Her mother’s ruby red lipstick was missing again, but Michelle never strayed far. Like every summer afternoon, Michelle’s slender, tanned calves were propelling her closer to the butterflies leading the garden chase. But she always returned for dinner, seated at the head of the table, leaving red stains on her mother’s good napkins.
Michelle’s habitual acts were her own, but her snippets of knowledge were Jerry’s – the next door neighbour. Six years her elder, Jerry was the burger flipper who liked to smoke his mum’s menthols on the balcony once all bedroom lights had been clapped off. It was Jerry who taught Michelle about mortality.
According to Jerry, Molly, the beloved cat placed in a cattery for two weeks, died from ‘sad head’. The separation led to anxiety and depression and the cat was found dead in its cage by a nice lady named Betsy, who assured Michelle that her cat loved her dearly, and just went to sleep awhile.
‘Sad head’ was not the only morbid thing Michelle learned from her pubescent teacher. One day Michelle announced to Jerry that she was visiting the zoo later that afternoon, and was particularly excited about the butterfly enclosure.
‘Oh cool… but be careful not to touch them! They will die’, Jerry cautioned.
‘From ‘sad head’? Like Molly?’
‘No, no, silly, from 'heavy wings'. When butterflies are touched by humans, it makes their wings heavy. They then get sick in the head and die. Understand?’
Michelle had nodded, understanding very well.
Jerry wasn’t to know, and I’ve told Michelle’s parents this dozens of times. Michelle had been struck down by a sadness which had no fake name. Her tanned calves had been touched by the old and swollen hands of Mr Griffiths and it was weighing her down. Her head must have been too heavy, too, because on that day, when her mother’s lipstick went missing again, her parents found her ruby red lips pursed against the side of the white bathtub.
Unfortunately, unlike butterflies, Michelle’s legs could not take her from harm and away from a fatal human touch. No, Michelle’s parents lost a daughter that day, one who would have grown up to use ellipses at the end of every story…