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A Butterfly’s Summer

by Julie Wornan

The mid-morning sunlight flooded the market square, vibrant with the colors of strawberries, oranges and peppers, of flowers and happy children’s T-shirts. Francis paused to contemplate a bed of sunflowers and lavender.

Suddenly, the flowerbed was transparent and Francis could see, through the earth, an intricate network of roots. Francis had never realized how interesting roots could look. Then, just as suddenly, the flowers and earth regained their normal opacity.

“My brain is racing,” thought Francis. And it was. Ever since his retirement three weeks before, his mind had been swarming with intriguing thoughts. They were not the thoughts that belonged to his former working life. He had been devoted to that life — addicted, some said. His wife had called him a workaholic, and left. He’d hardly missed her, except when he had to do his own laundry. Solving technical problems had been to him what food, drink, air and love are to others.

When the Company gave him the traditional farewell dinner, Francis’s eyes had grown misty, not over the lost companionship of his peers — dubious companionship at best, since he generally worked alone and ate sandwiches at his desk — but because he could not imagine how to fill the imminent intellectual vacuum.

Now, three weeks later, he realized he had never been more alive. He was a writer! His mind was ablaze with stories, fragments, conversations, images. Turning these into coherent, engaging sentences on paper was a challenge at least equal to any in his former professional life. For the first time since his youth, he began to really look and listen to the world around him. He scribbled notes. He didn’t know if his literary creations would ever be published, but he didn’t give the question much thought. What counted was the perpetual high. But right now he needed a cup of coffee.

He spotted a lone vacant table on a crowded terrace and headed for it. “Oh — waiter!” The waiter scurried past. But Francis had all the world’s time, and he was happy just to be. He took out his pocket notebook and started to listen to the conversations around him. A young man seated at the next table was saying, “I can talk about it now. The Plan. Now that it’s no longer a secret.”

“You say you worked on it?” His companion was incredulous. “But it’s murder!”

“Come now, my friend, let’s not be dramatic. Those idle people were consuming our taxpayer’s money. Now they’ll just fade away — gently. No bodies, no blood. No relatives in mourning; even the trace of their memory will be gone.”

The other man, who seemed to be in his 50’s, turned a shade pale. “But — how do you erase memories?”

“Aha, that was the greatest challenge! I worked on that aspect personally. It took me a year to find a solution — a most clever one, I must say. I expect a fat bonus for it, but I would do it again for nothing but the satisfaction.” The satisfaction was evident in the purr of his voice. “Have you ever seen a figure removed from a photo by software techniques? It’s rather the same principle. The space is filled with similar memories about other people.” He shut his eyes and chuckled.

Francis tried again to get the waiter’s attention. Idly, he picked up an empty glass on the table and took a long drink. The older man was still protesting: “Surely it’s immoral, illegal. Couldn’t the... problem, as you say... have been solved just by raising the retirement age?”

“My dear, do you want those people taking our jobs?” the first man snapped, leaning forward. He spoke softly but forcefully. “As for the legality — the plan has been voted into law. It is all perfectly legal. Anyone who opposes it now is on the wrong side of... progress.” He sat back. His companion turned still paler but said nothing.

A large man wearing shorts and sunglasses was striding toward Francis’ table. Francis nodded toward the vacant chair and was about to say, “Please — that chair is free” when the man sat down. He did not sit on the vacant chair, he sat on Francis’ chair. He sat on Francis. He sat in Francis. Francis felt nothing. Neither did the other man, apparently, who called out “Waiter — a beer!”

“Yes, sir. Right away.”

Francis tried to stand up. He stood down. Down and down he sank, deep into the soft earth, where roots met and tangled. They made fascinating patterns.

Copyright © 2009 by Julie Wornan

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