by Ted Lietz
Eating was my sole satisfaction. My single purpose. My raison d’etre.
Until one day, during yet another enormous meal, hunger yielded to a craving for answers--answers to to questions that had never before occurred to me. Had the Great Planner created me only to eat and excrete? And the trauma of my life—never to know mother or father—how could this be part of a benign Planner’s design?
Or had I simply fallen prey to embracing victimhood? After all, none of the others feeding on this milkweed plant had known their parents, either. Was I failing to count my blessings? And the plant itself—hadn’t the Planner caused my egg to be laid here, guaranteeing sustenance to grow and shed my skin not once, but several times?
From nowhere, an urge I could neither explain nor ignore. I shimmied from the milkweed plant and traveled further than ever I had. Then, yet another overwhelming compulsion. To build. To build … well, what?
Working like one possessed, soon I realized I was building a—I didn’t have the word for it then—but I was building a cocoon! Others around me were doing the same.
I’d seen such structures and watched winged beings emerge. I was to become one of those beings. A thing capable of soaring above—well, everything. A moth, perhaps? Plain, the color of dung.
But why not a butterfly? And not just any butterfly, but one with wings like stained glass, brilliant orange veined in black. I dared to hope. Enshrouded in the cocoon during those last moments of consciousness, I also dared to pray. Prayed to the Planner that I might emerge as not just any butterfly, but as a Monarch!
* * *
The next thing I recall was a great struggle to make my way out of the cocoon. As I emerged, I saw that others were doing the same. Their wings still were wet, but brilliant orange with black. As were my wings.
I was a Monarch!
After a brief prayer of thanksgiving, I struck up a conversation with one of my fellows. His experience from birth to that moment was remarkably similar to mine.
We spotted a predator, a bird. My new friend’s wings still were too wet for flight. The bird made a meal of him, but I managed to fly away.
Fly! I soared and banked and soared again. Such ecstasy as only an erstwhile belly-crawler can know.
Then grief, recalling the friendship lost in the very moment it had begun.
And solitude. Loneliness that ebbed, but only a bit, when I joined a community.
New questions began to trouble me. For advice, I sought out the community’s eldest member. He was very old indeed—perhaps forty days.
“Do you believe there is a Planner?” I asked. “A Plan for each of us?”
“Maybe,” the elder said, without much interest. “Why not?”
“So many of my peers died as larvae,” I said. “Others made it to the cocoon stage, but didn’t emerge. A friend was taken as prey. Yet I survived. Could it be that the Planner has a special purpose for me?”
The elder laughed. With great effort, he moved his wings and lumbered away.
* * *
Now an elder myself, I too am able to fly only with great effort. Exhausted, I make it to my favorite spot, an outcropping of rock overlooking a field of wildflowers.
I see a lizard, moving toward me. Time to fly away.
My wings—I can’t move them. I try to crawl away as if—as if I were a larva again.
Death is an instant away. Yet I feel no panic, no fear.
I recall my conversation with the elder—the way he laughed. What has been my purpose? Like a glutton, I gorged on milkweed nectar. Like a hedonist I impregnated willing females, thereafter flying away without a word to them or a thought for my offspring.
I did what my kind do.
As the lizard opens his jaws, he looks confused. He probably was expecting to see a terrified insect.
If he sees anything in my eyes, it’s satisfaction. Because now I know why the elder laughed.
I’m laughing, too.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
© Ted Lietz 2020. All rights reserved