Seven year old Denise and her mother Sherry live in a small town in Arkansas that is suddenly ravaged by fire. Widowed and raising a special needs child alone, Sherry’s priorities exclude romantic relationships, until a new kinship compels Sherry to put her life back into perspective.
The local fire department hires a man with a painful past, who shares a unique bond with Denise. A common interest between them creates trust and opens doors otherwise believed to be closed forever.
Anything is possible, especially when love and faith are present. She Only Speaks to Butterflies is a heartwarming story that helps us see that sometimes modern science isn’t as powerful as the human heart.
What inspired me to write this story was a Halloween party, a fireman, and a fearful child. I chose the setting because Arkansas is a state that is no stranger to fires, and I have always wanted to write about living in a small town.
A breeze drifted into her room from the open window. Sherry pulled the blankets up tighter to her chin as she slept. Her hand swept absently through the empty spot beside her. The crease in the mattress still held Chris’s shape but hadn’t been warmed by his body in months. Often, her dreams included him, but lately they turned cold and dismal.
Tonight’s dream was no exception. The lilies that lined her garden were quickly wilting. Grass that was once green lay yellowing and crispy on her lawn. As she floated into her home the dreamy haze surrounded her, clouding her view of Baker’s Farm beyond her house.
As she proceeded through the kitchen, Sherry could feel the hair on her forearms suddenly stand up. The chill felt down her spine was juxtaposed by the inherent heat enveloping her. Looking downward she gasped; smoke was billowing around the room. It followed as she made her way to the upper floor. The smell scorched her lungs as she strived to get to the room at the end of the hallway, where her daughter lay.
To her relief, Denise was sleeping soundly, undisturbed by the flames licking up the sides of her bed. Following her instincts, Sherry reached to scoop her daughter up and run, but something stopped her. Under the cloud of gray smoke at her feet was a man’s hand. It pulled at her ankle, preventing her from reaching out.
Suddenly, Denise’s eyes fluttered open. As she witnessed the flames and smoke engulfing her room, she cried out. But her cries fell on deaf ears; it was as if all the wind had been taken from her. No sound would come. Sherry tried to break free from the hand, grasping her seemingly from the depths of hell, but her attempts were futile.
Sherry watched as her seven-year-old continued mutely screaming for help, when suddenly the screams were replaced by the shrieking beeps of an alarm. Bolting upright, she pounded her fist on the alarm clock and wiped her face. It was beaded with sweat and her sheets were soaked. “Jesus Christ.” She swore, pulling her feet down onto the cold wood-planked floor.
Swallowing, Sherry managed to catch her breath. The house was quiet. All that could be heard was the chirping of morning doves as they prattled amongst the trees, waiting for sunrise. Staring at her shaking hands, Sherry observed the tan line where her wedding ring once rested. Looking at her jewellery box, she walked over and sat at her dressing table, glancing into the antique mirror.
The face that was once adorned with smiles looked back at her, shadowed with grief and anxiety in the form of wrinkles and shadows. Her body, that had once been touched tenderly, would never again feel love or new life. Feet that would never dance with a partner again, lay flat against the hard floor. She took the wedding band from the box and placed it on her finger; giving herself permission to pretend for another day.
Hearing a voice, Sherry rose and padded over to Denise’s room. She heard the voice again and walked faster. Could this be it? Has the day finally come? Sherry asked herself, trying to calm the fluttering in her belly. Her heart sank as she opened the door and saw her daughter, lying fast asleep, with her talking Elmo doll wedged against her body, chattering inadvertently.
Sherry chided herself for believing. Today wouldn’t be the day. And probably tomorrow wouldn’t be, either. But one day she knew it would happen. One day it wouldn’t just be in her dreams.
The leaves on the trees were green and lush with spring. Morning had greeted them kindly with warm sunlight and a fresh breeze. Sherry winded her window down further and rested her hand on the door of her beat up Eldorado, letting her fingers weave through the air as she made her way up the long country road to the school.
Long, brown ringlets bounced up and down, riding the wind as it flowed through her hair. Sherry looked back and saw Denise’s hair doing the same and she smiled proudly. “I put peanut butter sandwiches in your lunch today, darlin’, with the crusts cut off, just the way you like ‘em.”
Denise continued straightening her bear’s outfit, without a response to her mother.
Turning into the school, Sherry waved to her friend Martha, who was dropping off her son. “Oh, look, there’s Luke.” she pointed.
Denise spotted Luke; Martha’s son, and waved to him politely. Unfastening her seat belt, Denise bent forward, stepping out of her booster seat, onto the floor of the car, where her mother waited to embrace her. “Bye bye sweetie. I’ll see ya later.”
Denise kissed her mother and walked into the school without looking back, carefully ensuring that her bear was tucked by her side.
“How’s she doin’?” Martha asked, giving Luke a playful goodbye tap on the bottom as he joined Denise in line with the rest of the class.
“Good. No more fever. Dr. Baker gave her the good stuff.” Sherry crossed her arms over her chest.
“She’s got a little glint in her eye today, doesn’t she?” Martha noticed, walking up to Sherry’s side.
“Yeah. She almost smiled at me on the way here.”
