Monday, June 6, 2011


I pitied the sleepers at the Skidmore Fountain Max stop, framed for me this dawn by the lacy ice growing on the train window pane.  There were at least a dozen of them sheltering here, under the high ceiling of the Burnside Bridge. 

Three or four of them, sleeping bags dragging, beards bristling, boarded together.  All were shivering but one.  He was not only clean, but looked rested and even relaxed.  Had he just come back from a Buddhist retreat?  Been released without bail?  Or it could be the meds.     

He stood in the aisle holding out an upturned palm, scanning riders for contact.  I am not a fan of begging on public transportation.  It makes me want to shout, “I'm sorry things haven't worked out better for you, old boy, but I'm broke, too.”  I avoided his glance.

But wait.  Something in his hand was moving.  A mouse?  That would be a good pet for an animal lover sleeping on the street.  But no, the pet was flexing its wings.  It was a large, beige butterfly.  The wings had eyes, one on each wing, looking at me, looking away, looking at me.  The huge insect covered the kid's palm. 

He said, to anyone at all and no one in particular, “He was right next to me on the sidewalk when I woke up.  I thought he was dead.”

A woman in a beige Columbia jacket and tan pants that matched the butterfly's colors said, “It's a Polyphemus moth.”    

He said, “My friend told me it looked liked a … a . . . an Emperor moth.”

“He does look like a lot like an Emperor Gum moth.  But the Emperors live in Australia. ”

The kid said, “He might not make it.”

“If he doesn't make it,” she said, “at least he had a friend for awhile.”  Nicely done.  Like a trained social worker.   

The kid looked at the moth, at the riders, at the woman, at a spot in the distance, thinking hard.  His hand was still up, but drawn in close to his body.  “Yeah.”

The wings flexed.  The kid blinked empathetically. 

“Everybody needs a friend,” the woman said.  The kid nodded. 

She gathered herself to go, placing a purse strap on a shoulder, shifting her weight to the front of the seat.  As the Max shussed to a stop, I noticed her metal cane.  She wrapped both hands around it.  She positioned it front and center for maximum leverage.   She strained – once, twice – she budged – once, twice – aaaaand – she was up. 

She walked.  “Bye,” she said.

“Bye,” he said.  

Wow.  Sometimes a lepidopterist social worker shows up right when you need one.


Copyright 2011 by Nick O'Connor

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