The Noise in the Cocoon

by Elaine Medline

Andrea had hoped for a flurry of glittering monarchs, turning the trees orange. She bought the house with cocoons attached. There were hundreds of them, cleverly spun in places of shelter-- underneath the front porch awning, below outdoor lamps, in the crook of a shovel. Her real estate agent had told her the butterflies would emerge about the time she would move in, and they'd be monarchs.

The wood siding on the house was moss green, so the butterflies would match nicely. What a great omen, Andrea told her husband Trevor. She could imagine the dusty insects crawling out to their freedom; she could already hear the wings beating; she could almost smell them carrying the perfume of the wildflowers in the meadow below. Andrea hadn't seen a monarch butterfly since she was a child, when one had landed on her nose and she had gone cross-eyed trying to take it all in. "We'll take photos of them landing on the baby's nose," she declared.

Trevor was less enthusiastic. His wife came home from doing groceries one day and spotted him on a stepladder, with a broom, sweeping down some of the cocoons.

"What the hell are you doing?" Andrea screamed, dropping the cloth bags and holding her belly.

"Sorry, hon," he replied sheepishly, climbing down the ladder to help her with the groceries. "These things creep me out. Sort of like caterpillars in a coma."   

"No, they're beautiful. And they're not caterpillars anymore. They're between."

Trevor didn't admit it to Andrea, but all those stretched-out fibers covering parts of his house made him feel slightly nauseated. He could almost hear a grating sound from within--the noise of an impossible metamorphosis, of cells swapping positions, colors developing, cramped wings growing. Trevor was nervous these days. Sure, the new house was bigger and his job was fine, but the baby. What did they know about the baby?

"Did the results come in yet?" he asked Andrea. She was busy collecting the swept-down cocoons and placing them in a flower pot for safe-keeping. She wondered if she could bring them into their own house, but would it be too warm for them? Would they somehow miss the cue to commit to the next stage of their lives? She wished she knew more about biology. She couldn't even name most of the trees in the woods.

"Not yet. Try not to worry, Trev," she advised. "We're in a holding pattern."

The couple had spent several years undergoing a number of in-vitro fertilization trials, and the fourth attempt was successful. Needles in the belly, vast amounts of savings spent, and repeated disappointments--all that was thankfully over. They knew they had been fortunate. But Andrea and Trevor were older than most mothers and fathers, and they had opted for a quad screen to detect any chromosomal abnormalities of the fetus.    

Giving birth shouldn't be so full of decisions, Andrea thought. Babies should appear spontaneously. Yes, with pain, but with little mental effort. She envied those poor teenage girls who got pregnant so easily. "What were you thinking?" their parents would say, but they weren't thinking, nor were they supposed to. Theirs was a natural error.    

Another day when she returned from work, Andrea noticed a hole in one of the cocoons near the front door. It was big enough for a butterfly to fit through. She scanned the other cocoons, which were still intact. Gazing around the yard, she noted no movement, just a couple of chickadees and crows. From now on, she'd need to be vigilant or she'd miss the entire show.  

But Trevor was ahead of her in terms of an early warning system. In bed that night, he said, "I predict your winged pets will come out tomorrow."

"You do, do you? How do you know that, Trev?"

He didn't say he could hear the insects, getting busy, limbering up, digging their inevitable tunnels to adulthood, mating, and death.

In the morning, the phone rang. Andrea took the call on a cordless phone and padded over to the front window, breathing, listening. It was the nurse from the clinic calling with the results of the blood test. Andrea searched for a pen so she could accurately share the news with Trevor. She couldn't find one, and it didn't matter, because by then she had completely tuned out.

She plumped herself down on the edge of the windowsill, mindlessly staring outside. The wind was blowing all the nameless leaves inside out. She noticed the air was full of flying things, and she sighed heavily in disappointment. These weren't the wings of monarch butterflies, but the wings of moths, grey, dirty and bland. Moths fluttered rather than soared. They were nothing special. She hadn't bought a house for moths! Moths get in the pantry and eat your flour. They sneak into your drawers and devour your sweaters. The agent had lied.  She could sue that agent. The agent had promised monarch butterflies.

"Are you alright?" the nurse asked. 

Andrea gently placed the telephone down, and slowly walked out the front door into a swirl of moths. Her head felt dizzy. As she fell, Trevor caught her in his arms.

"Look, Andie!" he cried. "You were right. They're beautiful."

But they weren't beautiful; Trevor was so weird. A moth landed on her nose. She felt its little legs, and she crossed her eyes to observe it better. There were moss green eye-spots on its dusty wings.  

"I got the results," she whispered.  

BIO: Elaine Medline is the author of the young adult novel, That Silent Summer, published by Scholastic Canada in 1999 and by Gramedia in Indonesia (2008). Her flash fiction story, Holy Liftoff, was included in Branded Words, a collection of the best contributions to Short Story Library in 2009. Elaine was previously a medical reporter for the Ottawa Citizen daily newspaper. Her blog can be found at  http://memorizingnature.com .