Friday, October 30, 2009

Letting A Butterfly Go

It was a trailer that sat alone in a big dirt lot off of Grand Avenue, not too far from where it intersected with Riverside drive near the corner of the Lake where the old Machado house still stood hidden in a thicket of eucalyptus and pepper trees. From there to the ALANO building it was a short walk, and due to the lack of many other buildings, one could easily have supposed that the trailer was somehow officially connected with the ALANO club house, but this was not the case. The only other structure within close reach was a small shabby liqueur store to tempt the alcoholics on their way to and from meetings. A gravel road adorned with no trespassing signs ran from Grand Ave. along the side of the trailer and continued down as far as the lake where a loftier private residence was tucked behind a gate to protect it from the riff raff that congregated a half mile in front of its door step.

Jesse had once lived in a house further down Grand Ave. under the shade of the Ortega mountain range in Lake Land Village. There, for the majority of his life, he had dwelt with his mother and stepfather and two half sisters as a ghostly remnant of his mother’s past, haunting their wholesome attempt to build a family. He had been partially allowed to be a part of the new family life but at the same time he had been isolated from them by his origin and was permitted to drift in his own private life, mostly unsupervised, and occasionally reprimanded for his boyish exploits. His stepsisters brought their friends to the house in those days and he had been warned not to tease the little girls who were only two or four years younger than himself. At that age, however, two years younger may as well have been a decade, and four years a century, for while he was already stealing nudie magazines from the liquor stores and smoking cigarettes and throwing rocks at passing cars, they were running around barelegged in the front yard chasing bubbles and skipping rope.

Back in those days, the oldest of his two sisters, Morgan, had two companions that accompanied her most often, June, who was knitted to Morgan at the waist, and Lane who drifted about the other two like a lost butterfly. While Morgan was short and thick with mouse brown hair that made her seem as if she had been forged of clay, and June was about as short but less thick than Morgan, Lane was tall and skinny and fair haired. Jesse interacted with them minimally, either to quarrel with his sister or to trade them pogs for their lunch money. When Lane switched schools and vanished, he hardly noticed. That was in the time when they still lived in the house with its yard behind a brick fence. Then over the course of five years his mother’s drinking grew out of control and her husband threw her out and eventually Jesse and Morgan, now in high school, followed her to the trailer that sat under the blazing sun beside the ALANO club.

It was there in the trailer that Lane re-emerged one hot September evening alongside Morgan. It was a Friday night and both Morgan and Jesse had been permitted to invite a friend to spend the night. The girls would take the bedroom usually split between brother and sister, and the boys would stay in the living room. As in days of old, his mother had warned him to stay away from the younger girls, but it was no longer because she feared that he would tease them. She had a whole new set of concerns that, whether she knew it or not, were well founded. (Over the summer, Morgan and June had tagged along with Jesse to parties where they lost their virginity in a drunken revelry that left them stained with guilt. The two girls were avid Born Again Christians and Straight Edge punks by the time school started in the fall.)
Morgan led Lane to the room and played a Violent Femmes CD. Lane asked if they could listen to a Rage Against the Machine album that caught her eye. Morgan told her that it belonged to her brother and added,
“Besides, Rage Against The Machine sucks, Lane!”
Then she went to start her laundry in the old Kenmore on the back porch and left Lane alone in the room.

Jesse was waiting for his friend Brian to arrive so they could take a long walk down the dark wasteland of Grand Ave. and smoke marijuana and come back after his mother was asleep and try their hand with the girls. He came into the bedroom where Lane stood in her short cut off shorts, vintage polyester blouse and tattered flip flops. Her legs were long and pale, her hair long and blonde. While he dug around in the pocket of his leather jacket to retrieve his Zippo, she asked him about the Rage Against The Machine CD that lay by the stereo. She picked up the case and told Jesse that she loved Rage Against the Machine, even if every one else was into punk rock now. She asked if he still liked them. He said he did. There was something in the way that she spoke to him, without guile, without hope of looking cool. She still talked as though she were a little girl with no ulterior motives. She looked at him as if he were equally innocent. He was sure that she knew he was something else, but she looked at him and spoke to him with trust, like a little bird walking into the mouth of an alligator.

She started talking about good and evil, offering theories and observations, asking him his opinion. She used big words constructed in proper sentences void of slang. The way she spoke was more alien to him than the off color topic she wanted to explore. Drinking her in with his eyes he felt a stirring in his chest, a sort of painful ache.
“You’re pretty, but weird, you know that?” he said to her. Her look told him that by now she did know, and that knowing made her uncomfortable and proud. Then she asked him if they could play the CD so he put it on for her.

Later, after their walk Jesse and Brian lay sprawled on sleeping bags in the murk of the living room They snickered at the snores that drifted down the hall from his mother’s room. Brain, who had hooked up with Morgan once during the summer, said,
“Dude, I think your Mom’s asleep. Let’s go see what the girls are doing.”
Jesse imagined creeping into the bedroom and finding Lane in his bed. She would lie there and accept whatever he whispered to her and do whatever he wanted. He knew it with certainty and felt the aching in his chest again, remembering her wide blue eyes trained on him, the CD clutched in her hand, the instant warmth she had offered.
“No man, I promised my Mom.” He said.
“What?” Brian laughed, “So what?”
“So if she finds out, I’m out of here.” He answered truthfully, although he wasn’t worried about that at all. It hurt him a little to say it, because no one could tell him what he could do or couldn’t, and that was part of his cool.
“What?” Brian asked and his voice revealed his disappointment not only in the way the evening was panning out but also in his companion’s possible act of obedience.
“Just forget about it.” Jesse told him. “I’m tired anyway.”
And he rolled over and pretended to be falling asleep even though the room was full of an agonizing tension. He thought that Brian would say something else, but he didn’t, and, after a while, the tension began to fade and Brian’s breathing slowed down and he too rolled over and adjusted his pillow and soon he was making the deep snorting noises of a sleeper.

Jesse lay still and awake, awash in a bath of conflicted emotions. It would have been nice to touch her, and now he looked bad in Brian’s eyes. But for better or worse, she was unlike himself and his sister and the rest. He felt that she should be allowed to remain that way. He knew that a butterfly’s wings should never be touched. If they were, it would be unable to fly ever again and it would be a butterfly no more. It was a little sacrifice that he made, lying there in the dark of the trailer that stood by the ALANO club, a sacrifice that would keep her from joining them all down in the heavy muck that was confusion and regret and sorrow. Lying on the sleeping bag thrown over the worn carpet, by the couch with broken springs, in the trailer on Grand Avenue, not far from the old Machado house, he let a butterfly go.

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