“No!” she said. “Not now! Get off!” He didn’t stir. Helen attempted to roll out from under the layers of blankets and sheets but instead got completely entangled. “Damn,” she said, “it’s three in the morning. Why the hell do you wake me up in the middle of the night?” Instead of replying, Oberon licked his left paw. He was sitting on her stomach purring loudly. “Okay, okay, I’ll get you some milk,” she said but didn’t move.
Tomorrow was the day to give notice at her office, if she decided to start school in September – if she decided to. But during the last couple of weeks she had come to the conclusion that she’d better forget about the whole thing after all. She wanted to be close to Demetrius more than anything else – even if he didn’t seem that keen on being close to her. On the other hand, it might be a lot of fun to start something new, and she really loved literature, had always loved it, and would never have quit school if Demetrius hadn’t told her he couldn’t
stand academics. And now, she had not only been accepted into the Ph.D. program at UBC but also – heaven knows why – been awarded that scholarship. The whole thing surely was tempting.
Still – she couldn’t imagine living for a whole term without seeing Demetrius, who’d move to Toronto in the fall. Not that she’d seen him that often during the last couple of years – he was always so busy – but at least she lived in the same city and had the feeling that she was close, as close as she, as an ordinary person, could get to a man like Demetrius.
Demetrius wasn’t Demetrius’s real name, of course. His real name was George. But Helen found George sounded too plain for Demetrius. So she called him Demetrius – after the part he had played when she first saw him five years ago. Demetrius was so good as Demetrius that he had stolen everybody else’s show – even Titania’s and Puck’s.
Helen closed her eyes. She could still see Demetrius as vividly as she had seen him then: stumbling through the woods, desperate for the woman who loved him not, pursued instead by another….
The only other detail she remembered from that production was a dancer who had played a butterfly. She had forgotten in which scene that butterfly appeared and why – perhaps he was one of the fairies. What had stayed in her mind besides Demetrius was the beauty and the bright blue color of that butterfly, and the elegance of his movements.
Love is like that, he said.
And he picked up his flute
and played – and butterflies
emerged from it and began
“No! Don’t!” she said. “Come here, little brat.”
Oberon was playing with the dreamcatcher that was hanging from the wall next to her bed. He probably thought she couldn’t see him because she hadn’t switched on the light. But the moon was so bright that she could see every detail in the room distinctly.
“No!!!” she said again, “Are you deaf or what? Stop it!”
Oberon was allowed to play with almost anything she owned, but not with that dream-catcher. For some reason she firmly believed in its power to ward off bad dreams and let only the good ones slip through its meshes, perhaps because she had received it last year as a gift from a Cree musician whom she had given a ride. The expression in his eyes when he had handed her the dreamcatcher had convinced her that he possessed some unusual spiritual power and that this power somehow adhered to the dreamcatcher as well.
“It’s not a bird,” she said to Oberon, “even though it has feathers. And if you leave it alone, I’ll pour you some milk.” The cat jumped down and walked towards the kitchen, his huge, yellow tail held erect – waving her to follow. This time, she managed to get up and fill Oberon’s bowl with milk. He began gulping it down even before she had finished pouring.
“Good night, greedy little thing,” she said and kissed him between his ears. Oberon didn’t bother to look up from his bowl. “I should have called you Demetrius,” she said. “You are his spit and image.”
Helen climbed back into bed and tried to disentangle her blankets and sheets. But everything was one hopeless mess: snares of linen and wool tightening around her bare arms and legs whenever she tried to move. I have to get out of this, she thought, but was too tired.
The full moon was directly in front of her window now. It was big and brighter than usual. In front of it, a shadow was dancing to the music of a flute – the shadow of a butterfly. Butterflies don’t fly around at night, she thought. It must be a moth. But it was a butterfly, and now that he was coming closer, she could see that he was bright blue.
The butterfly stopped in front of her window as if to wait for her to open it. When she did, he flew right in and landed briefly on her nose – as if to reassure her of something. Then he flew, or rather, danced out of the room, for now his body was that of a dancer. She longed to see his face and got up to get closer. He was dancing in front of her window.
Love is like that, he said.
And he picked up his flute
and played – and butterflies
emerged from it and began
Helen climbed through the window and followed the butterfly, first across the little yard and then over the fence into the park. When he rested on the lowermost branch of an arbutus tree she thought she would finally manage to catch him and see his face, but before she could stretch out her hand to touch him, he danced off again. And again she followed.
“Wait”, she called, “I want to give you back your kiss.” But he danced on without looking back. “Stop,” she pleaded, “please, stop, I can’t go on anymore.”
