy adds his bandages to the ocean and watches as they are accepted and carried away.

“Momma,” he says, and with the sun as witness, she can’t meet his eyes.

Jeannie wraps him in her arms, and clutches on for too long. Butterfly Boy’s skin suit holds the space his body made before he drops to the ground, and washes away. Jeannie shudders, and looks up. Butterfly Boy, flying away.

Sanjana Raghavan is a student at George Mason University and lives in Fairfax, Virginia. Her work can be found at Lunch Ticket, New Flash Fiction Review, Fiction Southeast and Moonshine Murmurs.

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