Writing is editing. Again, and again, and again.
Here’s the first draft of something that has seen many since, and will see many more. Tell me what you think!
I want one.
Anna shook from excitement, her eyes dancing and her jaw stubborn. Jimmy told me I couldn’t catch one. He said I was too small. She stood taller, balancing on her bare toes in the dirt. But I’m not, right? And you can help me. You’re fast, faster than him, and he could do it. Her finger twirled the ends of her hair. And she pouted, her eyes growing big. he called me a scaredy-cat. She tugged on my braid. Let’s catch one. Can we? Will you help me?
I didn’t like Anna sad, so I nodded; her smile tugged at my lips, and I grinned back. I unbuckled my shoes and slipped off my socks. My toes joined hers in the soft ground and squirmed in their newfound freedom, sinking into the cold, wet soil. Her small hand grabbed mine; it sent a little spark up our arms and for a moment, we were connected, her excitement bubbling over into me, and I was thrilled. My brown eyes met her blue ones and we giggled, Anna pulling me through the trees to the field to chase the butterflies. She jumped over a log, but I tripped and lost her fingers. Anna kept going, only stopping once to turn back, her blonde hair flying in wisps across her face, and laugh.
Come on, silly!
As she ran, her hair spindled gold behind her, and I watched it catch the light, envious. My fingers pulled off the elastic band tying my braid, and I stumbled up. My hair unfurled in knots around my face, the bottom of my dress was grimy and brown, but I imagined I was beautiful and I ran, following her into the light of the field.
When I reached her, Anna was spinning, the butterflies dancing around her, and I joined her, our mouths open in wonder. Our school skirts blew around us like little puffs of cloud, and we went round and round like tops till we were dizzy, falling in a little heap to the ground, my head on her shoulder, her whole body laughing. I listened, fingers curled around hers: her laughter was the sunshine; mine would just be a shadow. She rolled away and waved her arms and legs against the ground, trying to make a dirt angel, while I watched the butterflies, flitting above us. If she was the sun, the butterflies were stars, falling, their little wings bright blinking lights, reflecting the rays, flirting with out fingertips. We chased and we failed, the colorful little balls of life just beyond our reach. Sometimes, I thought, sometimes I heard them laughing.
As I ran after the butterflies through the tall waving grass, I remembered Thumbelina. It was the secret my mother and I shared, the movie we watched whenever Daddy was out, the one we’d pinky-promised on – I won’t tell if you won’t, we’d giggled. It had a mother, like mine, who’d wished and wished for her own little child until she was born in a flower, a precious angel, my precious angel my mother whispered. She was small, this little princess, the size of a thumb – and so that was her name, Thumbelina. And the little princess, she dreamed of people like her – a small people that lived in a field just like this one, a vale, my mother whispered. A people that danced and sang and flew, like the butterflies. Fairies. That’s what they were. Fairies, little fairies, and I curtsied clumsily to a blue-winged one, the prince, Cornelius, I imagined. Hello, prince.
He bowed, I imagined.
In the story, he was the one who gave Thumbelina her wings – bright ones that dazzled, like the snow when the sun hits it.
So, I whispered (we whispered, Thumbelina and me), I wish I had wings.
And I thought I heard them, they said, maybe someday you will.
And then Anna picked one.
There’s the one I want.
On a large boulder, alone, was the most beautiful of fairies I’d ever seen. Its wings flapped lazily; they weren’t colored, but clear. It made their light blinding, like the flash of sun on snow – lightning against my eyes, and I lifted up my arm to shade them. Anna shivered in anticipation. Please?
I moved slowly at first, every step punctuated with a pause, letting myself feel my feet dig into the dirt.
It was fearless, this little butterfly – who’d harm it at home? I wondered, briefly, if this one could sing. I was close enough to see the sky in its little beaded eyes. Its wings fluttered faster, but before it could rise, my sweaty hands swept forward. Against my fingers, the wings beat frantically, pulsing against my palms like a little heart.
I lifted my hands to my mouth. Shhh. Hey, hey little princess. It’s just me.
Before it could sing, there was Anna, again.
Open your hands! Let me see! she whispered, her mouth close to my ear.
I can’t. It’ll fly.
Her laugh was quiet, hot against my skin. You have to take a wing. Her finger plucked the empty air, demonstrating. Jimmy told me. Just tug. Real fast.
I froze and so did my fairy – like she understood? or did I just clutch too tightly?
A – a wing?
Come on. She whispered.
I hesitated, and she tugged at my arm. Don’t you want to keep it?
I’d never said no to Anna before.
I opened my fingers, like bars, just enough to peek.
The wings caught the light. Anna gasped. They’re so pretty.
And there she was, Thumbelina, curled up in my palm. Hey, I just want one, okay? Just one.
The world grew quieter, like it paused, as I reached in. The wind fell still, but it was somehow colder, my fingers shaking as they crept closer, like pincers, to steal me my wings, and all I could feel was Anna’s quick breath in my ear and all I could hear was the slow, soft beat tickling my palms and then
All it took was a pinch.
The world rushed in, like it was catching up. The wind whipped my hair around my face, and it stung, coarse against my cheeks. I looked, and the wings had stopped glowing – as if they were candles, and my fingers had snuffed out the lights. The little butterfly – my little princess fairy – turned in half circles, crippled, its one clear wing faintly fluttering; it looked like it was shivering.
It’s not pretty anymore. Anna said. Let’s get another one.
The rush of blood to my cheeks was unfamiliar, the pain in my temples foreign as I frowned. She was already running when I named the emotion, the furrow in my forehead reminding me of my dad, when I forgot homework or failed an exam. My heart beat furiously, and I unfurled my fingers, uncovering my prize. I froze; my fairy was still. Thumbelina?
I stood and I stared and was silent, waiting for the wing to beat, to catch the light again, and then I whispered, a tear dropping to my palm.
Anna? Anna, why isn’t it moving?
But she was gone, chasing the lights, her feet playful as she wandered, and I curled my fingers over my Thumbelina, alone.
I walked home, leaving Anna in the fields calling my name, my feet dirty and my fingers still fisted over my prize.
Mom. Mommy. I caught Thumbelina. When my mother pried my fingers open, my cheeks were already splattered with tears. She gasped oh honey, and I whispered, repeating the words until she could hear me.
I think I made her cry.
I never spoke to Anna about the butterflies. She was angry I’d left her; she didn’t speak to me for days. But then, I think, she forgot about them. At least, she never tried to make me catch them again. It was a fleeting hobby, one that had bored her quickly. I was glad. It wasn’t something to be talked about, our quiet murder. For weeks, I fell asleep to her voice in my ear, innocence in my palm, picked at and killed. I had stolen the wings, but somehow it was Anna who flitted and flew, while my own feet sank deeper into the ground, weighted by the wing that was too small to hold me and had withered, too fast, after being plucked.
I only went to that field one more time. It was summer, and I was older, leaving home for the first time. I went at noon and waited all afternoon, watching the sun dance through the waving, yellow grass. I waited until the moon took over, until the sky was glittering with real stars, cold stars, that were too far away for me to hear their song. I never saw a single butterfly.