Hildie S. Block and Helen Lewis

Helen Lewis




Hildie S. Block


“She says she saw them.”

I’ve walked into a heated discussion, and wait to listen.   I stare at my fingernails.  They are a disaster, but I figure I am lucky to still have them and they are mine.  I’m letting the conversation flow over me like water, not trying to think about what it means, could mean.

“It is true,” my young cousin Sarah cousin can only see what is true.
“Oh for what you know,” my Uncle Saul spits out, and then he coughs, a wracking cough, one that spills fluids from his mouth.

“It’s what Leah said,” my cousin Ezekiel – he knows how to talk to her.  He’s the only one in our family who knows how to talk to her now.

“Talk.  Whatever.  Seriously? You call it talking to that . . . that . . . thing.  There is no Leah.”  My uncle closes his eyes and turns away from Ezekiel to wipe his mouth on an old shirt he is using as a hankerchief.

“I don’t know how you can say that, she’s risking it all for us.”  There is love in Ezekiel’s voice.  He knows what his sister has been through. He’s contemplating it for himself.  To him, it’s better than the alternative.

Since the war, since we’ve been driven here.  So many things have changed.  We only have what we brought.  We miss so much living underground.  We all miss . . . what is up there.

But to people like her and maybe now, Ezekiel, too, there is a way out.  Of our underground burrows.

To my uncle it is an abomination.

To me, I’m not so sure.

Ezekiel sighs as he looks at his father.   “Look, I know what I am saying.  She’s not.  . . . she’s not.  Oh, it’s not worth it to talk to you people, either. “

A small voice joins us and we turn to look.  Sarah, again.  The small cousin who I never knew up top.  “I know what you mean.”  She’s so small we forget she’s there.

My uncle shakes his head.  No one else reacts.

So Sarah, this small cousin, she says it louder.  “No, I know what you mean.”
“Leah’s not a person.  Not anymore.  She made a choice,” my uncle glares a hole right through Sarah’s middle.  His forehead is a knot of certainty.  “Not much of a choice. Not to me anyway.”

“You should be grateful!”  I can tell Ezekiel is about to blow – he’s about to turn and walk away like he does when we line up for food and he can tell there won’t be any before we get there.  He doesn’t wait to find out.  He just turns and leaves.

“Grateful!  I will tell you what I am.  I am angry!  Frustrated!  Mad as hell!  Not grateful.  It makes me sick.”

“She.  She makes you sick.” Ezekiel’s voice has gotten quieter and I can tell he’s just about to leave.

Sarah adds in that small voice of hers, “She always did.”

“That’s enough,” my uncle wipes his mouth.

“What?” This is news to me.  And here, underground, all news is welcome.  It can’t get much worse than what we did to ourselves up top to drive us down here, and the bargain the “G’salve”’s  have offered us to return our planet to us.  Live down here, or take their deal.  This is our choice.  Trade our humanity, in some way to get back what we destroyed.  Not a decision anyone wants to make.

“That’s enough.  Leah is not anymore.  She is dead.  That, that is an abomination.”  My uncle turns to leave. I can tell he is finished, about to go to his lair and rest.

“That abomination is trying to save us,” Ezekiel is firm.  “You don’t know her plan.  You don’t speak binary.  You choose not to hear the words!”

“Faw!  THERE IS NO SAVING US!” my uncle is done, he leaves, taking the tension and that makeshift hankerchief with him.

“Zeke – are you sure?  Are you sure you know what she is saying?”
Ezekiel nods his head slowly and so does Sarah.  She is so tiny, Sarah.  I wonder if she will grow.  She should have had a couple more inches at least if nothing had happened.

“I’m sure.  She’s been looking around up top – she can go there now.  It’s one of the benefits of the surgery, you know.  She thinks she found something.  She was going to go back up to make sure, and if she’s right, she’s bringing it back down to us.”

Sarah looks at Ezekiel with big eyes, and then I notice they are brimming.  “She’s not the same you know.”

