She was the kind of girl who…
Whenever I thought about her, I wanted to stop.
Whenever I saw her, I wanted to find someplace dark and hide.
Whenever I spoke with her, I wanted to reach into the sky, grab the sun, and squeeze all the light and heat out of it… watching as they ran in heavy streams down my arm, mixing with my blood on the tiles below.
But it wasn’t me who was bleeding.
As I held her, I could see that the bullets had pierced her abdomen. Someone—at least one person—had already called for an ambulance, and was still on the line. From my one-sided perspective of the conversation, the 911 operator was dispensing more advice on staying calm than on treating the people who had been injured. Since they outnumbered those of us who were still of sound body, this was probably all that could be done.
She looked directly into my eyes and seemed to be struggling to speak.
“Who…?” she asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t know. I wasn’t here when it started. But when I heard the gunfire, I came running in. That’s how I found you.”
“Why would I run away? I knew my friend was in here.”
That made her smile. It was probably good to keep her distracted.
“Do you remember—” I stopped and chuckled. “Do you remember the time when we went to the went to the butterfly gardens? And we sat in that gazebo and it was just filled with butterflies?”
“Pretty,” she rasped.
“They were blue and green and yellow… and they fluttered around everywhere. They would only land on you; I even held that cup of sugar water, but they wanted nothing to do with me.”
I chuckled again. She did, too. As much as she could.
“Yeah, I definitely do.”
“Moths?” she asked.
“Oh, they loved me, yeah. Which was weird, wasn’t it? Because butterflies and moths both belong to the order Lepidoptera, which comes from the Ancient Greek words for scale and wing. The differences between the two are subtle and few. Taxonomists can’t agree on how best to classify them; the current division is not accepted because moths are a polyphyletic group.
“The primary and most obvious difference is in the appearance of the antennae and body. Butterflies tend to be scalier, whereas moths are generally furry or fuzzy. Additionally, most butterflies are diurnal, but moths come out at night or at twilight. There are exceptions to both of these, though, so it’s difficult to differentiate unambiguously.”
Then her smile faded, and her lip began to tremble.
“What is it?” I asked. “What happened? I’m sorry; we can talk about something else.”
“Feelings. Said I didn’t feel…”
“Don’t you worry about that right now. I got over it.”
“…lies,” she whispered.
“I mean, I got over it enough.”
“…lies,” she whispered more insistently.
“Enough that we could go back to being friends, and that’s what counts. So all you’re doing now is feeling bad that you don’t feel bad. And how much sense does that make, right?”
She coughed and shook her head.
This wasn’t what she needed to be thinking about.
“I think I can hear the ambulance siren now,” I said. “You just need to hold on a little longer. They’re going to give you lots of drugs—so many drugs. Man, when I come to visit you in the hospital and tell you the things you said while under the influence, we’re going to laugh and laugh…”
But her eyes had already gone dark.
No more phone, no more ambulance, no more panicked footsteps. All I could hear was the sound of her last tears falling from her cheek and mixing with her blood on the tiles below.