Helen was hot and out of breath, while the butterfly didn’t seem tired at all but danced up and down as if to mock her. She stumbled on deeper into the brush. It was darker here because of all the bushes and trees. Perhaps there was also a cloud in front of the moon.
All of a sudden the butterfly flew straight up. At first, she didn’t know why, for now it was almost completely dark. But then she realized that she was standing in front of a huge black wall and would almost have bumped into it. As soon as her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, she saw the butterfly soaring higher and higher. She did not know how to follow him up there, how to climb that wall. She needed a ladder or something – or wings. She glanced upward. The butterfly was resting at the very top of the wall. When he looked down, the moon came out again briefly and lit his face. It was Demetrius’s face.
“Wait,” Helen called, “I want to come with you.”
But Demetrius just looked at her – without a sign of recognition. She spread out her arms and flapped them desperately – and felt her body being lifted into the air – slowly but steadily. She flapped her arms again and again and flew upwards until she, too, stood on top of the wall. The butterfly was gone. So was the moon. She stared hard into the darkness but saw nothing.
“Demetrius,” she called. “Where are you?” No answer. “Dee- meeee-trii-uus!”
She believed she heard some flute music far away. But it might have been the wind. She strained her ears and listened into the darkness. Nothing…. She was wondering if she should just jump….
“If I only knew what is on the other side of the wall,” she thought – and jumped….
She felt herself falling through the air, not as a human body would, but drifting – weightless like a feather, or a butterfly. Then, however, something hit her hip, and there was a flash of bright light. She opened her eyes and saw Oberon’s face looking down at her – almost as if curious to find out what was going on.
Helen felt extremely hot. She tried to move, but couldn’t. Her arms were caught in her blanket. She was soaked in sweat and felt something soft touching her left cheek.
“The butterfly,” she thought, but it didn’t feel like a butterfly, it felt more like a bird.
As soon as she had managed to free herself from the sheets she lifted the soft thing off her face. It was the dreamcatcher.
“You little brat,” she said to Oberon. “I told you not to play with it.”
But Oberon looked innocent. She inspected the dreamcatcher a bit more carefully. One of the meshes had come loose and the feathers were in disorder. Otherwise, it seemed unharmed.
Helen was still wondering what she would have found on the other side of that wall. “I’ll just forget about that stupid Ph.D. and try to get a job in Toronto,” she thought. “I can’t live without Demetrius, even if he keeps eluding me. And after all, I managed to follow him up that wall. That’s a start.”
She went to the phone and dialed his number.
“Hi Demetrius, it’s me. How are you?”
“Fine, thanks, how are you?”
“Fine too. I wanted to tell you something important.”
“I don’t have much time right now, can we talk tomorrow instead?”
Helen was disappointed. I’m such a fool, she thought. “It won’t take long, Demetrius,” she said. “I just wanted to tell you that I’m going to … .”
She broke off because all of a sudden she knew what was on the other side of that dark wall. She was shocked – shocked not because it was there but because she hadn’t seen it before.
“You are going where?” he asked. He sounded impatient.
“I’ve decided to go to UBC after all,” she said. Her voice and the words it spoke sounded unfamiliar to her.
“You know I’ve got that contract in Toronto, don’t you?” he asked.
“Yes, I know. But I think, it’s a good decision – for both of us.”
“Maybe we should talk about it?” he said. “Do you want to meet me for dinner tonight?”
“No George,” she replied, “I won’t have time. And I don’t think there’s much point in talking about it. I’ve made up my mind.”
He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Okay, if you want to try it, there’s nothing wrong with that, I guess.”
“I’m glad you approve,” she said.
He was silent again. “I didn’t mean to be patronizing,” he finally said. “Of course, it’s your decision.”
“Okay then,” she said, no longer irritated but calm – unbelievably calm. “You said, you didn’t have much time right now. Perhaps, we can talk some other time.”
“Yes,” he said. “Let’s talk some other time then. Bye for now.”
She picked up the dreamcatcher from her bed and smoothed its dissheveled feathers. She also considered pulling the loose mesh back into position, but then didn’t. Maybe it was just right the way it was. She hung it back on the wall. The cat came closer. “Don’t you dare!” she said and sat down on her bed. Oberon decided to play with his catnip mouse.
“Do you think studying English literature will be fun?” she asked him. As usual, the cat didn’t bother to answer. Instead, he jumped into her lap and coiled up comfortably. Still, she thought – and began to cry. Oberon looked at her.
“It’s alright,” she said and grabbed a kleenex. “The butterflies will keep dancing. And so will I – perhaps.”
Oberon pricked his ears as if to listen to the distant flute. Helen kissed him on his neck – his favorite spot. He started purring loudly.
* * *
© Gudrun Dreher, 2004