Val Bonney and Maureen O’Donnell

Butterfly Dreams

Val Bonney


Snatching Butterflies

Maureen O’Donnell

Inspiration Piece

On the corner of Seventh and Baker Streets, a telephone jangled and jingled. This was not an unusual thing, because, while payphones are meant for outgoing calls, this particular phone had rung every morning for the last week. Seven oh seven, on the dot.

That Wednesday morning, however, someone picked it up.

“Hello?” she said into the phone, and then coughed as a mistimed breath mixed just the wrong amount of cigarette smoke and frigid air in the back of her throat. “Sorry, what? Hello?”

She listened.

“Jess,” she said.


And, ”I don’t know.”  And then, “Why? I don’t–” She stared at the phone, and then she hung up.


Most children, at some point, choose their profession with little regard for what the future might hold: pilot, astronaut, teacher, mutated ninja turtle. All seem like reasonable options regardless of job demand or matching 401K plans.

Jess did not.

Nor did she have a clearer idea when she entered her teens, her twenties, chugged up hill into her thirties. Neither stupid, nor lazy, she simply did not know. She had the sense of who she was.

Clues flickered through her mind from time to time, but none ever settled long enough for her to catch hold of it. They danced like butterflies, out of reach. When an ambition did come within range, it seemed so fragile she feared it would be crushed; rather than grasp, she opened her hands and set it free.


She did not go to work. For the first time in twelve years, she missed a day and she did not call to tell them why.

Messages piled up on her machine until they threatened to slide off.

“Jess, are you coming in today?”
“Just calling to check up on you kid.”
“We’re docking you a personal day, Jess. Please call Reg in HR when you’re able, just so we’re on the same page.”
And the last one, a man’s voice. “Jessie, I’m worried about you. Call me.”

When she heard that one, she pressed a button and, with a beep, annihilated all record of concern.


Jess took the first job on offer after school. For forty-five months she handled money through a small window. She got a different set of keys and fielded calls, then made schedules. She transferred half way across the country and met a man.

They had a quick friendship, the kind that evolves over yogurt cartons and loneliness. Tension grew between them, subtle until it was too large to ignore, until it snapped. He separated from his wife.

Within six months, they reconciled, and Jess’s turn came to separate from him. She ate her yogurt alone. When they spoke, she employed single syllables and the smoke-screen-escape of paperwork.

They didn’t often speak.


The telephone rang, harsh. She could almost taste the metallic jangle in the back of her mouth, felt butterflies jig in her stomach. She nearly choked on one when he answered, “ciao.”

“Hello, this is Jess.” No response. “I left you a message yesterday.”
“I didn’t call you back.”
“No, you didn’t,” she said.
“I don’t take students. I don’t have time.”
“Of course. I’m a quick learner.”

Click. She called back the next day, and the next, skipped Sunday out of respect for family. She called on Monday. She called for three weeks.

“This is Jess—“
“Come in three weeks.”


Jess boarded the plane with what remained of her savings and a suitcase she borrowed from her sister. She crowded the armrest and stared out over fluffy clouds, so thick and soft that staring at them made her eyelids leaden with sleep. The sky above the clouds was clear, a cold blue, what she thought the ocean must be. But when she saw the water, the variations of azure, navy, cold metal and brown surprised her.

The plane touched down.

A young couple took over the lease on her small apartment. They put her termination notice aside in a growing pile of mail, along with the Hallmark envelopes and the letter that explained a pending divorce.

They kept the cards and letter until Jess called at Christmas time and asked if they’d received the Barolo.

They threw much of the mail away after that.


She closed her eyes and listened. Knuckles to crust of an artisan loaf, the work of her two hands. The hollow thump that warmed something inside her. Loaves scattered tables, cooling racks, the fire-warmed stones along the hearth. Complicated knots, rustic slashes, waypoints along a long, hard road.

When Jess opened her eyes, she barely caught her mentor’s smile.

“Così e così” was all he said, and left the room.

That day, she cleaned up and rode her bicycle into town. She unfolded a piece of paper, punched in the long sequence of numbers needed to call state side, and waited.

She waited the next night. And the next. Each afternoon, by 1:07pm, she called.

Until finally someone picked up.  A man.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“No, who are you?”

And, “What are you doing?” And then, “Why?” She hung up the phone.

Jess mounted her bike and started the long climb back to the bakery. The butterflies were stronger than they looked.

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