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Once upon a time, in a village with three good wells, fields of blue and yellow corn, a white church, and a cantina, there lived a woman who was neither young nor old. She was brown of skin, and eye, and her hair was as brown as the sandy earth. She was neither beautiful nor ugly, neither tall nor small, and she walked with a long habit of watching her feet.

One day, she saw a tree alight with migrating buterflies. Their velvet wings fluttered in the wind of their grace, and one circled her, coming to rest upon her open hand. She thought that her heart would break for the power of its fragile beauty, and she held her breath for fear of frightening it.

La Mariposa was as orange and brilliant as the setting sun falling between indigo mountains, as iridescent, as black and violet as the most fragrant midnight. At last the butterfly lifted from her hand to rejoin its nomad tribe, and its wings seemed like a whisper, “come with us, come with us…”

The next morning they were gone. She held her hand out to the empty tree, as if to wave farewell, and saw that where the butterfly had rested, there remained a dusting of color, yellow, like pollen, the kiss of a butterfly wing. She went to the well to draw water, and saw her face reflected there. And she had changed – there were minute lines, hairline cracks, along the sides of her face, at the corners of her eyes.

Later, she noticed little webs of light beneath the sturdy brown skin of her hands, barely visible except in the dim twilight.This was a frightening thing. She drew her skirts more closely around herself, pulled her scarf over her eyes. But as time went on, there was something that kept emerging, something that would not be denied. She was peeling open. At first, it simply itched, like a rash, like pulling nettles. As weeks went by, what had been easily born, could be endured, became painful, became an agony. Try as she might, as tightly as she wrapped herself in her cocoon of shawls and skin and silence, the comforting routines of her life, colors emerged from her hands, spilt from her mouth, colors and tears, deep waters that seeped from within, washing away the dust of her life.

Soon, sleep became impossible. Standing by her window one day, shivering, she shook with fear. “Please help me”, she cried. Then she noticed a beam of sunlight that fell across the floor of her little room like honey. Motes of dust gathered in the golden light, becoming a flurry of butterflies dancing through an open window, into a sky as blue and vast as forever. And La Mariposa opened her arms, took the gift of wings, and rose.

When her neighbor came to walk with her that evening, she found only a shawl and an old brown skirt on the floor, the early stars glittering through an unshuttered window.

Lauren Raine 1997

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