When she opened her eyes, she saw a single ray of sunlight reaching toward her through a slit in the flowery motel curtains. She watched it stretch over the slumbering man beside her to caress her bare shoulder. It felt like the hand of God.
She breathed deeply, trying to resettle the light inside her, but it remained a whisper on her shoulder, and then slowly it trickled away as the sun moved beyond the curtain gap. She lay still, not wanting the day to begin. The man beside her sighed in his sleep. It was a sweet sound, a sad sound, drifting through the quiet room.
Down deep in her belly she felt a flutter at the thought of their first kiss not so long ago. Had things moved so fast again? Was she really lying naked beside this country boy in a lazy Motel 6 just outside Nashville? So strange how her life traveled — nomadic, numb-like, no grasp of the horizon. She was pretty and that helped her get by, but too often she found herself in half-dead motels with men she didn’t know because it was easier than finding her own way.
This one was different. He was nice and he seemed to genuinely like her, not just her body and what she could do with it, but the real person behind the long blond hair and green eyes. This was new territory for her. It made her feel uncomfortable. It made her want to run. It made her want to stop breathing for the fear of it.
From outside the motel room came the heated voices of a man and woman arguing about going to Knoxville. The man beside her mumbled “no.” She waited for him to move, to roll over, but he lay on his side, breathing slowly, still entrenched in a sleepworld beyond their motel room. Her eyes traveled down the jagged scar on his smooth-skinned bare back. It began on his right shoulder blade, blew across his spine, and abruptly ended on his left kidney area. It was the only ugly thing about him. It hurt her to see it, to imagine the pain of it. He wouldn’t talk about it so she believed that it had been carved by someone he loved. Father. Mother. Grandfather. Uncle. Brother. Someone who shredded his innocent breath and left him wounded and alone like a wild animal shot and abandoned in the forest to die.
With her index finger she followed the scar, gently exploring the puffed skin as it melted into mini caverns and then rose again to fold in upon itself. He didn’t move, didn’t awaken. She couldn’t imagine what had sliced through his skin to create such a demon line, but she could hear the echoes of his young screams, see the trails of tears streaking down his face, feel the astounded betrayal in his spirit. No wonder he sang like the devil himself sat on his heart.
Sliding carefully out of bed, she grabbed her red panties, jeans, white t-shirt and walked into the modest bathroom. In the corner-cracked mirror she stared at her face. Freckles. Not that many but they polka-dotted across her nose and high cheekbones and she had always hated them. They made her look like a cheerleader, and she was anything but a cheerleader. She peered closer at her reflection, searching for wrinkles at the corner of her eyes or between her dark eyebrows. She didn’t want to be like her mother, furrowed before her time.
As she stared at her face in the mirror, she settled on her eyes, those skylights that led to the one place men had no interest in exploring – her mind. Not that she was highly educated and could spout Shakespeare from memory. (None of the men she had come across in her life would know who Skakespeare was, except for perhaps the one sleeping in the bed in the next room.) She had never asked much of herself. What was the point? No one expected her to do anything with her life because no one she knew believed life was precious. You were born, you breathed, you died. That was it. No one asked the BIG questions: Why was I born? What’s my destiny? What’s life all about? In her childworld, you did as you were told or you were beaten. A simple life, really. It was all about staying one step ahead of adults with bad hands, and when she reached the age when her breasts blossomed, it was all about staying one step ahead of men with bad hands.
And then she met him. The country boy with the scar. The one who slept like an angel with mysteries but who sang like a man torn into fragments and left bleeding on the side of the road, coiled in fury at the why of it. Women loved him. He had the chiseled good looks of a movie star and the deep-rooted anger of a bad boy, and they wanted him. They wanted him to ravage them, beat them, disrespect them, all in the name of some strange notion of banged-up passion. Just like her sister had done so many times. Just like her too. Men hated him because he was gorgeous, talented, enigmatic, and because women loved him. How she fit into this chaos she didn’t know, but what she feared is that he wasn’t the savior she needed. The scar told his story, even if he couldn’t.
She spat at her reflection in the mirror, smearing the saliva with her hand and obliterating her eyes. The blindness of it made her feel better. What you can’t see you can’t know. That was something her godawful grandmother used to say whenever life pounded too hard.
She dressed quickly and stepped into the main room. She stood near him, surveying his body, stroking his long tangled hair with her eyes. She watched the scar undulating with every inhalation and exhalation of his lungs. It almost seemed alive, as if it might reach out and drag her down into its cruel existence. She shivered. She wanted him, treasured his depth of spirit, but she knew that beneath his shy smile, there lived someone unknowable and there was no opening that door. She understood that she could love him, unlike any who had come before him. She knew that she could lose herself in him and follow him to dead-end streets or penthouse glitz. And that scared her. No one had ever found her heart until him. She hated to be vulnerable; she led a skimmed life because it was easy. Like a migrating butterfly, she flitted from one experience to another, never staying long enough to be caught. That he had captured her was a mistake.
He mumbled in his sleep, something about not killing the dog. She touched the frown between his eyebrows, lightly circling the area with her forefinger. It was something she had learned from her older sister while they clutched each other in their dirty bed, listening to thunderous voices and crashing objects in the next room. He didn’t waken, but his frown softened and he seemed to float back to a more peaceful place. She kissed him softly on the top of his head like a loving mother might do to her infant.
She sat for awhile on the one lonely chair in the room. He was a deep sleeper, and that was probably a good thing because it buried the nightmares under otherworldly unconsciousness. For the first time in her adult life, she didn’t know what to do about a man. She didn’t understand him; he didn’t hit her or make her do things she didn’t want to do. It was outside her realm of experience. Maybe one day he would hit her, cut her, kick her, but she didn’t see that in him. His songs rang of pain, his own personal pain, and she could identify with that. Maybe they were two of a kind. Maybe they were soul mates. Maybe they were nothing.
Standing up, she walked to the corner where she had tossed her cowboy boots, jeans jacket and hobo bag. She stared at her few belongings, all she owned in the world. Then she glanced over her shoulder at the man, her eyes traveling down his brutal scar. So beautiful, so ugly. Just like her.
A vision of their first kiss whispered across her eyes. Gentle, soft, tentative. Like the wisp of baby bird’s fluttering wing. And the way he closed his eyes, as if he drank in her essence and loved it. For a few seconds it was just him and her, alone together as one soul . . . .
Lying on the bed, she shut her eyes and listened to him breathe. He would never know that on this day, in a Motel 6 outside Nashville, the butterfly had willingly surrendered.