The Monarch

 

“Why do you like to play in the weeds so much?"

the little boys quipped and the little girls laughed, but Iris’s cheek was pressed to the school bus window, watching as the milkweed field passed from view.

 

When the bus stopped the children filed into the big school doors, with Iris walking neither behind or beside them, just somehow apart. She watched the floors of the hallway through the glass jar she carried.

 

"Any luck looking for that caterpillar again, Miss Iris?" Her third grade teacher asked,
"No. Not today, Mrs. Mann” Iris responded. She knew not to look back at children watching her. They reminded her of the crows at the field, the ones that sliced caterpillars in their beaks before swallowing them whole. She could never save them, because the crows had wings. And all she had were feet.

-----

 

Mrs. Mann, who had been rooting for Iris in the same way one roots for their own child, became ecstatic at the news. “Class, look at what Iris found. All by herself! She really did it, didn't she? Oh… we have to find a place for it!” and with that, she cleared for it a place at the counter.

 

Naturally, Iris was the first to discover the day the caterpillar had built itself a chrysalis. Unable to conceal her delight, she had proudly announced: “In two more weeks it will peel itself out and fly!” Strange to the other children was her voice, they had seldom heard one from the quiet Iris before. Though small, it was as unafraid as her new expression, and it frightened them.

 

Watching her, the children simply felt something they could not explain, a feeling they had no reason for. There was something discomforting about the way their necks hurt when they craned them to look at her.

 

Perhaps it had been this feeling that lead them to look for a new game one recess. Perhaps it had been that soreness in their necks that lead them to keep walking right past the gymnasium doors: straight to the classroom. Perhaps it was that feeling which lead them to toss to each other the caterpillar jar, back and forth, and to continue even when Iris burst in pleading. Perhaps it was the persistent fluttering in their spines that made them insist “we’re doing nothing wrong!” and laugh as the little girls restrained the panicked Iris, “we just came inside to play catch!”

 

Mrs. Mann walked in at about the same time as the chrysalis fell. It hit the bottom of the jar with a gentle thud. The noise, though faint, seemed to shock the crowd of children.. “I’m sorry” the little boy whispered, shakingly putting down the jar. But Iris was silent, and her eyes stayed on the ground.

 

Iris did not come back to school. Not for the rest day of the day, not even the week. She didn’t get to see how Mrs Mann gently laid the chrysalis on its side. She didn’t see how hours later, the Monarch still emerged, but not quite right. How one wing was crumpled and half broken. How it gave up and died right there on the desk. So Mrs. Mann swept it into the trash.

© 2021 Alanna Cahill. All Rights Reserved.