© 1996 Kay Iscah
The Dark House
Anna woke early. For Anna, early morning was a bad time to wake up, especially in the middle of the summer. Her ten-year-old mind could grasp many things, but she still had a hard time remembering and pronouncing the skin condition that forced her away from the sun. She did know the word "cancer" and that was the reason her mother taught her and played with her during the twilight hours. She knew it was the reason the curtains were always drawn shut.
This morning, however, the small sliver of light that peaked through the curtains became a siren song. Anna pushed aside her covers and swung her feet over the bed. She tiptoed to the window and pulled the curtain back enough she could look out.
Anna had to shield her eyes from the bright glare, but after a moment, they adjusted. Her lips pulled into a smile as she saw the golden world before her. The sunbeams slid over the leaves and blades of grass, causing them to glow with life. The flowers planted around the mailbox across the street trumpeted their colors and pretended to reign over the grandfather trees.
The sky was blue, such a bright, perfect blue. It was a smug blue. The sky pretended to be quiet and humble, but it completely understood its worth and looked over the earth like an aunt examining her sister's child. The birds twittered at each other and gave chase without thought to the marvel over head. Anna spotted a robin and tried to wish it closer. The little bird hopped about then went flying without a care for her wish.
Two children whirled past on their bikes. The wind blew their hair and tugged at their tee shirts.
Anna heard a noise and dropped the curtain. She hopped back in bed. She was pulling the covers up to her chin, when her mother entered.
"Having trouble sleeping?" her mother asked softly.
Anna shook her head.
Her mother sat beside her and stroked her hair. "Go to sleep, sweetheart. I'll wake you up when it's time for the fireflies to come out."
"Momma, can we get a pet butterfly?" Anna asked.
"You can't keep a butterfly in a cage," her mother said.
Anna yawned. "Why not?"
"Because, butterflies have to fly." She kissed Anna's forehead, and tucked her back in bed.
When Anna woke again, the fireflies were putting on their show outside. She found her mother and asked her to come outside to catch the lightening bugs with her.
"I want to show you what I found first," her mother said and held up a small plastic insect box for Anna to look at. The box had some twigs and leaves inside. Anna wondered what her mother had wanted to show her. "Do you see the little cocoon on the twig?" she asked.
Anna looked again and saw it. "Will a butterfly come out?" she asked.
"I think so," her mother said. "We'll watch it, and if we're lucky, we'll see the butterfly emerge from it cocoon."
"Can we help it out?" Anna asked.
"No," her mother said. "The butterfly has to come out in its own time."
For the next few nights, Anna had a hard time concentrating on her math. She was thinking about her butterfly and how beautiful it would be when it came out of its cocoon.
Then one day, it came. Anna's mother woke her up so that she could watch the butterfly push its way out. Its wings were a bold orange, black, and white. "Is it a monarch?" Anna asked.
"No, I think it's a viceroy," her mother said.
Anna did not care which. It was still beautiful, and it was hers.
"Now, we'll have to let it go, so it can fly," her mother said.
Anna's heart sank. She did not want to let go of her butterfly. She followed her mother to the front door and sat down to the side so the light would not fall directly on her. "Can't we keep it?" she asked hopefully.
Her mother smiled. "No, a dark house isn't any place for a butterfly." The smile faded, and she looked sad for a moment. Anna's mother opened the door. The golden sunlight poured in and caused the dust in the air to shimmer like tiny fairies. She then opened the cage.
After a few moments to get used to its surroundings, the butterfly fluttered its wings and flew away.
End Notes: Cover art was drawn by the talented Kristen Collins and is the original art for this story when it was first published in a High School newspaper. I colorized it for the web, probably not as well as she would have done, but she's a busy lady now.
To clarify Anna is a fictional character with a real rare genetic condition called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. She doesn't have cancer, but the condition makes her extremely photosensitive and prone to developing cancer in areas exposed to sunlight.