He took a long swig of beer, crushed the can, and discarded it in the yard. Then he lit a cigarette and motioned for us to get into the car.
It was a summer afternoon. Sweat glistened on our skin as we rode in the back of the yellow car with the burning black seats.
The man backed down the driveway and into the street with a thud. I studied the side of his grizzled face as he gripped the cigarette between his teeth and yanked down on the gear selector. We began to move forward.
The man stunk. He pushed radio buttons until he landed on a Johnny Cash song. As he sang along he disregarded each of the stop signs he passed. It was a new subdivision. Treeless. Dotted with the concrete foundations of future dream homes.
“Boys grab me a beer, will ya?” he said pointing to the floor between me and my seat mate where two cans of beer remained connected to a string of plastic.
He cracked open the beer, deposited the pull top inside of the can, and took a long drink.
Another missed stop sign.
Up ahead, as we approached the woods at the edge of the barren subdivision, I noticed a monarch butterfly flitting along the left side of the road. The insect moved to its right, and started to cross in front of us, bouncing on the invisible current, when it caught the man’s eye. The man then sped up and swerved to catch it with his car.
The butterfly did not reappear as we passed. The man smiled at his accomplishment before taking another long drink.
With hard brakes and a cloud of dust, we arrived at a rusty trailer situated under a canopy of twisted oaks a few minutes later. The man tilted his head back, finished the beer, and said, “Y’all stay put.” before jumping out into the dust.
As soon as he disappeared into the trailer, I opened my door and raced around to the front of the car.
“What are you doing, you idiot? He’ll see you!” my seat mate called.
There, stuck in the grill of the yellow car, was the butterfly. Still alive, but missing one of its royal wings. I stared at it for a while watching it struggle.
“Come on!” the boy shouted.
I managed to gently pry the fragile beast off of the car. I then placed it in the center of my hand, held my breath, and closed my fist tightly around the butterfly until I was sure it was gone.
When I stood, the other boy locked onto me with terrified eyes from inside the car.
I then turned and walked into the woods. Moments later I heard the man shouting from somewhere behind me, before finally fading away. I held the butterfly in the palm of my hand and journeyed deeper into the safety of the trees. Until darkness fell.