“It’ll come.” Martha said as if by rote, pulling her purse over her shoulder. “It’s been almost two years now, hasn’t it?”
Sherry nodded, not looking up. “Come summer.”
“She been up to the Baker’s farm lately? Ned’s built a conservatory for the butterflies.”
“Yeah. That’s how I found out about the bear.” Sherry explained matter-of-factly.
Sherry looked up and pointed at Denise’s little purse and the bear sticking out of it, like a lone traveler secretly placed in her luggage to avoid entrance fees. “Rainy Day Bear. That’s how I found out she wanted the bear for her birthday.”
Martha’s brows furrowed. “And how did you find out about that?”
“Because she told one of the butterflies.”
“Great scot!” Ned Baker shouted, darting out of his chair. “Who is this little princess strollin’ up the walkway?” He looked over at his wife, Kate, who was sitting on the porch in her wooden rocker, knitting what appeared to be a baby bonnet. “Hand me a lollipop,” he instructed. “One o’ the ones with the candy in the middle…the good ones.” He smiled, gesturing her to hurry.
“Ned, for heaven’s sake,” Kate scolded, reaching behind her to the large pink plastic candy bowl they kept on their porch for passers-by. “Better ask her momma first.”
Denise and Sherry were walking up the gravel pathway to the house, carrying a basket full of torn stale bread. “We came to feed the ducks again.” Sherry explained, scooting Denise up towards Ned, who was walking proudly down the hill towards the young girl. His knees bent further with each step, stooping down to Denise’s level. When he reached the little girl, his toothy grin and proffered lollipop forced an ear-to-ear smile across Denise’s face.
“Absolutely, love, they’ve been waitin’.” Kate rose, setting down the knitting on her rocker. “You can help feed the butterflies, too, if you can spare the time.”
“Absolutely, Kate. I’m sure she’d love to.”
“How ya doin’ today, sweetheart?” Kate’s arm was over Sherry’s shoulders. “You looked downright pale this mornin’.”
“I’m fine. Thanks again for gettin’ hold of Doug so fast yesterday. He’s a lifesaver.”
Doug, Ned and Kate’s son, was the town doctor. Sherry called him yesterday after receiving a call from Denise’s school, reporting that she was burning up with fever.
Kate gestured Sherry into the house. “No trouble, dear. Can I get you a tea?”
“Sure. Have you got chamomile?”
Kate reached for the box of chamomile tea in the cupboard above the sink. “Sarah was by earlier; the beauty parlor must have been slow today.”
“Did she come for your cinnamon rolls? I swear this baby of hers has given her the nose of a hound.”
“Yeah, she took my last one. Ate my apple dumplings, too. I’ll make a fresh batch later.” She waved casually, scrunching her nose.
The kettle began to boil and Kate poured two small mugs full. “Doug says Dr. Graham thinks Denise is goin’ to hit a tippin’ point soon.” Kate said cautiously, handing her the tea.
“He says it won’t take much. She’s come a long way in the last year.” Sherry agreed.
“What do you think it’ll take?”
Sherry scoffed, taking a sip of tea. “If I knew that I could pull her out of treatment.”
“Sorry, love, I didn’t mean to pry.” Kate placed her hands on Sherry’s and changed the subject. “You hear they’re puttin’ in a new hospital?”
“No. It’s about time. Poor Doug’s been tellin’ me for years that the hospital’s too small.”
“That’s right. This town’s grown twice its size in the last ten years.”
“I remember,” Sherry said, “When they built the Food Mart over there on Carlaw Street. Ned just about had a coronary.”
Kate grinned. “I’ve never seen that man run so fast.” She shook her head. “Nothin’ stops him when it comes to this farm. It took him a week to get ‘em to buy their goods from us.”
“Now that Marty and Liz run it, you guys can’t keep up with ‘em.”
“Yep. We’ve got more cattle, pigs and chickens now than I’ve ever had…even since I was a girl.”
“So where’s the hospital goin’?”
Kate turned away from Sherry quickly, fumbling through the drawer, looking for her oven mitts. “Just up the way here.” She mumbled, pointing absently at the overhead window.
Sherry’s brows furrowed. “Up the way where? Closer to me or the other way…towards Sarah’s place?”
“Er…on the other side of the farm.”
“What do you mean? Over towards the main highway? Where the…where the road’s been closed?”
“It hasn’t been made official.” Kate turned to face her, speaking apologetically. “They may put it over by Sarah’s. Ned says they’re still negotiatin’, but I wanted you to know. So you wouldn’t be surprised if it came about.”
Sherry sat silently for a moment. “How long?”
“Ned said the town is goin’ to hold another meetin’ in a month’s time. I didn’t want to tell you but Ned said it’s for the best. He made me promise I’d tell you after Denise’s birthday; he didn’t want ya upset for that.”
“I guess it was goin’ to happen some day.” Sherry sighed regretfully. “They can’t keep that road closed forever just for me.”
Kate walked over to Sherry and took her hands. “Maybe it’s a sign, sweetie.” She rubbed the back of Sherry’s hands with her fingers. “God’s tellin’ ya it’s time to let go.”