Diana’s legs disappear in the caramel-milk creek. She won’t climb up the fallen log because a spider with orange spots has already claimed it. Water bugs skitter over the skin of the creek, and a powder-blue moth flutters all around her and the log, its wings like pages of a book in a storm, flapping open and closed as if dying to spill its words.
“Tell it to go away!” Diana says, closing her eyes and batting the air. “I think it likes you,” I say from my position crouching on the muddy bank.
Mark and Luke run with high knees through the creek toward the highway and Greg says, “Come back and put your shoes on — there might be nails down there. People throw all sorts of stuff off that bridge!”
Diana now looks like a cross, her arms straight out, hands balled into fists. “I want the butterfly to get on me.” The boys run back, digging sticks into mud and finding truck tires in the bank. The butterfly tumbles through the thick Ohio July until it alights on Diana’s head. Its wings, the shape of a lopsided heart, the color of blue enamel, fold into one.
As Diana walks straight, barely moving her neck, the butterfly points skyward like a crown. It clings to clumps of her maple wet hair, even as she grabs onto a branch and climbs out, even as she runs to keep up with her brothers through the pasture to the Dairy Hut on Route 50 to get a chocolate-vanilla swirl cone.
“The butterfly got your message,” I say, when I see her coming around the bend toward the house, soft-serve smeared all over her cheeks, the butterfly clinging to her bangs like a barrette.
I can feel the skeptics in the family bristle. “There must be a perfectly rational explanation,” they would say. “The salt in the creek water, the perfume of her shampoo, the hue of her skin.”
Just before Diana’s grandmother calls her inside, the butterfly lets go and flicks around the patio. “At least you brought it up to the house, “ Luke says, “and now it can pollinate the flowers.”
For me, it was the love that made it stay.