“I know.”

“After, the things they think, sometimes it’s not the same.”  Her mother had the surgery, but died anway not long after.  Sarah knew things the rest of us didn’t.

I KNOW.” Ezekiel is getting red in the face – he’s emotional about this.  Suddenly I realize what this means to him.  He knows Sarah.  Sarah knew Leah, too, before.  That side of the family was closer than mine.  We were all so busy then.  Running around, going to things.  No time for people.  Now that’s all that’s left. Time with these people.  They are all that’s left.

But what this means to Ezekiel, it’s clear.  There’s something in it like hope.

Whatever he’s hoping for I hope he’s right, and now I’m hoping for it too.  And I don’t even know what it is.

“She says she’s found a place, it sounds like maybe it was an office.  She said there are metal boxes and something like files, papers.  Sounds like maybe a college or a lab from what she describes.  Rooms with glass cases.  And in the cases . . .” his voice cracks, and he can’t go on.

“Zeke, what?  What’s in the cases?”

“She says there are butterflies.”

“NO!”  There can’t be! Nothing can live up there.  Nothing. It’s all dead.  This isn’t possible.  My mind can’t work my way around this.

“I’m telling you what she said. I couldn’t believe it either.  I wanted proof.”

Sarah stares at her shoes and mumbles.

“What,” I say to her, grabbing her shoulder gently—it’s so bony — “what?”

“My mother, as she was going in for the surgery.”

“What?” Ezekiel’s eyes are trained on Sarah now too.  “What? Did Aunt Ruth say?”

“Life,” Sarah whispers in that breath of air like she always does, ”Life will find a way.”

“So like that?  Like that?  The worms just emerged from their cocoons and . . .”  I’m imagining this in my mind’s eye.  It’s not clear.  The image is fuzzy.


“Whatever!  The worms just slept in those Chr. . . those things and and and now . . . now they are coming out?”

Ezekiel’s eyes were bright.  “You know what this means?”

I shook my head.

Sarah looks up – “It’s like us. We are in our chrysali and we will be able to crawl out.”  Her voice drops again and she looks at her feet.   “and we will be butterflies.”

“Sarah!  Stop writing poems!  All it means is something can live out there, and maybe we can too.  Something LIVES.”

“Assuming you understood her and her ones and ohs.  Assuming you knew where all the word breaks were and you didn’t mess up.”

“I didn’t mess up!  She is my sister!  I know her!”

“She WAS your sister!  You sister died on that operating table.  Try to remember that.  They changed her.  She’s now more ma—“

“Don’t say it!  It’s not true!  She’s still her.  She’s still her.  They just made it so she could live.  She did it for us! “

That’s the deal, you know.  They “fix” us so we are now part machine, computer, so the air up top can’t hurt us.  But no one really knows what they take out.  Uncle Saul would say “soul.”  Something is gone, that’s for sure.  Something is different, besides the fact that you can’t really talk anymore, just in binary. But they are working on that.  And some people, like Ezekiel, can understand it.  I took French.

To people like my uncle, they look rubbery, dead, like a manikin in a department store.  To people like Ezekiel, they are the future.

And without warning we all turn silently at once and see her – in the white gown they all wear, the ones who have been changed, with the dead eyes and the rubbery skin and the words that come out in the ohs and ones.

And her hands are grasped around something, cupping it gently.

The dirt walls hold their breath as we all stare, eyes, growing bigger and bigger.

What she holds in her hands, it means so much.  It is the answer to the question we are all afraid to ask.  It is the future.

Ezekiel speaks to her, it takes a long time to say even a short sentence in binary.  We don’t understand, but she does.  She lifts her head gently, she almost looks proud, but that can’t be.  They took out the emotions we think.  And the memories.  We aren’t sure.

Slowly, slowly, she opens those hands and reveals it.

I hold my breath.  Everything is about to change.

It is white.

It is a butterfly.

An origami butterfly.




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