The Green Hairstreak's Death
James Claffey

She sleeps beside him, the heat coming off his damp pajamas, the steady burr of his snores falling through the broken floorboards to the empty lounge. Out back in the yard the bantam and hens roost in the branches of the destroyed apple tree.
In the dream, her mother is in the butcher's shop of a strange town, in slippered feet, her nightgown in flitters. "A pork chop and a nice slice of liver while you're at it," she says to the ruddy-faced butcher. His hand takes hers and places it on the cutting board. He drizzles sawdust over her mottled skin and cleaves the hand off from the wrist. A stream of butterflies, green hairstreak, dingy skipper, and brimstone ribbon from the wrist and flutter off. The butcher wraps the still limb in brown paper, tying a double knot with thick twine and says, "That'll be tuppence ha'penny." The old woman tries to take the package, but more and more butterflies spill into the air and everything turns to black.
She kneads handfuls of creamy dough with orange-stained fingers. Nicotine addicted, persecuted, her day is a maddening circle of tea and biscuits, baking, smoking, the necessary fiction of the housewife. Yellow rubber gloves and the tin of Vim; she heads for the outside toilet, her wedding ring nestled in the soap dish on the kitchen window ledge. He left a log floating in the bowl -- a perch -- bound for open water. The apron hitched about her waist, the filth enough to send her into hysterics. In matters of the household she is the senior partner, the one who fishes the lump out of the fell water and quickly bags it, her cigarette smoldering in the narrow hut. Does it matter, she wonders, the flecks of tomato seeds in the water, the rusting bones of the old Morris Minor in the yard?
The Paperwhites fold in the weak evening sun and a fool crosses the street in the shadow of the primary school. In the crib, baby gums its fist, patterns of saliva stain the sheet, and the hole in her stocking worries itself ever larger. She puts another briquette on the fire, knocking the dust off against the coal scuttle. Her dirty hands are the direct success of a hard life, the creep of years, the baby a latecomer. Through the curtained window the dusk moves along -- a boat on a slow-flowing sea.
Mother told her as much, how she'd be marrying a moocher, one of the shiftless kings of the small town they'll be forced to quit in disgrace when the banks close the taps on the loan and the bailiffs cart everything off to the showgrounds for auction. Made of stronger mettle, she drops the bottle in the saucepan of water and lets it bubble away, all the while reading the pages of last night's dream.
On the stove the bottle rattles against the side of the saucepan and she takes it out of the boiling water with a dishcloth. She squirts a drop onto the inside of her wrist to gauge the temperature, and crosses the kitchen floor to the crib. Outside, a mackerel sky, she watches a single green hairstreak settle on a dandelion, and the memory of her mother's stumped wrist sends a sharp pain shooting across her forehead. Baby smacks the rubber nipple and the mint-colored creature flies into the window, as if trying to say something with its death.