Butterfly Ranching

Joanna Rose

Bob had been gone a long time, away at college, far away at college, so far away he didn’t come home for Thanksgiving or Easter, just Christmas. He was studying about butterflies.

No one understood why he had to go to Yale to study about butterflies. Yale seemed more like a place where you studied to be a doctor, but then, Marys River had two doctors already, and a vet.

He came back after college and moved back in with his mom, who had always had been the baker at the primary school, and who talked him into letting her cut his hair, which had begun to go gray. Folks on his dad’s side of the family went gray early. Then he never got a job, even though the mill was hiring, and there was work at the highway project, and he probably even could have got a job at the bank, having been to college.

What he did was go out in the woods every day, get wet, sit in the moss at the edge of clearcuts, and look down low at the undersides of leaves and sticks, waiting for butterflies. He could have just waited in the house or down at Dot’s Diner because after a while butterflies just go on by, right out in the open, since that’s the deal with butterflies, they just go by.

His mom was glad he came back so it wasn’t just her in the old farm house after his dad died in a wreck with a log truck. Scared the life out of him, that wreck did. Not a scratch on him and him sitting straight up dead in the driver’s seat of a heart attack.

What Bob did instead of getting a job was write a book. It was just pictures of butterflies, just like every book he wrote in primary school except it was photographs instead of colored pencils.

His mom carried that book around with her, but it didn’t have a story or characters and everyone already knew about butterflies so no one was too interested. Mostly they asked was he going to be on Oprah.

Bob’s three names was the most interesting part of the book besides the title. Why anyone wouldn’t go with a good basic book name like Bob’s Butterfly Book, instead of all that other stuff, which was Latin, even though they were Lutheran, and then Bob’s three names down there at the bottom with his college degree letters added on to make his name even longer, not showing off but just a little weird, like PhD was part of his name, which it wasn’t even the right initials.

Some of the mirrors were those old fashioned more or less artful kind with thick gold frames all curvy and lumpy like you might have up above the fireplace in the living room. One of these was curved across the glass and showed the edges of what your were looking at all stretched and sliding away to where you weren’t looking.

Fisheye, Bob said.

The frames looked quite surprising outside like that against the bare wood of what used to be red painted garden shed wall.

Blood and milk, Bob said.

She said, How come you know such weird stuff?

College, Bob said.

He was a man of few words but the few words he spoke were fairly unusual.

Doctor, he said when she asked him about the extra letters on his book.

Butterfly doctor? she said, and Bob said, More or less. Mostly less.

There was a butterfly garden at the beach, just north of Seaside, an inside outside kind of place with lots of bright flowers under in a big net tent. They got their butterflies from a butterfly ranch in Texas.

Butterfly ranch, Bob said.

She said, Imagine the tiny lassoes.

He said, And the tiny border collies.

And she invited him to come back for dinner some time.

She had been to Omaha, and Denver, and Seattle. She knew about vegetarians and vegans and lactose intolerance.

He said he thought that would be a lovely thing to do.

She said, Is there anything you don’t like to eat?

He said, I draw the line at haggis.

After he left she walked around the house where he had left empty space, like footprints but no footprint, like echo but no sound, like a tattoo no one could see. He said yes, but sometime could be anytime so she decided not to go into town just yet because Flicker Falls Road was at the curve where the farm road turns from gravel to pavement, it curves there, you can see it from Dot’s Diner, and Bob drove a little red truck with a flag of Tibet decal in the back window and everyone would know by 5:05 that he had been to visit. Q