"Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?" Meteorologist, Edward Lorenz - 1972.
Esmé ate a little potato then put her fork down.
“I had a chat with Mum today,” she said soberly.
“It’s good that you’re able to think of her like that,” said Ray, patting her arm.
Miranda and Alfie avoided eye contact, trying not to giggle.
“I was in the kitchen at about 2.00 o’clock, still washing up the breakfast things when the sun broke through and made me look out of the window. Then I saw an outsized Red Admiral butterfly sitting on a branch of the pine tree opposite. It was flapping its wings like crazy, wiggling its antennae, trying to say ‘hello’. Only Mum would pull a stroke like that.”
“Isn’t that what she died from? A stroke?”, asked Miranda, now almost 15.
Esmé didn’t react.
“Wow!”, said nine-year-old Alfie, impressed. “Admirals are sometimes seen in the South of England in January. But up here in Lancashire … ?”
“Ssh!”, warned Ray, kicking Alfie’s shin as he leaned over to collect the dinner plates.
“I was in the car at about that time and it was, briefly, very sunny. I wonder how the creature arrived here.”
“Maybe it used the tram,” said Miranda.
Esmé tried again. “Look, guys. I’ve lost my mother – not my marbles. There’s no need to humour me. I’m telling you it was Mavis.
“I know it was her because the butterfly’s wings were like a replica of that gaudy knitted suit she was wearing when she died.
“You must remember the row. Winifred got Georgie to bring it back from London with her broken brolly after the funeral.
“She stalked up to the front door, threw them at me and marched away without a word. No comfort. Nothing. The suit - for chrissakes why did I encourage her to buy it? - still stank of Mum’s sweat. If Winnie didn’t want to sell it or give it to a charity shop with everything else, why didn’t she dump it instead of calling me nasty names?
“Finally, when I had the damn thing dry-cleaned in town, the girl at the counter sneered when she handed it back. So now it hangs in the back of my wardrobe as a sort of double family motif. The first part is about the guilt that’s been laid on me over the years.”
“And the second?”, asked Ray.
“The barely hidden derisive contempt with which almost everyone treats me. That includes you two!”, added Esmé, stabbing the handle of her dessert spoon at her step-children.
“I’ve had so much to do and still everyone says I never pull my weight. They refuse to listen when I tell them the efforts I’ve made to empty and clean Mum’s flat for possible sale or potential rental. Then there was the paperwork and extra expense involved in having a Bury resident cremated out-of-town. No-one except you, Ray, even begins to understand.
“Now there’s more. Tony’s putting it about that I’ve stolen £400.00 from our joint account.”
“How do you know? After all, Georgie and Tony aren’t speaking to you,” said Miranda.
“Mavis, of course. We must have chatted for at least half-an-hour. Typically, the first thing she did was to scold me for not getting showered and dressed earlier. It felt like old times.
“’Do something with your hair. It’s in rattails. You’ll feel a lot better if you improve your appearance, instead of indulging in so-called depression. And if I were you,’” she added, ‘I’d go back to your natural colour. Platinum blond is really not you.’”
“What did you say back?,” asked Alfie, caught up in the scene.
“First of all, I told her how much I’d always hated my name. Horribly old-fashioned and flashy - like her embarrassing taste in clothes. From now on, I’m ‘Gail’.”
“’What’s more, I’m not taking any more bull from my family - in this world – or out of it!’”, I told her.
“’If you want to play truths,’ I said. Here’s a few for you to cuddle in heaven or wherever you’re going next. The fact is, Mum, you were fine when it came to practical, every-day parenting. But a few other things got in the way.’”
“’Such as?’”, she asked.
“I didn’t miss my chance. ‘For instance, you could never resist playing us children off each other – even to the end – all the better to control us. Remember the last thing you said to me, here, in this garden, before you left for your trip to London?’”
“’No, not really,’” said Mavis.
“’We’d had a tiff as I asked you to wait a couple of hours before we went shopping for extra shoes.
“’Georgie’,’” you said, ‘is so good-hearted. She’d never refuse. This, my dear, is a good example of what I mean when I say ‘I’ll always love you – even when I don’t like you.’”
There was a tiny space between Esmé speaking and Alfie bursting in to help.
“Yesterday,” he said, “our science teacher told us something really cool about butterflies. There was a weather man called Edward Lorenz who, in 1972, showed how a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can cause a hurricane somewhere else. Mr Hammond said it was part of ‘predictability’ and meant in easy words that small events can cause very large ones. Then Steve Brown worked out on his calculator that in 1972 everyone in our class was aged minus thirty-one.”
(Copyright, Natalie Irene Wood – 26 September 2012)