The Sixty-Five Dollar Butterfly by Diane Marquette

We’d found the Grape Nuts and the ketchup, had figured out most of the light switches, and watched the cat throw up on the new carpeting – yes, we were definitely settling into our new house.

On the third morning, my husband greeting me at the bottom of the stairs.  “Hurry, there’s a butterfly on the porch,” he said, turning and motioning.  “I don’t know how it got in there.”

“It’s <i>inside</i> the screen?”  

As I followed, I glanced into the kitchen, and smiled when I saw that he was in the middle of preparing our breakfast – juice poured, fruit sliced, and water heating in the teakettle.  My smile faded just a bit when I saw the huge piece of plywood where our largest window should have been –a mishap by the builder just days before we were to move in.  

The butterfly darted back into my thoughts.  I followed my husband through the doorway to the porch and glimpsed a small, dark shape clinging to the screen in the far corner.  “I don’t want it to get in the house,” I said softly.  I pulled the door closed, hearing the crisp click.

My husband stood a few feet from the butterfly, peering at it through the lower lenses of his bifocals.  I slowly approached and squinted, trying to determine the color of its faint markings in the shadows.  “I’ll get the butterfly book to see what kind it is,” I whispered, turning and walking back to the door.

I grasped the knob, but it refused to turn.  My heart leaped as my stomach dropped.  “It’s locked!  The door locked behind me!” I said, eyes wide.  I silently cursed our new deluxe doorknobs and deadbolts, which were so efficient, they even locked the owners out.  I will admit we’d locked ourselves out several times in the previous two days, but each of those times one of us had been on the other side of the door, able to let the other in.  This was different.  This was bad.

And it got even worse when I remembered the teakettle boiling on the stove.  It would be dry in a matter of minutes and then…  “We’ve got to get in!” I said.

“All the other doors are still locked,” my husband said, glancing at the butterfly.  “What can we do?” he seemed to ask it.  In response, it flexed its wings at him.

“I’ll try to get to a phone and call the locksmith,” I said, pounding down the porch steps.  I took off down the driveway simulating running.  This was the best I could do given the fact that every muscle, ligament, tendon, nerve, and other fiber below my skin was wracked with pain from all the lifting and dragging I’d been doing for weeks.

I jogged-limped to the closest house.  Someone had told me a policeman lived there.  If he’s like most cops, I thought, he probably works 24/7 out on the streets somewhere, when he really should be here protecting his neighbors from themselves.  I knocked loudly, waited two seconds, and knocked again.  Okay, enough time for him – onto the next driveway.

I glanced at my house, relieved not to see flames shooting out the first floor windows, and saw my husband standing near the closed garage door.  He didn’t look as though he was implementing any sort of plan, so I continued hobbling down the street.

I saw a white pick-up truck parked a short distance away, its driver’s door open.  There was some sort of official-looking seal on the door – a tool of some kind maybe.  There was a man standing next to the truck, a clipboard in his hand, and he was studying a nearby house as he made notes.  

As I quickly limped toward him, he turned and stared at me.  Even before I had reached his truck, I began to tell him of my plight.  He looked past me, over my shoulder, assessing my house.  “The fire department will just break down the door,” he said helpfully.

“Well, then, that’s probably not what I want,” I gasped.  “I’d better try the locksmith, or maybe Jeanne, or maybe…”

He handed me his cell phone, saying, “Help yourself,” and walked away.  He approached the house he had been observing, the clipboard back in action.  

Punching 411 got me the number of the locksmith.  I quickly told him my problem, turning every few second to check my house for flames.  He explained that it would be a thirty-minute drive, but he would get there as fast as he could.  “Okay, thanks,” I said, not meaning it.  Then it was time for my really bright idea.

I punched ten digits into the keypad, closed my eyes, and prayed.  Our builder answered on the fourth ring.  I blurted out my story again and held my breath.

“Well, I’m not far away, but I’m on a jobsite right now, and I have to meet somebody here in ten minutes,” he said.  I repeated the part about the stove being on and the teakettle probably boiling dry just about now, and before I could finish my sentence, he said he’d be right there.  “I’ll try to break in through that piece of plywood,” he said before he disconnected.

The driver of the white truck was approaching me and I quickly handed him back his phone, thanking him as I took off hobbling in the direction of my house.  

I told my husband about my conversation with the builder.  We got a small table from the back porch and placed it beneath the boarded-up window.  I stood on the table and we began prying the screen out of its track.  We managed to twist it loose, but two of the aluminum sides buckled from our efforts.  Then I began working on the plywood, first trying to slide it in the track and eventually pounding on it with my fists, but it didn’t budge.  

The sound of tires crunching on stone made us both turn.  Our hero was walking up the driveway carrying a large ladder.  I hopped down and moved my tiny table out of the way.  He set up the ladder and mounted it.  He began beating on the sheet of wood, which began to wobble after several well-placed blows dislodged the shims.  When there was enough space, he curled his fingers around the edge of the wood and shoved it aside.  He quickly ducked through the opening, gone from sight.

A few seconds later, the locked porch door was opened from the inside and the builder called out “Everything’s okay.”  We hurried up the porch steps and into the house, eager to see for ourselves.

I detected the faint odor of scorched metal.  I went to the stove and examined the teakettle the builder had removed from the burner.  I lifted the lid.  It had boiled dry.  

“You’re in our will,” I said to him.  

“I’m just glad I was close by,” he said modestly.

We all walked out on the porch, my husband careful to unlock the offending door.  The builder retrieved his ladder, put it in the back of his truck and drove off just as a van pulled into the driveway.  I recognized the name of the locksmith on the side.  Oops.  I explained about the rescue.  “I guess there’s still a charge?”

“Afraid so,” he said.  “I was doing seventy all the way.”

“Well, I certainly do appreciate your getting here so quickly,” I said.  “I’ll get the checkbook.”

I smiled when I wrote the check to the locksmith for the thirty-five dollar fee.  I also smiled when I paid for the repaired screen, which cost thirty dollars, from the hardware store.

According to my nature book, the sixty-five dollar butterfly, which was dark blue with rust spots, is called a “Red-spotted Purple”.