I watch him feed a string of pink paper butterflies to the shredder. He is a thorn in my heart: a stubborn sore spot I can’t stop prodding. Butterfly Shredder thinks their demise looks cool. And it does: butterflies blithely flying to their doom, a flight that will leave them in ruins. The sight is transfixing, even though it is thoughtless, since they are a thank-you card from a grateful patron.
The Law had asked me out the preceding week. I almost said no, but I’d developed a fascination with Little Red Riding Hood. I had on my scarlet cloak—always a matador and no bull in sight—and I yearned for something unsafe. For the gleam of fangs. It was my bad habit to stare into the dead, glossy eyes of taxidermied wolves and despair when nothing reached out to meet my gaze. The wolves were remote and beyond reach. This is what drew me to them. This was why I had a heart full of thorns, a heart that resembled shredded butterflies.
I decided to forego the safety of taxidermied wolves for live, breathing ones with claws and appetites. Ones that could look back at me in ways that were unsafe. I was sick of splinters and the taste of sawdust.
The Law had broken his back. The doctors told him he’d never walk after the accident, but he did—with a pronounced limp he managed to make a swagger. I liked the new incarnation better. It told a story of struggle and tenacity, of the ways life doesn’t work out. The former incarnation, frozen whole and intact in the family picture, didn’t know what awaited it. He smoked Marlboro Lites on the back patio of his mother’s house, where he’d had to move due to financial hardship.
He was forty-one.
His teeth were sharp.
“I haven’t had to deal with death in my life,” he said. “Not like you. I’m lucky.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” I said. “Ours is a mortal existence. There are so many deaths beyond literal, actual death. Divorce, not knowing your father, the loss of your intact body.”
All things he’d endured.
He exhaled a thick plume of smoke and stared into the dark.
This was our first date.
It was also our last.
One day, Little Red ventured into the woods to meet her wolf.
Her wolf was waiting.
One day, Little Red, tired of skirting sharp edges, wished to break the skin.
Her wolf was happy to oblige.
But his teeth, it turns out, weren’t sharp enough.
Dear Butterfly Shredder:
I have realized I don’t like you and I look forward to the day when you are an unpleasant memory.
And still you have this hold over me.
The mechanical fangs of the paper shredder.
Danger never looks like what you expect it to.
This makes it hard to avoid.
Re: the difference between Butterfly Shredder and The Law. I guess it comes down to the beautifully damaged versus the not beautifully damaged: the shards of a stained glass window versus rotting fruit, the brown bruise that mars a garnet-colored apple.
I think of rock stars: that shopworn trope. It’s not beauty, so much as charisma, which is often mistaken for beauty, which is like mistaking the tablecloth for the table. For example: Prince in the basement of his parents’ house in Purple Rain: the sad boy with the gallery of porcelain clowns, a close-up of a lone tear exquisitely painted on a sculpted bone-white face.
Or Axl Rose sitting in the early 90s by the placid blue of his manor’s pool, his own blue eyes strangely calm as he reflects on music and the feud of the moment. In this interview, Axl is curiously devoid of heat, spent. Poisonous beasts can conceal their fangs. This makes it easy for the credulous to say, oh, surely Axl (for instance) is not poisonous. When you know they’re just biding their time.
What makes one person beautifully damaged and the other not? It’s more than the artful arrangement of bruises: maybe some forms of damage just stick in our craws. You, for instance, might feel pulled by the shredded strings of a ravaged harpsichord, whereas I might have the same reaction to a freshly dead squirrel in the street.
And what of the beautifully whole, the intact? If they’re out there, and you know where to find them, please tell me.
Allison Floyd’s previous publication credits include flashquake, frisson, Rogue Worlds, and, most recently, the winter issue of The First Line. She blogs at Country Louse and tweets micro-essays @DysphoriaJones.